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JDRF walk spurs diabetes awareness

Emily Kefalas | Monday, September 16, 2013

Saint Mary’s junior Becky Walker does not flinch at the idea of giving herself four shots every day. But when it is someone else’s hand that has to administer the injection, her childhood fear of needles settles in.  
“I’m diabetic, and I deal with [needles] because I have to,” Walker said. “Otherwise, I’m kind of terrified of them.”
Walker fearlessly took a stand against her disease along with an estimated 15 combined members of the Saint Mary’s Rotaract Club and the Notre Dame Diabetes Sidekicks on Sunday at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation 2013 Walk to Cure Diabetes.
The charity walk raises funds through team and participant donations for the millions of people living with Type 1 diabetes. Walker said people who are personally tied to the disease often offer donations.  
“Definitely a part of it is that I am diabetic, so this would be a reason, specifically, to participate in a diabetes walk,” Walker said.  “It was close to me.  If I wasn’t diabetic, I don’t think I would have heard of it or been looking for it.”
Nicholas Holuta, president of Notre Dame Diabetes Sidekicks, said Walker and her team joined thousands of South Bend and surrounding area residents at 2 p.m. in braving the slight drizzle of rain to walk the two-mile course in Beutter Park, Mishawaka.
“The atmosphere was pretty awesome,” Holuta said. “The weather was a little worrisome early on, but luckily the rain held off pretty well and we had a great day. There were a bunch of fundraising teams there from the South Bend and Mishawaka communities, and it was just a great event as a whole.  Everyone seemed to be having a great time.”
The walk marks the first monthly event for the Rotaract Club, president and junior Kaitlin Maierhofer said.  
“[Becky] thought it would be something Rotaract could team up with because we are always looking for service opportunities.  I just became president, and I said ‘Go for it, we can put it together, I’ll support it, it sounds like it will be a blast.’ I’m all for helping whoever I can.  It just sounded fun.  It was different. We haven’t done anything like it in the past,” Maierhofer said.  
From a personal standpoint, Walker said her story is similar to those of other members in the Notre Dame Diabetes Sidekicks. The organization was initiated two years ago and open to both diabetic and non-diabetic students.
“With Notre Dame, we [basically] have a weekly dinner, and we serve as a support group for ourselves,” Walker said.  
The newly established club attracts approximately 15 members each week, boasting a total of 30 active representatives, Holuta said. She said half of the members are not even diabetic.
“Yes, many people in the group are diabetics, but there is still significant portion of the group who have are not diabetic who play a huge role in what we do,” she said. “Originally, we were founded as a support group for diabetics on campus, but now we’re way more than that, and I really like the direction we are heading.”
The growth and progress of the group continues to develop through word of mouth and publicity for events such as the JDRF walk, vice president and sophomore Nora Eder said.  
“We’ve talked to health services to see if we can get any kind of outreach for the club like send a newsletter,” Eder said. “More awareness has definitely been our focus for this year, and letting people know we are out here, and trying find ways to reach out to incoming freshmen whose parents are totally nervous about their kids coming to college for the first time.”
The organization continues to raise funds for its planned calendar of monthly events through JDRF, chairperson and senior Clare LaRosa said.
“Our overall goal is to be a resource for diabetics on campus, [so they] know that they’re not alone and to have other people going through the same things, to talk to if they have any issues,” LaRosa said. “We are on the path to becoming an official club, so we have more leverage to get things done on campus.”
LaRosa said the club is looking to demand more flexibility and greater availability of dining hall meal plan options for diabetics on campus. “Any diabetic students can email one of the nutritionists in the dining hall.  We can, for free, get an extended meal plan so we get 28 meals a week instead of 14 without paying extra,” LaRosa said.
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 15, LaRosa said adapting to the disease and then later transitioning into college with it as a handicap was somewhat of a struggle.
“College is way different.  You might start class at 9 [a.m.] one morning and noon the next day, and then on the weekends you might be sleeping in really late, so eating meals at a bunch of different times can really mess with the blood sugar,” LaRosa said. “Getting used to all of that is a big transition.  This club didn’t exist when I was a freshmen, but if it had I think it would have been a good resource to just have people to talk to about this stuff.”
Walker works to educate students about on-campus options for diabetics while providing aid and assistance to fellow Saint Mary’s diabetics on where to purchase and restock on medicine.  
“I don’t have an official title, but I see myself as the official Saint Mary’s ambassador of the [Notre Dame Diabetes Sidekicks],” Walker said.
Considering she is not a diabetic herself, club president Kaitlin Maierhofer and Rotaract member’s own motivation for participating in the club goes beyond representing Rotaract’s executive board.
“You really don’t hear much about diabetes, I mean it’s really prevalent in the world and in today’s society, but there’s not much people really do.  This [JDRF Walk] is a different little spin on something we can help with,” Maierhofer said.
LaRosa said the specifics of type 1 diabetes are overshadowed by those of type 2. The JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes succeeds in raising consciousness of type 1, LaRosa said.    
“Diabetes touches a lot of people, and it’s something that really changes somebody’s life,” LaRosa said. “As a club, one of our main goals is to educate and raise awareness.  That will be something we’re working on going forward is educating campus about the difference.”