Riding A Bike for Diabetes... If the Money Allows

I rode in my first-ever Tour de Cure this past weekend.

Our local Indiana Tour de Cure on Saturday morning took place on and around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Central Indiana, and I was proud to be there as a Red Rider on my inaugural ride.

This was only the second ride ever here in Indy, with more than 1,400 people participating from 25 states. It's now the 11th largest Tour de Cure out of the 89 rides that take place across 44 U.S. states in total. I was psyched to be one of the 83 "declared" Red Riders in Indy proudly sporting red jerseys identifying them as PWDs (people with diabetes) -- although organizers told me there were likely other PWDs riding who just didn't go through the hoops of being recognized as a Red Rider. Anyhow, it was pretty impressive that Lilly, headquartered in Indianapolis, had more than 400 riders out there and Lilly Diabetes president Enrique Conterno gave the opening remarks that morning.

I was lucky enough to have some great friends and family members who contributed to my fundraising goal, allowing me to get out on the track. That brings up the issue that really got under my skin about this event: being able to "afford" participating in an ADA ride... but first I think it's important to recap my local event and what I accomplished.

My First Red Rider Experience

I made it more than 15 miles, equating to about a 25k. That was my limit and I knew it, pushing myself as far as I could without going overboard. I rode a lap around the 2.5-mile track at the beginning, and then went off-track onto the road route following those longer-distance riders who were doing the 50k, 75k, and 100k routes. This was VERY challenging for me, especially hitting the non-level highways and streets around the Indy area that were quite a different experience than the flatter downtown streets and paths I'd been riding near my home for the past few months.

The first rest and water station stop was 12 miles out, which I was a little surprised about since the ADA claimed to have "frequent" rest stops and that seemed a little too long for beginners like me. But, being the out-of-shape rookie rider that I am, this could just be my inexperience talking. Anyhow, I went on a little more before realizing my jello-like legs couldn't take me any further. So, a quick cell phone call brought my wife out to pick me up (yes, this may be "cheating" by official standards, but I really don't care). I didn't want to bother the official transport volunteers who I felt needed to be on hand for those who might be in need of real emergency help.

Honestly, there were times when my legs just couldn't push my bike any more up a particularly challenging climb. But having other riders pass by and make sure I was OK, shouting a "Go Red Rider!"and giving me a fist-pump-in-the-air as they passed, was empowering and motivating and kept my spirits up even in these somewhat-embarrassingly tough moments when my pride felt bruised and battered.

Diabetes-wise, I didn't have any problems during the ride! I had planned to wear my Dexcom 7+, but the day before I discovered that I've somehow misplaced the transmitter... so I was CGM-less out on the track, which meant I had to stay mentally even more aware of my blood sugars. I know that I did 5 fingerstick checks while out riding, because I kept all the used strips in my pocket to count afterward.

On the starting line, a few of us Red Riders got a laugh out of a line the organizers were broadcasting through the megaphone: "If you go Slow, Stay Low" (regarding where you should ride on the angled speedway, based on your biking speed). Didn't they realize they were talking to a diabetes audience and what "staying low" meant (?!).

Miraculously, I didn't have to worry about going low during my ride, as my blood sugars were a little high that morning and stayed so during the Tour. I set a temp basal at 50% for four hours and had all my glucose gel and some tabs on me, just in case. A test on the starting line showed I was at 169 mg/dL.

A couple stops in the first 10 miles showed I was hovering safely around that same level. Admittedly, because I was thirsty and paranoid of a sudden BG drop, I did enjoy a small cup of Gatorade at the 12-mile rest area -- that boosted me up into the low 200s by the time I finished. But a slight correction helped bring me back down, and hours after my blood sugars went down into the 90s for most of the day and evening thanks to that "super-charging" effect I saw during my training.

Anyhow, I did my best. And I'm VERY proud of what I accomplished in my debut Tour de Cure! I can't wait to continue my exercise routine and start getting into better shape, so I can be ready for next year's Tour. That motivation boost is a huge benefit right there!

The Fundraising Quandary

Now to the not-so-motivating part. With the help of various friends and family members, I managed to pass my fundraising goal of $200, which is actually a mandatory minimum the ADA requires you to raise in order to even be allowed to participate. And that's on top of the registration fee you must pay to sign up for the ride (which is $25, unless you register online and early like I did and pay just $15).

Therein lies my biggest concern about the overall ADA Tour de Cure, beyond my locality of Indianapolis: I feel that it is cost-prohibitive for many.

You must raise the $200 to participate. It's not optional. That's the amount required for any man, woman or child, no matter how old or how far they may be riding. A scan of other cities' Tours finds the same, with $200 being the most common but some locations being higher and some varying depending on the route and registration fee attached.

This is unlike the JDRF walks, where donations are suggested but optional, where you can get a walk shirt if you raise a certain amount and can obtain other prizes and recognition based on donations. Sure, the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes has a mandatory registration fee plus minimum fundraising packages of $2,000-$4000, but those packages include travel accommodations, jerseys, medals, and other items -- so you're sort of paying for a kind of vacation package + sporting event + charity.

IMHO, the ADA events seem more like big municipal outings. Families would like to ride, kids and all. The mandatory fundraising minimum for every family member makes that extremely difficult. It's frustrating that the ADA is not flexible enough to welcome folks who might make a smaller donation, but really want to get out on their bikes and be active (isn't that a key part of their whole message, in trying to "Stop Diabetes?").

On the track before we started the Indy ride, I was chatting with one woman who was there riding with a corporate team. She mentioned that some colleagues had all helped each other with donations, and a few clients had also gotten her to the $200 level -- all to go around the track a couple times in support of a great cause. She was hoping to share the experience with her daughter who is living with type 1, but it was just too much to boost her fundraising up to the $400 level to make that happen...

I'm not a fan of asking for money, even for charitable causes. And when you do more than one of these types of events per year, in support of multiple organizations, these fundraising requirements add up very quickly. I understand there are costs associated with these events, but isn't that what the registration fee helps cover?

I know I'm not alone in these thoughts, as I've had this conversation with a number of PWDs, both locally and online.

Wanting to let ADA know about my concerns, I reached out to the national organization and heard back from from Nicole Preston, managing director of special events for the ADA's home office. She told me by email:
We have considered the question of the minimum and have tried different methods. Our national standard for all Tours will be $200 in 2014, with a couple that are higher (Napa Valley at $225 , the National Capital Tour at $250, and the multi-day New England Classic Tour at $800+ being very unique.) This amount should not be prohibitive for most—participants should ask friends, family and coworkers for donations, not pay this amount. Many individuals and teams hold fundraisers to reach their total. 
Each Tour de Cure event covers up to one 100 miles or more, and requires some level of expense to ensure a safe route for our participants. The event registration fee goes toward these important route support costs, including route marking, rest stops, safety vehicles, local police presence, etc. The fundraising minimum ensures that everyone who participates makes the effort to raise the critical dollars needed to fund our mission to prevent and cure diabetes and improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. Without the fundraising minimum, we simply could not provide the required level of commitment to our ongoing research, support and education programs that people with diabetes and their families rely on across the country. 
We provide many resources to help participants make fundraising easy every step of the way: personal web pages, fundraising guides, mobile and Facebook apps, online tutorials, help from local staff and more. Many people who were apprehensive about meeting the minimum have found that the tools made it much easier than they expected, and were able to focus on training for a great ride! We also offer another outstanding event, Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, that does not have a registration fee or a fundraising minimum, so everyone can participate and fund raise for the amount of their choosing.

I'll admit, she has a point. I did think the tools offered were helpful. But still, I think she's wrong to say it's not cost-prohibitive when you're hoping to include more than one participant per family -- particularly if that includes kids, who depend on the parents to raise all the funds.

To me, it seems like requiring a higher registration fee and then making donations optional would be a better way to set this up. Plus, think of all the additional people you'd likely get out there riding, simply because the fundraising bar was less daunting!

Still, the experience of doing this for the first time is something I'll never regret. But honestly, if my wife and I both wanted to participate next year, we'd be forced to come up with $400 on top of the registration fees. Not something we want to take on -- so the ADA ends up getting nothing from us as a result. Bummer for everyone, right?

Opinions may vary, so it'd be great to hear what you all think about the fundraising quandary.

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This post was originally written by Mike Hoskins and published at DiabetesMine on June 13, 2013. 


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