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A mother’s determination Pelham woman gets physical to support diabetes research

  • Barbara Weisman with her children Camryn, left, and Stratton, both 13, at their home in Pelham Monday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Barbara Weisman with her children Stratton, left, and Camryn, both 13, at their home in Pelham Monday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Barbara Weisman rides on South Valley Road Monday near her home in Pelham.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Barbara Weisman rides on South Valley Road Monday near her home in Pelham.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

She laid in bed for three days recovering from a concussion. She’s got scabs on her left shoulder from the scrapes and red wishbone-shaped tape snaking up her leg to hold her injured knee in place — all the result of a fall she took when her bicycle hit a pothole in Vermont two weeks ago. But when I visited with Barbara Weisman of Pelham, she was preparing to head to Vermont again to ride 100 miles last Saturday to raise money for research on type-1 diabetes.

And she faces an Iron Man competition — her first, also to raise research funds — coming Aug. 18. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

“It was a little setback,” she offers, when asked about battle scars from her fall.

But she is driven. Since her daughter, Camryn Adams, was diagnosed with the dangerous disease seven years ago at age 5, Weisman’s been trying to prove a point to herself, to her children — she also has a 13-year-old son, Stratton — and to the world.

“If you want something, and it’s even beyond wanting, if you need something, you had certainly better be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work.”

What she wants is big — a cure for type-1 diabetes — but she’ll take what she calls “life support” in the meantime. The artificial pancreas is in the advanced stages of being tested on humans by the FDA. That is huge, she said. Once the artificial pancreas is approved it will take away worry over the body’s sugar level and how much insulin is needed. That’s a life-and-death concern her daughter and all those with the disease live with every day.

A mother’s lessons

Type-1 diabetes, which used to be referred to as juvenile diabetes, strikes both children and adults. It is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables the body to turn food into energy. To stay alive, people who have it must take multiple insulin injections daily or receive insulin through a pump and test their blood sugar levels frequently. It differs from type-2 diabetes, which can be brought on by diet and lack of exercise. In type-2 diabetes, the body produces insulin, but it is either not enough, or the body does not recognize it.

As many as 3 million Americans have type-1 diabetes. Every years, 30,000 people are diagnosed with it, according to JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.)

Through bike rides, walks and half marathons, Weisman, a single mother, and her children have raised $60,000 for JDRF for research since 2006. They have amassed $8,000 so far this year. Weisman’s goal is $10,000.

While she does it mainly through athletic events, Weisman, 46, says she is no athlete, though she is visibly physically fit — a far cry from when she started. She won’t reveal the weight, but she says she was 90 pounds heavier than she is now and had elevated sugar levels and high blood pressure back in 2006.

“I am not an athlete. No, my number one job title is mom and in thinking about what that job entails, I am of the belief that walking the walk is much more powerful than talking the talk,” she said.

For Camryn, counting carbohydrates and exercising is a matter of life and death. “The daily regime of type-1 is 24/7 there is no time off,” said Weisman. “With us any time you’re on a diet you can cheat, right? I’m on vacation. I’m gonna cheat today, or it’s Friday, I’m gonna cheat today. With type-1 there’s no day off, there’s no cheat day. So how do you express that to a 5 year-old except to try and live it, and try and mirror that behavior for her. So, yeah, I decided it was probably high time that I got off the couch and got in shape.”

She started working out, and around that same time she discovered JDRF and got involved with the organization. That’s when she latched on to the bike riding program — the organization hosts six a year all over the country and has raised $1 million.

Her last bike was one of the banana-seat variety that she owned at age 10. So, she bought a bicycle from Craig’s List for $200 — “It was orange, a dream. I loved it.” And though she was barely a year into going from couch potato to spurts of walking and running on the treadmill, training for a 100 mile bike ride wasn’t daunting.

“It seemed like another really good life lesson for the kids, too,” she said. “Curing diabetes seems impossible, but it’s not. It’s just a very big goal, much like riding a bike 100 miles might seem impossible or doing an iron man for somebody whose not an athlete. It’s not impossible. It’s just a really big goal.”

But an enormous challenge nonetheless.

“It has been grueling, absolutely grueling,” she said of her training regimen for the Iron Man.

The cheerful way she says that masks the drudgery. “I’m often doing two workouts a day, sometimes up to four hours of training a day on a work day. Don’t ask me when I see my children or clean my house,” she said, smiling and nodding toward the cluttered tables and counters in the kitchen and dining area of her home.

Last week the dining table was piled high with blue-and-white tote bags she was filling with jerseys, socks and water bottles for the participants in the Vermont ride. Next to the bags were stacks of crayon-drawn thank-you posters from children with type-1 for the riders. Bike wheels were propped on counters and in corners, and her black, red and white aerodynamic time trial bike was parked against a wall. (“The pedals and seat cost more than my first bike,” she concedes.)

On top of her fundraising, Weisman has gone further into the diabetes world, taking a job in March in JDRF’s office in Farmington, Conn., a three-hour round-trip commute on the two days a week she doesn’t work from home. A former real estate agent, she now devotes work hours to promoting and supporting JDRF bike fundraisers and promoting its work in western Massachusetts.

“This is not terribly philanthropic on my part,” she said. “This is something that is really critical for my family.”

Daughter’s transition

As Camryn enters her teen years, she and her mother are working on the transition from mom being in charge of making sure she is doing everything she needs to do, to her being on top of it all herself. It is not easy.

For the past two weeks, Camryn was at Camp Clara Barton for type-1 diabetics in North Oxford. While the camp provides typical outdoor activities of summer camps, nurses sleep in every cabin and an endocrinologist on staff checks campers every night. Usually between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., Weisman is up pricking Camryn’s finger to test her sugar level and checking to make sure the pump hooked up to her body is giving her the correct amount of insulin. The pump, she said, is a godsend, but it is mechanical, after all, and if it doesn’t work right, it could be lethal.

Her daughter, after all these years, sleeps through it.

A new phase

Now, Camryn is reaching the age of sleepovers. For now, she calls and texts her mother with her numbers before she goes to bed and then sleeps with a cellphone under pillow so Weisman can remind her to check during the night. A buzz kill, for a teen who wants to feel carefree like her friends, but that’s the way it is.

“It’s a little annoying,” Camryn said in a telephone interview, “because sometime I feel like people will judge me for it, or if I have to stay up late to treat lows and can’t let everyone else go to sleep. But it’s not that bad. I get used to it.”

While responsibilities tied to her health always hang over her head, Camryn has found a way to adjust.

Weisman hopes the artificial pancreas will be in business before Camryn heads off for college. To that end, she works relentlessly to raise money.

“We’ve have phenomenal community support,” she said. She noted that the local Lions Club, whose international organization focuses on diabetes, has been a supporter and will be a sponsor of Tri to Cure diabetes — the triathlon she’ll be doing at Mont Tremblant in Canada. Camryn, who attends Amherst Regional Middle School with her brother, has spoken at local elementary schools which have participated in programs to raise money for JDRF.

After the Iron Man, there is a Walk to Cure at Six Flags New England in Agawam Oct. 20 which donors can sign up for or contribute to at www.Walk.JDRF.org.

As for the Iron Man, Weisman has a personal coach guiding her workouts and thinks she’s ready. “It’s so hard to gauge at this point because I’m so tired. But I put it in into the hands of the coach who says I will be ready.”

She said she expects to be on the course for 17 hours, but just wants to finish. “I’m very nervous. ... like everything else it requires me to reassess and let go of expectations. I will go out and give my best shot.”

Her children expect her to go all out. “I guess they don’t know any other way with me. I’m an all-or-nothing character.”

Camryn appreciates her mother’s devotion. “It really makes me feel so special in that she’s so dedicated to finding the cure that she’ll do just about anything,” she said, “even something as crazy as doing an Iron Man.”

Debra Scherban can be reached at dscherban@gazettenet.com.

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