She was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was 16. She’s had breast cancer twice in the past six years, and a unilateral mastectomy. But Mari, 47, is happy.
In the perennial card game of life, no one with the hand Mari Ruddy (left) has been dealt should be as upbeat or happy as she is. She was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was 16. She’s had breast cancer twice in the past six years, and a unilateral mastectomy.
But Mari, 47, is happy. And she doesn’t exude a Pollyanna-ish kind of optimism. It’s real; a dig-deep, stay-in-the-game-of-life kind of joy.
A motivational speaker, an executive coach for schools and nonprofits and the founder of Team WILD (We Inspire Life with Diabetes), Mari believes answers start with the individual.
“In life, you get what you get,” she says. “The only thing you can control is your attitude. All right, this is happening to me — what am I going do about it?”
Mari, who lives in Denver, walks the talk; or rather runs, cycles and swims it. She started exercising at age 31, at the urging of a doctor who told her she would die otherwise. She had been terrified of low blood sugars and how her body might react to exercise.
When she had radiation treatment for her first cancer, she began training for a triathlon.
“I rode my bike to chemo almost every day, and in the wintertime, I rode my training bike inside, looking at a picture of Lance Armstrong,” says Mari.
In 2006, she joined a Tour de Cure bicycle ride sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. In that event, she noticed there was no way to tell which participants had diabetes, so she proposed the Red Rider recognition program. Now cyclists with diabetes wear red “I Ride With Diabetes!” jerseys in the more than 80 annual Tour de Cure rides across the country.
“Recognition is important,” Mari says. “If you’re taking charge of your health, you deserve to be celebrated.”
Ever the observer, Mari also noticed that most of the Red Riders were men. So in 2008, Mari founded Team WILD (Teamwild.org), an organization that supports and empowers female endurance athletes with diabetes. This year, Team WILD has four teams, including a group of 10 who participated in an Ironman triathlon in September, an event comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Team members across the country have a monthly conference call with a coach and then meet for races.
Kerry Snider, 50, who was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in February 2010, says Mari inspired her to make exercising a habit. The self-described former couch potato has lost 60 pounds and is a member of Team WILD 101, an exercise and diabetes support group.
“You are the only one who prevents you from living your life,” says Kerry, who also attended Mari’s Camp WILD, a four-day bootcamp for diabetics who want to learn how to balance medications with food and exercise. “If you don’t like what you have become, no one can change it but you.”
Said like a pro — or like Mari Ruddy. In the next few years, Mari hopes to focus specifically on motivational speaking that highlights Team WILD and the Red Riders.
“I use endurance athletics as a metaphor for how we can choose to survive in life or give up,” she says. “But I don’t want to just motivate people — I want them to actually get out there and do it!”
Tips for managing diabetes
Diabetes educator Pat Celek — who has diabetes herself — dishes out her best advice.
Start slow. Patients who have just been diagnosed often come to Celek’s office overwhelmed. “Sometimes their doctor has said, ‘I want you to have lost 25 pounds by the next time I see you,’ ” she says. “But I don’t put too many restrictions on them right away. I tell them to cut out regular soda, and then I say we’ll work on fine-tuning it from there.”
Keep your tank full. While it’s easy to fret over food choices, the No. 1 thing Pat tells her patients is never to skip meals. “Think of your body as a car — it gets its best mileage on cruise control,” she says.
Get moving. Like many of us, Pat’s patients often feel like they’re too busy to exercise, so she offers tons of suggestions on how to fit in workouts. “I like to keep weights next to the television. If I’m watching the (NFL’s Green Bay) Packers, I’ll do bicep curls and planks during the commercials. In a one-hour program, that’s 17 minutes of exercise,” she says. “Even standing on one leg in the grocery line will help with core balance.”
Then move even more. “Patients will ask me, ‘Should I go to the health food store and buy this supplement?’ and I’ll say, ‘I don’t know, but I do know if you walk to the store and back, that will work!’” Celek says.
Surround yourself with a top medical team. She may be an expert herself, but even Celek needs support. “I still go to see an endocrinologist and a diabetes nurse.
“I know all the knowledge about diabetes, but I think the hard part is the motivation. You need that team that says, ‘I’m here for you if you need something.’ I hope that’s what I do for my clients.”
Mari’s tips for managing diabetes
Mari Ruddy offers these tips for newly diagnosed adults with Type I and Type II diabetes.
1 You can view this as a death sentence. Or you can say to yourself, “This is an opportunity for me to take exquisite care of my amazing and precious body and self.” One way to do that is to say to yourself, “I’ve always wanted to be an athlete. Now’s my chance!”
2 Make it a point to start learning everything you can about diabetes. Embrace information. Start a notebook, buy a few books, and interview some people. The online diabetes community is very active, so join in!
3 Go to the American Diabetes Association website (diabetes.org) and find an event or group that resonates with you. Doing diabetes alone is really hard, so find friends with diabetes, and use them as sounding boards.
4 Set a fitness goal for yourself, then make an action plan to reach your goal. Make sure the goal is do-able, and make sure the action steps are specific and clear. Remember, get help to reach your goal!
5 You deserve to have the best medical team and diabetes team around you. Your life has changed. Demand (in a nice way!) that everyone treat you as the CEO of your life and body. Toward that end, ask lots of questions, and seek lots of support. No one but you lives in your body 24 hours a day, so take charge of your health and well-being! You CAN do this. You CAN live well.