Between running a PR at Club Champs, watching all the track-and-field events the Olympics had to offer, and researching and building a marathon training plan that would bring me my next PR at NYCM, I have been pretty much living in running la-la land the past two weeks, thinking only in relations of fast, faster, and fastest. I have become so infatuated with race times and race goals that I could swear I was starting to turn into the kind of person I absolutely abhorred when I first got introduced to the sport; the despicable speed snob.
Let me take a second to explain the term for those are unfamiliar with these runners and their tactics. The speed snob is the runner or runners, who judges the value of a person by the speed at which he/she run. They are obsessed with race times, their own as well as those of their friends and acquaintances, and uses them to openly disparage those who do not run as fast as them. If the speed snob does not think that you run at a comparable speed, he/she will ignore you completely and refuse to run with you, even in training. They often coalesce with those who run as they do and think as they do. As such, speed snobs often hang out in droves. For the record, I hate speed snobs because not only are they elitist in their thinking and conceded in their remarks, they act in a way that is absolutely contrary to what a running community is all about.
Still, even though I haven’t spoken or done anything to act the part, by the end of the week, I was beginning to think like a speed snob. Yikes! I needed a reality check in the worst way. As a result, in order to bring some perspective back to my life, I decided to volunteer to play camp doctor to a bunch of people who didn’t know what my 5 mile race PR was, or how fast I ran
So that is how I came to volunteer for a day at the Children’s Diabetes Camp next to the hospital where I work. This camp is a two-week program held annually during the summer for kids with type 1 diabetes between ages of 7-13 to come together to make friends, participate in athletics, and all the while learning how to manage their diabetes in everyday life. Camp itself was held at an athletic center of a nearby college so there was plenty of space for the kids to run, swim, play ball, and jump around. The whole endeavor is a huge undertaking and is led predominantly by two clinical diabetic nurse educators and is sponsored by generous donations from patient’s families themselves and the community.
Since I was new to the institution, this was my first time going to diabetes camp. On the day that I went, there were about 45 children altogether. I recognized about a quarter of them because they were my patients from my own clinic. Usually the only interactions I have with these children are when they are sick and lying in a hospital bed or when they are in my office with their parents for a checkup. So it was quite shocking for me in camp to see them so healthy and vivacious, running and playing with friends in their natural habitat. When it came time for lunch and snack, it was so heart-breaking and inspiring to see them all prick their little fingers together and read off their blood sugar readings while helping each other with their insulin shots. I have tried so hard throughout the year to convince the children to not to be ashamed of their disease in front of their friends that it felt good for once to see them in an environment where they didn’t have to be afraid of pricking their fingers or injecting themselves with insulin in public.
In between helping the nurses deal with mini-emergencies with the children and teaching the kids how to deal with real life issues that come up as it pertains to diabetes, I got to watch the kids swim in the pool, run a relay race in the gym (I had to resist the urge to participate, even if I didn’t have the right shoes on), make pretty pencil holders to take home and test their knowledge in diabetes jeopardy. Overall, it was a great day; most definitely an eye-opening experience for me.
The most humbling part of my trip took place when I got a chance to speak to the nurse educators a bit while the kids were having free time in the gym. They told me that for most of these kids, the two weeks they spend at camp are the most fun they have all summer. Because most of them come from broken homes, live in apartments without access to parks or someone to bring them there during the day, this is the only time they get to act and play like normal kids, almost as if they didn’t have diabetes. The unfortunate thing is even though the admission for camp has increased by about ten per year through its three years of existence, they were still only able to accept about half the number of kids who apply for the camp. There is just not enough charitable money to cover the door-to-door transportation, the rental costs for the facilities, the athletic counselors, the lifeguards, the food and drinks, and the necessary staff to supervise 40+ kids. As yet, they have been unable to receive any national or local sponsorships for the program. They suspect that as the nation enters into a recession, the amount of charitable donations to support the program might even be less in the coming years.
I have never been one to use my running as an opportunity to solicit money for a charitable cause, but for these kids and others who clearly need this place not only as a reprieve from their everyday lives, but also as a place to meet others like them and to learn more about their disease, I believe I owe it to them to do what I can to help. Although it is too late for me to raise funds through my marathons this year, I can plan to collect donations and sponsors as I train and run the Boston Marathon next April. It’s the least I think I can do for a cause so good!