Tour de Cure Tuesday: The Little Red Riders

Photo: courtesy of Chris McGee

As previously mentioned, I've only been familiar with the Tour de Cure for a few years. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this but in my defense (and in the defense of others) there are so many great causes out there, with so many rides/races/runs that support them. It can be easy to blur them together without a personal connection. The person that introduced me to Tour de Cure was a friend within the cycling community, Chris McGee. Chris had mentioned that his family had participated in the ride and told me all about it.

I was blown away. I had casually known Chris and his family for about half a year at that point and had no idea that his 6 year old son had type 1 diabetes. That Fall at cross races, I watched Chris juggle BRAC duties, hop on his bike at the last second to race, all while "managing" Ryan's blood sugar on a regular basis. This interview is strictly from a parent's perspective. It illustrates how important the Tour de Cure is to families all over the US, but to one CO family in particular.

[303 Cycling:] When was Ryan first diagnosed? What was that like?
Chris: Ryan was diagnosed with Diabetes when he was about 17 months old. Heather (my wife) actually diagnosed Ryan with diabetes before the Doctors did. She has Biology background and had had a dog that died of pancreatic cancer--she suspected the issues were the same. Due to his symptoms and family history, we asked that he be tested. The test results showed his blood sugar to be 500. Normal is 100.

They sent us immediately to the Barbara Davis Center in Denver. They specialize in Type 1 Diabetes research and care for children and adults. It is one of the largest diabetes institutes in the world. It was there that we found out that Ryan has type 1 diabetes. It's an auto-immune disease. This means Ryan needs insulin no matter what. His pancreas just doesn't work right.

That’s where we started. He had his first shot of insulin that afternoon. We looked at each other and it was just understood: “This is what we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives. Okay.” Luckily he didn't need to be hospitalized when diagnosed--which isn't par for the course. Again, I credit Heather's knowledge and care up until that point for this.

Photo: courtesy of Chris McGee

[303 Cycling:] How did you get involved with Tour de Cure?
Chris: It was a logical fit for us as cyclists. It was something to do (bike related) with other parents who also had kids with diabetes. The first year Ryan got diagnosed, Heather pulled him around in a little trailer. It was a great way to connect with the diabetes community. It's been the perfect yearly tradition to reinforce that an active life-style is 1. fun, 2. feels good and 3. it can help him manage diabetes better.

It’s also a nice thing for Ryan. He gets to be a little bit of a super-star. And it's a logical way to focus our fundraising efforts--within the cycling community that we know. Ryan is what they call a “champion for diabetes fundraiser”--a participant who raises over $1000. There are all sorts of special little perks at this level at the event. Every year we are strive to hit between $2000-$2500.

[303 Cycling:] How many years have you participated?
Chris: This is our 7th year but we’ve done 2 in one year so we count that as 8.

[303 Cycling:] What's a day in the life of a child with type 1 diabetes like?
Chris: Every day Ryan gets about 12-15 blood checks. On average he gets eight shots a day--simply to manage blood sugar. He’s one of the better controlled kids in all of Colorado. It gets a little easier each year. As I mentioned, Heather has a PhD in Biology so she’s been fantastic to manage this from a scientific background.

[303 Cycling:] What’s one thing you wish people knew about kids with Diabetes?
Chris: (laughing) I wish they knew enough about blood sugar management to be our babysitters. We are very short on baby-sitters. Kidding. If you look at all the diseases your child can get or have, yes this can be a chore. It is a stresser, and there are a few major panic times a year. But for the most part it’s reasonable and MANAGEABLE.

Luckily Ryan is healthy, with a normal life expectancy. He plays baseball, has climbed a 14’er, rides his bike, climbs trees, runs, etc. All the things "normal kids" can do. In fact, he went to his first camp last week for kids with diabetes in Woodland Park and had a great time. That was something we weren't sure would be possible back when he was diagnosed. It is.

[303 Cycling:] Tell us about the Red Riders.
Chris: The Red Rider jersey is for anyone who rides in the Tour with diabetes. This started in CO and spread nationwide. Primal is a national level sponsor. They've helped make the Red Rider program HUGE. It's how they first got their start with the Tour and they took it big-time.

When the Red Riders, go by it’s amazing. Ryan has been wearing one for years. It’s so powerful for him (and for us as parents). He's out there with everyone cheering him on. He’s an 8 year old boy, so he only sees a few seconds ahead of him, but it’s a big deal, and it gives him a chance to be a star. And he loves being a bike rider (even though his bike shorts are so big they look like surfing shorts). It’s a perfect fit. We never miss the Tour. We build our summer schedule around it every year.

Steve and his "super-mustache" in back left.

[303 Cycling:] In your opinion, what sets the Tour de Cure Colorado apart from others
Chris:The Tour in Colorado is one of the most successful in the US. It’s so well run and so well received that the ADA send other Tour directors from all over the country to watch and see how to do it. Given the smaller population compared to other tour sites this is amazing. I totally credit the directors and all who are actively involved with this. We really like the 12 mile Family ride, which is just amazing. Complete festival-like feel. Great scenery, a gorgeous ranch, water balloons and (if your Pancreas is working correctly) snow-cones!

[303 Cycling:] Any other notable Tour de Cure aspects you'd like our audience to know?
Chris: We are on a team called “The Extra Milers”. Our friend Steve Bieringer founded it and passed away last year. His wife, Jan, asked that we keep it going. Steve had Type 1 for 35-40 years. It was his 3rd round of cancer that got him. He was just a very passionate, stand-up guy. The epitome of a Red Rider. He gave us advocacy advice for Ryan with the education system and we just were amazed by his support. Having him in our corner made all the difference. We’re more than happy to honor his memory.

[303 Cycling:] Do you have any words of advice for parents of kids with Diabetes?
Chris: Yes. Mentally, you have to take a look at the big picture to maintain sanity. There are highs and lows. Those can be panic moments but for the most part eyes on the long-term. Establish daily routines--what can you do to set them up to win? Your child can have a life-time of health--same as any child. Ryan was maybe 20 pounds when he was diagnosed. We used to have to dilute the insulin down ten times for his little body.

The bright-side of this is that both our kids were so young when Ryan was diagnosed that they don’t know any different. Both kids are very in-tune with their bodies and food and exercise. In the last year, Ryan's learned how to test. At his camp he learned to draw insulin. For about 5 years it’s like a newborn. Now it's better. There aren't as many 2 am tests any more. It gets easier. Above all, STAY ACTIVE. Keep your family active. Our bodies just work better when we are active.

Thanks for the interview, Chris! Come join the McGee family,, and so many others on August 16th for the party and to STOP DIABETES!

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