Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 13 November 2012 15:24
Greg Auerbach figured when he pedaled into Hillsboro last week Wednesday with 1,530 miles under his belt that he was halfway to his immediate goal of bicycling from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.
His longterm goal—to help end diabetes—will take a while longer. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 4 years old, Auerbach, now 23, knows firsthand the journey to a cure may be a ways off. But the journey to stay healthy is achievable each day.
“Diabetes has been part of my life and I’ve taken great control of it,” Auerbach said. “If you don’t, it’s a thing that can take control of you.”
He was fortunate to get an early start on that journey. Auerbach’s parents, both doctors, decided to put their son on an insulin pump when he was 8 years old.
“Now, kids are as young as 2 years old when they get one, but at the time doctors wouldn’t allow it, so (my parents) put me on it on their own,” he said. “And it is a risk. You can (accidently) push a button and give insulin and go under. But they took the initiative to put me on it and I’m grateful for that.”
Auerbach said his diabetes didn’t keep him from living an active life. He was active in school and even played a season of soccer in his first year at Gettysburg College.
He hasn’t completed his degree yet, but wants to transfer to a film school.
The cross-country bicycle trip has turned out to be a somewhat spontaneous break from his educational plans.
“I’ve always wanted to bicycle across the country,” Auerbach said. “It’s for a great cause and I figured this is the best time to do it.”
Auerbach said he welcomed the diversion.
“Everything’s so planned in our lives,” he said. “All my friends go to college, and right out of college they get a job. There’s no spontaneity anymore.
“At least in my opinion, if you want a happy life you need a balance between spontaneity and planning as well. Otherwise, you won’t reach your goals.”
Auerbach said he did some preliminary planning for his 3,000-mile quest, but not as much as one might think.
“I’m kind of impulsive in some ways, but there’s definitely planning for what you need to take—especially the route,” he said. “I have a general idea of my route, but sometimes I’ll make adjustments along the way, especially when I’m more familiar with the area.”
Auerbach said having Type 1 diabetes has been a factor in his planning, but so far he has been pleased with how his body has responded to the physical challenge of pedaling 50 to 80 miles a day.
“A lot of diabetics know this, but because I’m exercising and burning so many calories, I almost don’t need to give myself insulin—but I do,” he said. “My body’s working so hard. It’s pretty amazing. It’s almost like temporarily I don’t have diabetes.”
Even so, Auerbach said he monitors his blood sugar closely.
“You really have to stay on top of your sugars,” he said. “As I get older, it’s harder to tell if I have low blood sugar, which is scary. That’s the most immediate threat.
“The most important thing for a diabetic is testing your blood sugar,” he added. “I really believe if you want to see results in terms of handling your diabetes and seeing better results, the more you test your blood sugar the better off you’re going to be. I really believe there’s a strong correlation.”
Auerbach said making the trip alone does raise the risk level.
“If something does happen to me, it could be a high risk,” he said. “What if there’s no cell service? What if I run out of sugar? The goal obviously is not to do that, and I have bags and stuff to make sure I don’t run out of sugar.”
Bicycling on the country’s highway system raises another kind of risk.
“The big risk is that a car comes out of nowhere and blindsides me and then runs off,” he said. “It happens a lot. I looked at statistics in Kansas and they’re not that great. But people have been pretty courteous so far.”
Auerbach’s closest call so far came at the hands of Mother Nature.
“Going through Illinois during a thunderstorm, I was the tallest object for miles,” he said. “Lighting strikes were hitting left and right. That was the most scared I’ve been on the trip.”
Auerbach said he previously had researched what to do in such a situation.
“At one point I actually got off my bike and got down on my knees,” he said. “They say not to get flat (on the ground), but to get down on your knees in a fetal position and put your arms out. So I did that.
“I’m not that religious, but I was praying.”
Auerbach’s contribution to the battle to end diabetes will be the money he raises for research as he pedals cross-country.
“I set the goal at $5,000, which is just an arbitrary number,” he said. “Obviously, the bigger goal is to cure diabetes. I think I’m going to reach $5,000.?Right now I am at $3,000.”
Funding for research is critical, he said.
“I wouldn’t be able to do this (trip) alone, and I don’t know if there’s been any other diabetic to bicycle across the country in solitude—partly because they wouldn’t be crazy enough to do it, and secondly because the technology in years past hasn’t been sufficient,” Auerbach said.
“Past donations allow me to do this,” he added. “I’m not chained to an area. I can actually just go—like most people can, if they choose to. I’m grateful for that.”
Until the day comes when the cure is discovered, Auerbach has advice for people battling diabetes right now.
“Taking care of yourself and staying informed is the most important thing you can do. It’s going to help your life in every other aspect.
“If you lose that, you’re going to lose a lot of other things along the way. It’s a basic building block. Stay informed, stay healthy and you’ll live a better life.”
Greg Auerbach has been posting his cross-country progress on his website, bikefordiabetes.com. People can donate toward diabetes research via the website.