In December of 2012, Doug Masiuk caught the public eye by being the first person with type 1 diabetes to run across the United States. As if a cross-country journey was not enough, Masiuk recently came back into the spotlight, this time teamed up with a posse of stellar athletes, to complete the Capital to Coast Relay—a 223 mile-long relay race from Austin to Corpus Christi, Texas.
Twelve people with diabetes, including Masiuk, comprised “Team Diabadass.” They ran the race with smiling faces, a drive to raise diabetes awareness, and a desire to abolish misconceptions about diabetes through their extraordinary athletic feats.
In 2005, Don Muchow and several like-minded athletes with diabetes formed a local Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the now-defunct Diabetes Exercise and Sports Association (DESA). When DESA folded, Muchow and his associates wanted to continue their group, and subsequently the DFW Diabetes and Exercise Alliance was born. The group has grown immensely—it now has 150 local members and 600 people on its mailing list. Muchow says, “We work to inspire, empower, and support each other as we ‘figure things out’ when it comes to diabetes and exercise.” The group exchanges ideas and support both in person and online.
When Muchow reached out to this group asking if anyone would be interested in participating in the longest in-state relay across the continental U.S., Julie Kuehn was one of several members who could not have said, “Yes!” faster.
Kuehn, like many others on the team, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes early in life. “Every thought and decision I have first goes through a ‘diabetes filter,’” She says. While this has presented her with obstacles on a daily basis, Keuhn also contends that she would have missed out on a lot had it not been for her diabetes. She cites meeting her husband, who was a counselor at a diabetes camp she attended, as one of many examples.
She also attributes her athletic accomplishments to her diabetes. “I chose to run a marathon because I was afraid that I couldn’t do it because I have type 1 diabetes. But that is exactly why I ran the marathon,” she said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do anything, really anything, despite my diabetes.” Here, Keuhn sums up the theme that strings many Diabadasses together.
Joshua Fabian ran 260 miles from his home in Austin to Gainesville, Texas in June of 2014. “I used to think diabetes could stop me from doing things normal people could do. I now believe that diabetes has pushed me further in my life than if I didn’t have it,” Fabian said. His goal was to run from his home to Camp Sweeney, a diabetes camp in Gainesville that Fabian credits with saving his life. “The reason it saved my life was because of the other campers,” he said.” I was not alone with fighting diabetes.” He spent seven consecutive summers at Camp Sweeney after his diagnosis of type 1 diabetes at age 12.
Team Diabadass, which was sponsored by DEXcom and supported heavily by Medtronic, raved about support they garnered from their teammates throughout this race. Kuehn, who ran the 10 am, 12 am, and 3 pm legs of the relay, said, “We had people who felt they just could not go on due to the heat and humidity, and without thinking twice, someone would jump out of the van and run alongside them, tacking on extra miles to what they had already done. They put their exhaustion aside so they could go help their teammate.” One such brave runner was Jeff Kilarski, who leapt to teammate Don Muchow’s side when Muchow was severely dehydrated in his last leg of the relay.
The team defines a “Diabadass” as anyone “with diabetes who refuses to be a victim, takes charge, stays physically active, and in some way manages to amaze themselves when they look back on the day.”
Doug Masiuk has embodied this philosophy throughout his life. Masiuk, who was diagnosed as a child, recalls his parents, “would shove me out the back door and I would have a box of raisins in my pocket and I would go ride my bike,” He said. His parents’ philosophy was that diabetes was a responsibility, never an excuse.
He hopes Team Diabadass can be a beacon of hope for people struggling with their diabetes, or people who are newly diagnosed with diabetes. “Somewhere there’s a mom and dad in the hospital right now and their child’s been diagnosed with diabetes and it seems pretty dire,” Masiuk says. “I’m able to stand in front of that mom and dad and I can say this is 37 years of what you fear. It creates a lot of perspective for them. If a guy can run across the country, my kid can go out there and live a full life.”
Masiuk and his teammates hope their achievements have a positive effect on the greater diabetes community. As Masiuk puts it, “We’re part of a tribe.”