Think of Yourself as an Athelete: Talking to Team WILD’s Mari Ruddy

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When I first read about Team WILD, my initial thought was that I wished it had been in existence when I was first diagnosed with diabetes in 1985. WILD stands for Women Inspiring Life with Diabetes and discovering a group women with diabetes like Team WILD would have made such a difference to my 14-year-old self. Instead, the people I saw with diabetes in 1985 (this was pre-Internet)  were my grandfather’s age: Wilford Brimley, Patti LaBelle and Mary Tyler Moore. They were not role models for a 14-year-old. So now, twenty-five-years later, I have replaced the images in my mind of elderly diabetics with the women from Team WILD. When you look at the photo gallery on the Team Wild website (www.teamwild.org), you see smiling, strong, attractive women who are riding bikes, running and swimming. These are the faces of diabetes that inspire me.

After interviewing Team WILD founder Mari Ruddy for my upcoming book, A Smart Women’s Guide to Diabetes (Demos Health), I realized it didn’t matter that I didn’t have this group all those years ago, what mattered was that I had it now.  I had the chance to talk to Mari, who recently battled cancer for the second time, about Team Wild, her struggle, and the upcoming Camp Wild.

When did the concept of Team WILD originate?

Two things happened that caused me to launch Team WILD in 2008. The first was after starting the Red Rider Program for the American Diabetes Association, I realized that the vast majority of the cyclists with diabetes who rode in the over 80 Tours in the USA were men. Second, it was the first year of the Triabetes Ironman team and there were only two women on the team of 12. I asked myself, where are the women? And how come they aren’t organized? That was motivation enough to get me and a few of my good diabetes friends to build Team WILD into what we are today – the premier fitness and athletic organization for women with diabetes.

Can you describe the mission of Team WILD?

Our mission is to support and inspire fitness, healthy living, and self-confidence for women of all ages with all types of diabetes. We do this through education, leading by example, community outreach, and sponsoring virtual teams of women training for athletic events. Team WILD demonstrates that having diabetes can be an inspiration rather than an obstacle to achieving one’s athletic and fitness goals

How many different teams make up Team WILD? Can you give a brief description of each?

Team WILD has something for every level of fitness. Once a gal joins WILD she is instantly called an athlete. That’s an important part of the WILD philosophy. Being an athlete with diabetes makes taking care of diabetes less of the focus. The reason for this is that athletes take exquisite care of themselves. So thinking of oneself first as an athlete, and then as a person with diabetes changes the motivation for taking care of oneself. We have teams for all levels. WILDfit is for gals who want to dip their toes into the WILD way. It’s a 90 day program. The fitness coach and the diabetes and sports educators work in tandem delivering an incredible education and motivation program. The summer program starts May 18. We’ll have a fall program in September.

The WILD Multisport Team will train for five months and they will participate in the Chicago Triathlon at the end of August.

The WILD Cycling Team trains for five months and their event is the Tour de Cure Colorado on August 20th. The team is the VIP Guest of Honor at the Tour.

We also have a WILD Ironman team of 10 amazing women with diabetes who will compete in Ironman Wisconsin in September 2011.

The Cycling, Multisport and the Ironman teams all participate in monthly webinars with our Diabetes and Sports Nutrition educators. We have some cutting edge information about sports physiology that we teach. Women find this particularly valuable in increasing performance and diabetes management.

Camp WILD is a three day on site experience for women with diabetes. It’s in Boulder, Colorado and we swim, bike, run, lift weights, do yoga and learn about diabetes management while focusing on fitness. Camp WILD is for any woman with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.  Registration for Camp WILD is now open.

You’ve struggled with health issues other than diabetes, can you tell me what being strong and fit means to you personally?

I’ve survived breast cancer twice and I have asthma. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 16 in 1981. Plus my dad has had type 1 since I was one-year-old, so I’ve lived with the intensity of diabetes my entire life.  I tell you all this because I have a lot of reasons to feel sorry for myself and make excuses. But I don’t. Instead, I go for it.

Being strong and fit means that I get the support from coaches and diabetes experts.  I work with coaches who inspire me, teach me and most importantly, they listen to me. And I listen to my own inner body wisdom. Our bodies need and like to move. When I consistently exercise it feels like I don’t have diabetes, because I’m thinking of myself as an athlete first. I eat right, I exercise, I sleep enough, and I pay attention to my stress levels.

 

What if someone comes to you and says, I like to run, but have never competed before, what do you tell her? Or how do you get people involved who are new to competition?

It’s important to know that WILD is not just about competing. Diabetes is a marathon. We want to help women just get started. That’s why we have WILDfit as a place to start. Many of the gals who start with WILDfit often end up on one of the other endurance teams and they might start participating in races, but maybe not. If someone is new, but wants to start, we have the tools to make it a fun, safe, exciting adventure. I would tell her, do you really want it? Are you scared? Being scared is ok, are you willing to go through the fear as part of a team of women who understand all the things that you are afraid of? If so, then come on, join WILD and GO WILD!

I’m sure you have many inspirational stories about team members; can you pick one to share with our readers?

One of my favorites is Kerry. I met her at a Diabetes Expo and she had just found out she had type 2 diabetes. She was feeling lost, alone and overwhelmed. She had lost over 20 pounds since diagnosis, but she didn’t feel like she knew what she was doing. She joined WILD, came to our camp and she was empowered and inspired. Since then she’s lost over 70 pounds and her diabetes is totally under control. Best of all, she sees herself as an athlete now.

What is the future of Team WILD? What is on your radar for the next year?

This fall we’ll have WILDfit again. We also plan to have a Run Team that will do a half marathon. Plus the Off Season is weight-loss season, so we’re looking at doing a 3 or 4 month weight-loss team. As for 2012 and beyond, we’ll continue to grow the teams and look at other ways to offer services. Eventually we’ll offer more than one camp per year. We plan to just keep growing and making a difference.

Amy Stockwell Mercer is a regular contributor to ASweetLife.  She writes the blog On Becoming Whole.

 

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Comments (1)

  1. Liz at

    What a wonderful article!!  I’m T1 (since childhood) and have always been hugely athletic. I am so thankful that my parents never held me back athletically.  If there was a sport I wanted to try, I tried it, despite what endos/doctors advised.  I was actually very lucky to have a father with T1 as well.  He died from complications when I was a kid, but he was an excellent role model in terms of integrating T1 diabetes into the “real world.” 

    The hardest part of being an athlete (for me) has been the lack of encouragement I’ve received from doctors.  While they all preach moderate exercise, they tend to frown at the things I do (marathon running, distance cycling, strenuous backpacking).  I use a pump, am fairly well-controlled, and am always careful, but they seem to think that T1 is synonymous with not doing anything in the extreme.  I do have some mild complications at this point in my life, but nothing that interferes with these activities and I’d like to keep it that way. 

    Ironically, I think it’s been exercise and athletics that has resulted in my being as healthy as I am.  My weight has always been good and despite years of injections, I’m highly insulin sensitive, probably the result of my significant amount of muscle.  I get praised for that, but docs often overlook how I’ve accomplished this.

    It’s great to hear from other T1s out there who are LIVING.  Sometimes this disease can be so overwhelming and we forget that there is still a life out there to live and experience.

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