PAINTER: Man rides to help find a cure for diabetes

Tom Miller remembers well how he first got involved with a bicycling group dedicated to helping people with Type 1 diabetes — commonly referred to as juvenile diabetes.
Feb 6, 2013

Miller, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was a senior at Western Michigan University, was attending the West Michigan group’s bicycle event six years ago when a man noticed Miller’s insulin pump attached to his body.

“Why are we riding for you?” the man asked. “You should be riding for yourself.”

Miller, caught by surprise, didn’t know what to say. But he remembered those words, and he decided to become involved.

Miller, 55, now annually participates in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Ride to Cure Diabetes bicycle events. This is the fifth year he will be a participant.

He recently signed up for the foundation’s 100-mile ride in Nashville, Tenn., in September. The Nashville ride is a new event this year.

Miller will also participate and volunteer for several other bicycle rides in the United States sponsored by the foundation.

In 1979, Miller was just three weeks away from college graduation when he began to notice that something was wrong. He felt listless, and was often thirsty and frequently going to the bathroom.

He went to see a doctor at Western Michigan University’s medical center. After extensive testing, Miller was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, according to the JDRF website.

“You don’t die from diabetes," Miller said. "You die from its complications."

Miller, who is going on 34 years as a diabetic, goes through a daily regiment to monitor his diabetes. He pricks his finger an average of six times a day to test his blood-sugar levels.

At first, Miller injected insulin with a needle. Now, he has an insulin pump attached to his body, enabling him to give himself the right amount to balance his blood-sugar levels.

Exercise has played an important part in Miller’s life.

Miller retired last spring from his job of 28 years as assistant director of Ottawa County’s Friend of the Court. He used to bicycle to work, regularly exercise in weight rooms and referee high school basketball games.

After being diagnosed with diabetes, exercise and proper diet became critical to his lifestyle.

Diabetes hasn’t stopped Miller from enjoying an active lifestyle. Besides bicycling, Miller likes to sail and snow ski. He is a frequent participant in the annual Queen’s Cup, a sailing race from Milwaukee to ports in West Michigan. He also enjoys spending time with his two sons: Jeff, 27, and Dave, 21.

Volunteer work is also very important to Miller. His work with the diabetes foundation is a good example. Miller feels strongly about riding his bicycle and raising money for the foundation's efforts in finding better ways to treat diabetes and eventually a cure. Miller doesn’t believe that a cure for diabetes will be found in his lifetime, but he is optimistic for better treatment and a possible cure for future generations.

The foundation’s six bicycle events raise significant money for Type 1 diabetes research. Each participant is asked to raise between $2,000 and $4,000 to partake in one of the rides. Besides Nashville, rides are planned for Burlington, Vt.; LaCrosse, Wis.; Lake Tahoe, Calif.; Death Valley, Calif.; and Tucson, Ariz.

Much of the money Miller raises comes from his volunteer work at VanAndel Arena in Grand Rapids. His West Michigan riding group works at concession stands during events and they receive 10 percent of sales.

Miller sets aside his share into a special fund for the JDRF bicycle rides. He also contributes an amount that it would cost him to go on vacation to a particular site. He tries to ask as little as possible from donors.

One of Miller’s favorite area events is the Michigan JDRF’s One Day Ride Across Michigan event. This year’s ride is on Aug. 10.

Miller said the event is open to anyone. The ride begins in Montague and ends up at the Bay City Recreation Area. Riders stop halfway for lunch.

“Last year, we had 279 riders,” Miller said. “We’re looking for even more this year.”

The cost to participate is $30 per person before March 17, $40 per person before July 28 and $50 per person after July 28. Miller said bus transportation is offered for $40 to return to West Michigan.

For more information, visit the organization’s website at odram.com.

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