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Health News Florida

Bike Riders Fight Type 1 Diabetes

Joanna Southerland Mele
Joanna Southerland Mele

This weekend’s weather is expected to be partly cloudy and cool, nearly ideal for a nice, long bike ride. And if you’re going to ride, there's a lady who suggests that ride be for a worthy cause.

Joanna Southerland Mele
Credit Joanna Southerland Mele
Joanna Southerland Mele

Joanna Southerland-Mele’s experience with diabetes spans several decades.

“My older son Phil was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 7 months old,” she recalled. “That was in 1982 and was unheard of at that time. As a matter of fact, when I looked at statistics later on, there was a 99.9% mortality rate.”

Back then, the disease was nearly unknown in the medical community and the prognosis for Southerland-Mele’s son was uncertain.

“Because his blood sugar would go really low and he’d have a seizure and he could die. And if his blood sugar got out of control by going too high and staying that way, he could also die from what’s called DKA, Diabetic Ketoacidosis. So it’s a never-ending balance with somebody who has type 1 diabetes or somebody with type 2 diabetes who has to inject themselves with insulin.”

At that point, Southerland-Mele was in pretty dire straits herself.

“I was so sad about this, I was sitting in a closet with a can of those old Charles’ Chips – remember them?” she smiled, “I was shoving them in my face and sobbing that my son had an incurable disease. Well I was probably 40 pounds overweight and I had my hand halfway up to my mouth and I thought, ‘I can’t eat like this because HE can’t eat like this!’ So I started exercising the next day and I haven’t stopped since.”

Long-distance bicycle riding became Southerland’s passion. And it wasn’t long before she found a way to channel that personal passion into a cause she cared about intensely.

“There’s been a huge spike in the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes now,” she explained. “No one knows why. One day we were all talking about what we could do. I can do my 100-mile rides, but that’s for the world and what can we do for our community?”

The solution came in the form of the Florida Diabetes Camp, which serves children age 7 and 12.

“I said why don’t we do something for the kids in North Florida and South Georgia?” she asked. “Because the camp we’re specifically targeting, even though older kids will go to other camps on these scholarships, is around Quincy (Florida.) So that’s what we were going to do. Get these kids scholarships to go to camp!”

Hence Saturday’s benefit bike ride.

“We’re going to have November 16th in conjunction with World Diabetes Day, which is always November 14th, and that’s a global initiative because diabetes touches so many families now. We’re going to have an off-road ride outside of Hubs and Hops in Thomasville. They back right up to these red clay farm roads, all through South Georgia and down into Florida. They’re some of the oldest farm roads in the South and are stunningly beautiful.”

There are several rides to choose from.

“There are 3 different routes,” she said. “One at 75 miles. That’s for the hard-cores. There’s a 50 mile and then a 25 mile, or whatever you want to do. The website is: www.redhillsrides.org and every registration goes directly to camp scholarships. There’s no overhead in this.”

All to provide valuable and memorable experiences for area kids afflicted with type 1 diabetes.

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