Melissa-Marie Kauffman is a third generation type 1 diabetic. In 1950, Melissa’s grandmother, a sixteen-year-old single mom, received a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Thirty-nine years later her son, Melissa’s father, was diagnosed with type 1, too. He was forty-years-old. Melissa herself was diagnosed on Thanksgiving 2002 at the age of 13. She’d been very tired and thirsty for a week before her diagnosis. Knowing well the symptoms of diabetes, her father was immediately suspicious and wanted to check her blood sugar. Melissa refused. Denial was easy, until she felt so ill she was sleeping most of the time. When her father did finally check, Melissa’s blood sugar level was over 400.
Now, eight years later, not only is denial a thing of the past, Melissa is in fantastic shape and training for the New York City Marathon. A senior at Oregon State University, Melissa is running to raise money for The Barton Center for Diabetes Education, Inc., one of the largest, independent camping and educational programs in the country dedicated to children who live with diabetes and the people who care for them. I had the chance to ask Melissa some questions about her family, her work with The Barton Center, her marathon training, and her goals for the future.
How aware of diabetes were you before your diagnosis? Was it something you worried about as a young child?
I was pretty aware of diabetes growing up. I saw my dad have a low blood sugar reaction when I was in elementary school so I knew that it was serious. I was also aware that he had a daily routine of what to eat, and when to test and take shots.
I didn’t worry about getting diabetes, but I was not shocked when I was diagnosed. I never feared diabetes because my dad seemed to live a normal life and he never let diabetes prevent him from doing anything he wanted.
Do you remember what your grandmother or father told you when you were diagnosed?
When I was diagnosed my grandma was upset. She was not fully aware of the the latest diabetes technology, and how much had improved since she was diagnosed in 1950. My dad was also very upset. But he was very straight forward with me about testing and taking shots, always having low supplies on me and why it is important to take diabetes treatment seriously. I remember very clearly that he told me I’d have to grow up a little faster now.
Seeing that my dad was upset about my diagnosis made me want to become very responsible and to work harder in all aspects of my life, to show my dad that I am fine and diabetes is just one more hurdle.
What made you decide to run a marathon?
I was asked to run the marathon by the executive director of the Barton Center for Diabetes Education as a fundraiser for the Barton camps. And after talking with my college coach, Kelly Sullivan, at Oregon State University and wrapping my mind around 26.2 miles, I decided to go for it. After I was diagnosed in eighth grade, I wanted to make it a point to not let diabetes set any limitations on my life.
I ran cross-country and track throughout high school and college. I encountered many difficulties such as the effects of stress causing skyrocketing blood glucose levels before and during races and figuring out the right amount of juice to take before a long run to prevent drops in blood glucose levels. When I started running with diabetes I thought that I was all alone and didn’t know of any people with diabetes who participated in sports. By being involved with camps and year round programs such as The Barton Center I was able to learn about other people with diabetes who shared the same struggles.
What about your marathon training? Have you been doing longer and longer runs to lead up to it?
I am trying to run 2 long runs a week of 10 to 18 miles, and filling in the other days with 30-45 min easy runs.
Are you running with other diabetics?
I am not running with any other diabetics, but I do have a huge support system of people with diabetes on both the east and west coast along with a large support system of people who understand a great deal about diabetes.
I am, however, running with team mates and friends to keep the long run days a bit more interesting.
Who is guiding you in your training? Are you working with a nutritionist? Trainer?
I am using my OSU coach and team nutritionist to help me figure out smart fueling and training. I am trying to train smarter, not harder, for my first marathon.
Can you tell us more about your work with The Barton Center?
One of the most beneficial tools that I have with managing my diabetes has been the friends and networks I gained from being involved with diabetes camps and the community. I was a camper at Gales Creek Camp for kids with diabetes in Oregon from the summer I was diagnosed and have worked there for two years as a counselor. This past summer I worked on the health care team at The Barton Center as a student-nurse for the kids.
The Barton Center is probably the most professional and beneficial place you can send your kids to learn about diabetes and develop self confidence. The staff is terrific and the environment is very positive. One of the things I love best about The Barton Center is that it stresses the importance of kids with diabetes maintaining an active lifestyle. And one of my favorite events is the Barton Bi-Athalon where kids swim and run in a safe environment surrounded my enthusiastic staff and well-known athletes with diabetes.
What is also unique about the Barton Center is how it transitions kids to young adulthood, and former campers who later become staff develop life-long friendships. It’s an invaluable support system. For me, working at The Barton Center for Diabetes Education as a member of the health care team has also been an invaluable experience. It’s given me the opportunity to influence children, and to be more active and have more confidence with sports and managing blood glucose levels. My goal is to continue working with people with diabetes.
To contribute to Team Run For Barton NYC Marathon 2010, click here.