To start off National Volunteer Appreciation Week, I’d like you to meet Ken Cole: He lives with type 2 diabetes, he is a Red Rider in Tour de Cure events across the nation, and he’s in a class of volunteers that I would like to call Über Volunteers. Ken doesn’t just participate in Tour de Cure events, he takes time to help set them up and make sure they run smoothly. In fact, he has taken the week before the Houston Tour de Cure event off from his own job in order to spend his days and evenings helping the American Diabetes Association’s Houston office get ready. If that’s not Über Volunteerism, what is?
When were you diagnosed and what do you remember about it?
I was diagnosed in January of 2007 at the age of 34. I had been sick for about two weeks starting around Christmas of 2006. I went through a couple of boxes of over the counter medications and it just wasn’t knocking out the cold, so I finally went to see my general practitioner. While I was there, I asked about if and when I should be checked for diabetes since it runs in my family (my mother, her mother, an uncle, two aunts and two cousins all live(d) with type 2 diabetes).
My doctor was pretty blunt. He looked at me and my chart and said, “We haven’t ever checked you for it. How long have you been this fat?” At the time, I weighed around 250-255lbs. I went the next day and had my blood work done. A week later I was back in his office to hear all the results – my A1C was 12.2%.
I remember that I was sleeping a lot and was tired all the time; I had no energy and was always thirsty. I can say looking back that for about a year before I was diagnosed, I didn’t sleep through a full night. I would get up almost every hour of the night to go use the restroom. I assumed that I was using the bathroom a lot because I was drinking a lot and needed to get it out of my body. It never dawned on me that I was drinking because of high glucose and going to the bathroom because my body was flushing the glucose out.
How did you first get involved with the American Diabetes Association?
I turned to the American Diabetes Association after I was diagnosed. The Association’s website is amazing for people living with diabetes. I thought I knew about diabetes because of my mother, since she is living with diabetes. I soon found out that I didn’t know as much about this condition as I thought I did.
The forums on diabetes.org are a great place to go for information about dealing with this and for finding friends and a support system. While surfing around the Association’s site, I came across the Tour de Cure page. I saw there was an event that went from San Antonio to Austin, Texas. At this time, I’d been riding a stationary bike to help lose weight. I decided that one day (and I never really picked a day) that I would ride the San Antonio to Austin Tour de Cure.
My brother-in-law had been telling me to get a road bike and get off the stationary bike. Around that time, I was on the Association’s website and noticed there was now a Houston event listed! I said right then and there that I was going to get a bike and I would make it a goal to ride the 100 mile route at the Houston Tour de Cure.
That weekend – it was the last weekend in March – I picked out my first road bike and then sat down and wrote an email to Lisa McChristian, who is in charge of the Houston Tour de Cure. I gave her my story, then I let her know that I would do whatever she needed me to do to help promote the Houston Tour de Cure.
I’m sure they were thrilled by that offer! What do you do now with the American Diabetes Association?
Now I am the chair for the Red Rider Committee for the Houston Tour de Cure. I am one of the team captains for Team RED Houston. I’ve helped with Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes and helped when I could with interviews for the Houston office.
I’ve heard that you participate in a lot of Tour de Cure events – how many have you done?
In 2009, I rode in the San Antonio to Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth and the Houston Tour de Cure events.
In 2010, I rode in the Orlando, FL, Huntsville, AL, San Antonio to Austin, Dallas Fort/Worth, Colorado and Houston Tour de Cure events.
In 2011, I will ride in the Little Rock, AR, Colorado, Dallas/Fort Worth, Buffalo, NY and Houston Tour de Cure events.
I would LOVE to be able to ride in all the Tour rides around the country, I’m just not sure if that is something logistically possible to do. I tried planning on riding in Buffalo on a Saturday and then flying to Washington, DC and riding in the DC Tour de Cure the next day. The logistics in that just don’t allow me to be able to do that and still give the rides as much attention as I’d like. So the DC Tour is on the list for 2012.
Sounds great – in fact, I’ll ride with you in DC next year! Although I’m not sure about 100 miles. Why do you participate in so many Tour de Cure events?
I don’t use the Tours to put miles on my wheels. I can ride all over the Texas Gulf coast as much I want to do that. I do the Tours to meet others living with diabetes and to let them see that cycling can and will help you gain control in managing your diabetes. It’s a way to broaden my support web as well. I will ride in as many Tours a year as I can and I will ride the Houston Tour every year until I can no longer ride a bicycle.
What’s changed in your daily routine since getting into cycling?
I’m more active now that I ride. I pay attention to what I’m eating and I have a better grasp on what it means to “live a healthy life.” I cut out fast food burgers. I will buy a sandwich every now and then, but no more burgers, fried chicken sandwiches or tacos from the national and local fast food places. Before it was not uncommon for me to eat that stuff for breakfast, lunch and dinner at least three days out of the week. Now I haven’t bought any junk from a fast food joint since I was diagnosed.
That’s impressive – it always sounds easier than it actually is. If you could say one thing about diabetes, what would it be?
Diabetes saved my life. That’s the way I look at it. Could I have prevented developing type 2 diabetes? More than likely, yes. If I had known that the lifestyle I was leading would cause me to develop type 2 diabetes, I would have made some changes years ago. I didn’t know that I was headed down a path toward diabetes.
There is no telling what would have happened to me if I had not caught a bad cold and gone to my doctor or if I had not asked him about when I should be checked for diabetes. I believe a 12.2% A1C equates out to around an average blood glucose level of 300. My body was used to that high of a blood glucose level! I feel that if I had gone undiagnosed, I could have very well slipped in to a hyperglycemic coma or caused some major damage to organs and possibly destroyed my eyesight.
After I spoke with Ken, I gave Lisa McChristen a call, since Ken volunteers for her on the Houston Tour de Cure. Here’s what she told me:
I’ve been working with Ken for over two years and while many volunteers come and go, Ken is always the first to show up and the last to leave. He’s done so much for us from stuffing packets to picking up signs, loading trucks and getting supplies for our Tour de Cure event to run smoothly.
It’s so good to have a Red Rider see behind the scenes – especially one like Ken who always has a smile on his face.
I want him to know how great he is and how significant his contribution is to the work we do. In his heart of hearts, I don’t think he realizes how much his help really means to us.
Every office needs a Ken Cole – thanks to Ken for his Über Volunteering and the great attitude he shares with us all!