Man on a 10,000-mile mis­sion

Se­nior walks to raise aware­ness of di­a­betes

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Rachel Oswald

Clothed in two heavy sweat­shirts and a bright yel­low vest, his legs bare, Andy Man­dell, set out from Cov­ing­ton early Tues­day morn­ing as part of his one-man Wake up and Walk Tour across the perime­ter of the U.S. to raise aware­ness about di­a­betes.

Man­dell, who also goes by the name Mr. Di­a­betes, has been walk­ing around Amer­ica since Jan­uary 2002. Start­ing in Madeira Beach, Fla., he has walked 8,869 miles of his 10,000 mile plus trek. He ex­pects to com­plete his walk in De­cem­ber 2008 where he will cross the fin­ish line in Madeira Beach.

The goals of the Wake Up and Walk Tour, which is spon­sored by the De­feat Di­a­betes Foun­da­tion, in­clude spread­ing aware­ness of di­a­betes to the mil­lions of di­a­betic Amer­i­cans who don’t re­al­ize they have the dis­ease or are in dan­ger of de­vel­op­ing it and by demon­strat­ing that di­a­betes is not a death sen­tence through the ex­am­ple of Man­dell, who as an in­sulin de­pen­dent se­nior di­a­betic is suc­cess­fully man­ag­ing his dis- ease while still liv­ing a vig­or­ous life.

“If I can do it in my age and my con­di­tion, ev­ery­one can do it,” Man­dell said.

A tall man with long hair and a bushy mus­tache, Man­dell, 62, speaks with a thick Bos­ton ac­cent.

Tues­day morn­ing he went through his daily rou­tine with his tour man­ager Russ Bar­riger in the park­ing lot of an of­fice com­plex next to the McDon­ald’s on U.S. High­way 278 prior to set­ting out. The two dis­cussed the ground to be cov­ered that day and filmed a brief video diary seg­ment.

Russ and his wife Shirley are re­spon­si­ble for Man­dell’s safety on the road, map­ping the route and doc­u­ment­ing the jour­ney on video. The Bar­rigers be­came ac­tive with the De­feat Di­a­betes Foun­da­tion af­ter their son was di­ag­nosed with Type 1 di­a­betes ( for­merly known as ju­ve­nile di­a­betes.)

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion, there are 20.8 mil­lion chil­dren and adults in the United States who have di­a­betes. Of that num­ber, ap­prox­i­mately 6.2 mil­lion peo­ple are un­aware that they have the dis­ease.

Di­a­betes is a dis­ease where the body does not pro­duce or prop­erly use in­sulin, a hor­mone that is needed to con­vert starches and sugar into the en­ergy needed for daily life. Re­search on the dis­ease has not yet re­vealed its cause al­though both ge­net­ics and en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors such as obe­sity likely play a part.

Walk­ing clock­wise around the U. S., Man­dell is in the home- stretch of his walk. Ge­or­gia is the 33rd state he must cross be­fore com­plet­ing the walk in Florida. From Cov­ing­ton he will walk west to At­lanta then south­east to Savannah.

Liv­ing with the dis­ease

The ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the De­feat Di­a­betes Foun­da­tion, Man­dell was di­ag­nosed with Type 2 di­a­betes in 1985. How­ever, Man­dell says he did not take the di­ag­no­sis se­ri­ous and was not vig­i­lant in treat­ing it.

“ Typ­i­cally when di­ag­nosed you go into a state of de­nial,” Man­dell said. Ac­cord­ing to his of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­phy avail­able on­line, though he did fol­low his doc­tor’s ad­vice to not eat any­thing which con­tained sugar in its top three in­gre­di­ents, Man­dell con­tin­ued to live, work, play and eat as he had prior to the di­ag­no­sis.

It wasn’t un­til he woke up one day in ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain that he re­al­ized the full mag­ni­tude of his con­di­tion. At his weak­est point he lay in bed 20 hours a day.

“ Even­tu­ally we got it un­der con­trol,” said Man­dell who cred­its ag­gres­sive self­man­age­ment of his dis­ease and sound med­i­cal ad­vice from a group of di­a­betes spe­cial­ists for his sound health to­day.

In 1990, he co- founded the De­feat Di­a­betes Foun­da­tion with his brother, Jerry, to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the dan­gers of di­a­betes. He has since au­thored a fit­ness man­ual for di­a­bet­ics in ad­di­tion to writ­ing ar­ti­cles for a variety of publi­ca­tions and Web- sites.

On the road he car­ries in­sulin, glu­cose tabs for coun­ter­ing in­sulin re­ac­tions, blood test­ing equip­ment and a walkie- talkie which he uses to com­mu­ni­cate with the Bar­rigers.

In a typ­i­cal day, Man­dell says he will walk for four to six hours in be­tween stops to talk with on av­er­age 25 to 50 peo­ple a day who stop him on the road to ask ques­tions about the walk and why he is do­ing it. In the nearly six years he has been walk­ing, Man­dell es­ti­mates he has spo­ken with 60,000 peo­ple.

“ The ob­ject of the walk is to make as much noise as we can,” Man­dell said.

To ev­ery per­son he meets Man­dell pro­vides a short brochure which in­cludes a di­a­betes screen­ing test.

Type 2 di­a­betes is the most com­mon form of di­a­betes. Ac­cord­ing to the De­feat Di­a­betes Foun­da­tion it is 95 per­cent pre­ventable.

“ It’s a hand­i­cap but it’s not a rea­son not to do things,” Man­dell said.

Man­dell says he has seen a change in the way Amer­i­cans talk about and han­dle di­a­betes since he was first di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease. But he says more peo­ple need to ac­knowl­edge the re­al­i­ties of di­a­betes.

“ They’re wak­ing up,” said Man­dell. “ But the fu­ture is very bleak. There has to be more aware­ness and more peo­ple tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for them­selves. Don’t look for a cure. It ain’t com­ing.”

Man­dell es­ti­mated that a cure for di­a­betes is 20 to 30 years away. Ac­cord­ing to Man­dell the lack of progress in find­ing a cure is largely a re­sult of the $ 225 bil­lion di­a­betes in­dus­try which makes a large profit on the sale of di­a­betes med­i­ca­tions to the mil­lions of peo­ple liv­ing with the dis­ease across the globe.

“ Where’s the in­cen­tive?” said Man­dell. “ It’s a money- driven so­ci­ety. It’s not le­git­i­mate”

The daily grind

Walk­ing for Man­dell, who has to carry a walk­ing stick be­cause his legs and feet are largely numb due to com­pli­ca­tions from his di­a­betes, can of­ten­times be treach­er­ous. The big­gest threats to his safety so far have been an­gry dogs and dan­ger­ous road con­di­tions.

Trekking through Cov­ing­ton has been par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous said Man­dell.

“ The walk­ing area is nonex­is­tent,” said Man­dell who stuck mainly to state roads and ma­jor thor­ough­fares on his walk through New­ton County. “ The shoul­ders are as treach­er­ous as the road.”

Al­ready he has worn out 22 pairs of sneak­ers on his trek. Still with­out a shoe spon­sor ( hint, hint) Man­dell says he has tried out a variety of run­ning shoes but adds that New Bal­ance shoes are one of his fa­vorites to wear.

“ I feel it’s part of my re­spon­si­bil­ity to try dif­fer­ent prod­ucts and ser­vices,” Man­dell said.

Man­dell lives in an RV and camps each night af­ter his walk. Since he be­gan the walk, Man­dell says he has trav­eled home to Florida sev­eral times. His du­ties as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the De­feat Di­a­betes Foun­da­tion have also called him away at times.

The Wake up and Walk Tour is partly spon­sored by BClear, an all nat­u­ral di­a­betes en­ergy drink.

To learn more about di­a­betes or to con­trib­ute to the Wake Up and Walk Tour visit www. De­featDi­a­betes. org

Rachel Oswald The Cov­ing­ton News

Man on a mis­sion: “Mr. Di­a­betes” Andy Man­dell walks his way west up U.S. High­way 278, Tues­day morn­ing con­tin­u­ing his epic jour­ney to raise aware­ness of di­a­betes.

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