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Saturday, July 13, 2013
Big Red Run Shows Big Heart

Among ultra runners it is known that their pursuit is not an individual one. The one-foot-in-front-of-the-other process that is the central focus of achievement is most certainly individual motion, but getting to the finish line is most certainly not accomplished alone. 

When distances being run are marathon plus, day in, day out; when the territory is both as brutal and other-worldy beautiful as the Simpson Desert; when the forces that attempt to halt your progress attack from within your body – fatigue, blisters, torn tendons, bruised feet – and from without – heat, sand, wind and no water – you need help.
And so it was a fitting end in Birdsville, Queensland, to the inaugural 250km Big Red Run multiday with the entire field running as a close knit group down the broad, dusty main street of Birdsville to finish on the steps of the iconic Birdsville Pub. They ran into the bar and a few cold beers to boot as a newly formed family group, each having conquered the same overall obstacles of the desert along with their own, very personal demons of mind and body to finish an adventure run odyssey like no other.

There was little talk of winners and times. None, in fact. In place of the usual run gathering stopwatch fests, were hugs all round, tears, congratulations and perhaps a pint of beer or two. The first was chugged down by a beaming Greg Donovan, the instigator and dream builder behind this event that will no doubt become as iconic as the Simpson through which it runs and the pub at which it culminates. 

The genesis of the Big Red Run multiday event began with Greg’s determination to raise money and awareness for Type 1 Diabetes, which affects the life of his youngest son Steven Donovan. Over the course of a year and with an inkling of cause related running, that journey ventured through four multiday desert runs across the Gobi, Atacama, Sahara and Antarctic deserts. Greg took with him the five-member Team Born To Run, made up of what would come to be the oldest and youngest to finish the Four Deserts series, the first couple, and the first with Type 1 Diabetes. 
His journey, or at least a major chapter of it, ended with a mixed group of elite ultra runners, weekend warriors, and Type 1 Diabetic entrants capping off a big week of running by completing the final 8km stretch untimed, with results settled on the previous day’s double marathon leg. 

As it happened, Team Born To Run member, Jess Baker, took line honours after chasing down an almost impossible lead of near on an hour held after four days of racing by ultra young gun, Matty Abel. Struggling with knee issues, Abel had gone out hard from the first day’s marathon effort, a decision that cost him (and many other inexperienced multiday runners) dearly. 

As each day’s 42km course unfolded in a stream of unending gibber plains, sand dunes, mud flats and sharp scrublands, the front pack settled with Jess’ fellow Team Born to Run members Matt Donovan and Roger Hanney toughing it out alongside up and coming trail runner Lucy Bartholomew. Behind them and Abel were 36 more runners stretched across an unforgiving landscape, each looking for answers to all sorts of personal questions, podiums and places furthest from everyone’s minds, including those at the front. 

One of the most inspirational stories of all was that of Mark Moala, an Australian-Tongan who set out to inspire his family and his Tongan community by taking on a challenge that was to all intents beyond his judged capacity. After six days gutting it out, Mark crossed the line last and was quickly mobbed by media and supporters to become an inspiration to everyone.

Legendary ultra runner Pat Farmer – known for running from the North Pole to the South Pole – bear hugged Mark at the finished. 
You’re my hero, mate. You inspire me.
As event ambassador, Pat had joined the fray each and every day, setting out on foot from checkpoints, heading across the plains to cajole and encourage those flagging at the rear. He spent the penultimate 84km day with Mark; the legend and the legend-to-be leaning on faith and passages of verse (and likely a few famous Pat Farmer quotes) to pick Mark back up from the brink of quitting. The pair eventually lumbered into the final night’s camp under the glare of bobbing headtorches and to the tune of Chariots of Fire at four in the morning, both silent, exhausted, and broken but safe in the knowledge Mark would indeed tomorrow achieve the seemingly impossible. 

The media scrum around him was deserved and tomorrow a Tongan community will know his name, perhaps a few will follow in his image and Mark’s decision not to quit, to continue on will resonate well beyond the finish line cheers.  
No, the Big Red Run is not about times or places, it is as one competitor said, about people and camaraderie and the idea that anything is possible.  
Pat Farmer’s starting line speech this morning was pertinent, sending the runners off with: “So long as you don’t quit, you’ll get to where you are supposed to be in life.”

Not quitting was pertinent to more than just Mark. Matty Abel admits “I’ve never ever cried before like I did on that leg,” referring to the frying pan hot day that squeezed life from runners over the 84km distance. Yet like Mark, he continued on, hobbled, limping, almost writhing in pain. He did not quit; he endured his self doubt and ceased legs to complete the entire course. 

There was Carmen Boulton, who, never having run a marathon, entered in memory of her father who passed away from Type 1 Diabetes complications. She finished. 

There was Duncan Read, a long time Type 1 Diabetic, out to show the disease is no barrier to achievement. He finished. 

Belgian-New Zealander, Patrick Rousseau, had only signed up to do a 100km leg, yet he got into the spirit by running the first day’s marathon on a warm-up whim, and went on to complete his first and entirely unexpected 250km multiday race.  Previously, he had only ever run one road marathon. 

And of course there is Steven Donovan, the inspiration behind his father Greg moving heaven and earth to make the Big Red Run a reality. On Monday morning, Steven had never run a marathon. Come that evening, he had a notch on the marathon belt, having struggled with wavering insulin levels and a gammy knee. Within 48 hours, he had two marathons done and very dusted, surpassing what many would aim for in an entire year. 

There were moments for Steven, as there were for all runners, but with his Dad taking every step beside him on every day (apart from when Steve found a burst of energy and burned his father on Big Red, the desert’s biggest sand dune, to cross the line well ahead), it was a team effort. Finishing the event stronger than ever, Steve now has the equivalent of six marathons completed within a timeframe of six days. Diabetic or otherwise, Steve, and all the runners who took part in the inaugural Big Red Run, showed that in the big heart of a big country, with a big crew of runners, medics, volunteers, organisers and friends supporting each other to, anything truly is possible: even running mind and body-bending distances through one of Australia’s harshest deserts. And keeping on going when your mind and body is shouting to stop. And when you do keep on going, you do indeed, as Pat Farmer said, end up where you are supposed to be in life: with a satisfied smile drinking a beer at the Birdsville Pub musing on how life will never be the same again. 

By Chris Ord

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Thursday, July 11, 2013
The Inspiration behind the Big Red Run

Steve Donovan, from the Northern Beaches in Sydney, is a little overwhelmed by the lengths his father, Greg, will go to, to help find a cure for him and all type 1 diabetes sufferers. The twenty-year-old describes the lead up to the Big Red Run, from diagnosis to preparing to run alongside his dad, brother Matt and the rest of the Born to Run team. Embarking on the road trip to Birdsville in a 4WD convoy of family, organisers, and girlfriend Ashley, he tells of his determination to reach his simple goal: to finish the Big Red Run, whatever it takes.

What led to your type 1 diabetes diagnosis as a teenager? 
I was diagnosed a couple of weeks before my fifteenth birthday. What ultimately led to my diagnosis was a tooth infection, which brought on the diabetes. Any autoimmune disease can be triggered by an infection. Leading up to diagnosis I lost a lot of weight, was going through fluid a lot, urinating a lot. I was also constantly tired, lethargic. I remember I was falling asleep every day on the bus to and from school and at the bus stop. 

I knew there was something wrong but being a typical male I didn’t do anything about it until one day my Mum and Dad said that I looked awfully skinny. I took off my shirt, looked in the mirror and thought, “holy crap, I actually am!” I truly looked anorexic. My parents looked up the symptoms, which indicated diabetes. We booked in the next day for a doctor’s appointment, did the blood sugar levels on the spot and they pretty much diagnosed me then and there. I think my blood sugar level was 16mmol at that time after fasting overnight. The normal range is 4-8mmol. 

Had your family ever heard of diabetes?

Mum’s been a nurse most of her life, firstly in hospitals and then in aged care so she obviously knew quite a bit about diabetes. Dad knew a few bits and pieces but no one knew what it was like living with someone with diabetes. At fourteen, I had no idea at all what it was. I’d heard people needed sugar for it and that’s really all I knew about it.

What was the experience like, having that diagnosis?

It was like diving into the unknown. It was a bit scary. The first year was about getting used to it and I felt like I was in control of it. That’s because I paid a lot of attention to it. Being new to the world of diabetes, I wanted to get it right but there was a lot of struggle I guess in the first year. After that it kind of comes more naturally, just becomes part of everyday life.   

What was the reaction of your school friends?

Being young teenagers, they were not very educated about what diabetes was. Some had relatives who had type 1 diabetes and knew about it but most of my close friends I had to teach over and over again. They always asked the same questions (laughing), “What is it? What do you have to do? What happens if this happens?” so it felt like I was repeating myself a lot. But I needed to teach them all about hypos and awareness and what they needed to do in that situation. Or if they found me acting a bit strange! But I felt a lot of love at that time. I got a lot of support from my friends and family.

What would you say to teenagers who find out they have type 1 diabetes?

Probably, “don’t stress about it too much”. The first year or so is tough but it all comes eventually, pretty naturally. It just becomes part of your life. And you can always hope for a cure. They say a cure is not too far off now, so you’ve got hope. Just don’t stress about it too much.

You played a lot of sport as a kid. Did you still continue to be active?

I played a lot of sport; rugby, soccer, tennis, all sorts of sports, and at diagnosis I continued to play rugby until it just got too hard. I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt that diabetes took over and I just couldn’t play rugby because it was too much effort. But after I took control of it I felt more confident and got into sport a bit more. Obviously now I’m running which is the ultimate challenge for my diabetes. Being an endurance sport it takes a lot out of you – I have to be really careful with the sugars. 

When did you first start getting into running?

Probably when I heard that my brother, Matt, and Dad were going to do the Four Desert series about two years ago. I got into it a little bit then, just doing some small runs, 5kms or so just to see what it was like. Not too much. I didn’t anticipate I’d be doing this event until a bit later. 

How have you been going about preparing for the Big Red Run?

I started by building up to a few 10km runs. Then I did a half-marathon, and began training through the week until my legs started feeling more comfortable with longer distances. I had a big run with my Dad in early January at the Narrabeen All-Nighter. That was 12 hours of running as a tag team. Unfortunately, I pushed myself a bit too hard, injured my knee and wasn’t able to run for a good two months which was very frustrating. After I managed to get running again it was going well for a while. The symptoms didn’t reoccur until a 12km run that I probably ran a little too hard because it was up and down hills putting a lot of strain on my knee. 

I’m having a lot of trouble with my knee at the moment and I haven’t been able to do much training. I’ve been seeing a doctor and had cortisone injections to stop the inflammation. Hopefully, that will be enough to get me through this run. As I haven’t been able to do a lot of training I’m just hoping my willpower will get through. And if I can’t run it, then I’ll walk it. And if I can’t walk it, I’ll crawl it. My goal is to just finish the race. 

You’re putting some pressure on yourself to finish?

Yes, a lot. That’s my worry, mostly, about this race, being able to finish or not. As long as my knee holds up I think I’ll be fine.

Your girlfriend, Ashley, will be a Big Red Run volunteer. Where did you meet?

We met through my best friend. We were friends for about 6 months and then I asked her out. That was one and a half years ago. 

In what way does Ashley support you, day-to-day?

She’s just always there for me. She knows a lot about the disease and all the symptoms of hypos. She understands if I’m a bit grumpy if my levels might be a bit high.  As I said, she’s just always there for me.

How do you feel about what the Born to Run Foundation is trying to achieve?

I’m just very, very proud of my Dad. I feel like I owe him a lot because of what he’s done through the Born To Run foundation. It’s just amazing he is able to do this for me and try to find a cure for type 1 diabetes.

What’s he like as a person? 

(Laughing) Well, he’s a bit crazy! He’s always been crazy. He’s done a lot of weird adventurous stuff; I don’t think there’s a sport or an activity he hasn’t done. He likes to do everything. On holidays he doesn’t relax - he likes to do all the activities. He’s one of the smartest people I know. A very business-savvy person. I admire him a lot. 

What about the rest of your family?

Mum’s really, really supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better mum. She supports my Dad and me, and the rest of the family. My older brother Matt’s obviously very sporty! He’s one of the Born to Run team. And my sister Laura, who is Event Administrator for the Big Red Run, is like Mum. She’s really supportive, friendly and nice. I couldn’t name one person who doesn’t like her and she’s willing to help out all the time. A very generous person.

How do you feel about being the inspiration for raising awareness and raising money for research towards a cure for type 1 diabetes?

I feel very grateful that this is all done for me or because of me. I was recently thinking that a lot of parents set up foundations after their son, daughter or relative has passed away to raise awareness for whatever their condition was. But my family is doing this while I’m here and so I get to see it all come together. I feel so grateful for that.

What are you expecting at the BRR? 

I’m picturing everyone supporting each other, all the competitors encouraging the other competitors, just getting behind one another. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good runner or not so good runner, everyone’s going to be supportive. Also the volunteers are obviously going to wonderful. It’ll just be a very supportive atmosphere.

What are you hoping for the future when it comes to type 1 diabetes?

Ultimately, I’m hoping for a cure to type 1 diabetes, and also awareness about the disease, to get it out there and get more and more people getting behind the cause.

You’re half-way through studying a Business degree at university. What would you like to do once you have finished?

I haven’t really put much thought into it, but I’ve been thinking maybe I’d be interested in being involved in the Born To Run business that Dad’s set up, and all the events that he’s planning. It’s already quite a family affair, so possibly I’ll get on board with it too.

Make a donation in support of Steve’s Big Red Run.

Thursday, July 11, 2013
How To - Type 1 Diabetes

By Liliana Lees (volunteer from 2013 Big Red Run)

I try to describe type 1 diabetes in one line: it's not easy, just like the disease. It's a disease where the pancreas fails and insulin must be injected up to six times a day to stay alive…every day for the rest of your life. Your body starves to death without insulin. 
When my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. He was 18. I have gone from knowing nothing to having an obsession. As soon as the specialist made the diagnosis, I was starving for more information. Every spoken word on TV or radio related to type 1 diabetes I will research further. Anything I see in print, I read twice over. 
I have joined every chat room, every Facebook page, every website and every group from all over the world. I search for a cure. There is no cure. Why my son? Why now? What have I done wrong? What could I have done differently? There are no answers. 
It's more common in young children. Although rare, it can occur up to the age of 40. Words like Bolus and Basal are thrown at me. What's an endocrinologist? I also thought counting carbs was for losing weight. Science, maths nutrition, medicine - my head is spinning. It's overwhelming. 
I am one of the lucky parents. My son is able to inject himself and calculate his insulin requirements. It's unrelenting. There is no break from type 1 diabetes. The countless finger pricks and blood glucose checks. I can't imagine trying to inject a young child or baby. How would you? How could you? But I guess you do. You must. 
I've learnt that a hypo can kill, so can a hyper. I quickly learnt to recognise them and treat them both. Any illness needs to be monitored closely for Ketones. 
They tell me that diabetes can be managed. Well, yes, it can. However, there is also a huge margin for error. Any mother of a type 1 will tell you of her fears. 
This is not a choice my son made. I know his battle and his strengths and weaknesses. He is stronger much stronger than I will ever know. 
I can do something. I choose to make a difference. I find JDRF in my many searches. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. They are dedicated to finding a cure and they are all about improving lives for type 1 diabetics. They have many fundraising events. Jelly Baby Month is one of them. In 2012 I helped to raise funds for JDRF at the Grand Prix in Melbourne. In 2013 I will be brave the elements of the Simpson Desert and volunteer at the first ever Big Red Run in July. We will share stories around the camp fire. I would love to hear yours. 

Below are some useful links. The last one is an excellent timeline of the history of treatment for type 1.
Woolworths is proud to support Jelly Baby Month in May with merchandise on sale at Woolworths stores nationally. Please show your support.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
27 Years and 35,000 injections of Insulin

Duncan Read Checks InsulinHOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED

With an average of 4 insulin injections per day, or 1460 injections a year, Duncan Read estimates he’s had around 35,000 injections since being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1986. As his blood sugar levels can vary considerably due to being very active and playing a lot of sport, Duncan typically has 7 glucose tests a day, or approximately 2500 blood glucose tests a year. “You can work out the maths,” he states. “But that’s over 60,000 glucose tests.”

Part of the everyday routine

Not that this fazes this Englishman at heart, who came to Australia just before the Sydney Olympics. Married to an Australian with two boys aged six and four, Duncan is matter-of-fact about living with diabetes. “That’s just life for me - it’s just part of getting up in the morning, like brushing my teeth, putting my clothes on, it just becomes second nature.” 

Aiming to meet his fundraising goal of $20,000 for type 1 diabetes as part of the Big Red Run, Duncan’s also determined to raise awareness, which is one of his main drivers for participating. “I think the strong message for young kids is that once you’ve got it, those first few years are really difficult but it gets easier. And it’s certainly true that teenage years are really hard because you just want to do what all your mates are doing. But once you get used to it, it’s something that can be managed quite easily and the more money organisations like JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) get to invest in technologies and research that make it easier to manage, the more and more ‘normal’ people with type 1 diabetes will be”. Duncan finishes emphatically, “Although I really hate that word, ‘normal’!”

The week life changed

Duncan still remembers vividly the week he was diagnosed at fourteen with diabetes. “I was very thirsty, quite weak, very pale, not being able to get through a short 15 minute walk home without going to the toilet first. I was drinking a large glass of water before I left school, and before I got home I’d be wanting to go to the toilet and drink something again”. His mother picked up on these classic signs of diabetes and the doctor diagnosed Duncan instantly with “a finger prick and a glucose test. I was in hospital for a week and that was the week that changed my life,” he recalls. “And the way I lived. It’s part and parcel of me now.”

He goes on, “Being a teenager you don’t want to be any different from your friends. Part of what drove me was just wanting to be like everyone else.” Duncan didn’t want to stop doing sport or stop eating the things all his friends were eating. “I’ve heard this comment from other people: you don’t want to let it beat you. You’ve just got to work your way around it.” 


Duncan feels compelled to highlight the positive benefits of living with type 1 diabetes. By doing the Big Red Run, he especially wants to be an example to diabetic children that being motivated to stay fit and healthy will help make living with type 1 diabetes more manageable.

Duncan's regular checksDiet and healthy living

He believes a healthy lifestyle is key for type 1 diabetics. “There’s a bit of thinking around what you’ve got to do and you have to be careful about what you eat, but the way I look at it is I’m probably fitter for having diabetes than I would have been from not having it. I know I would have eaten more junk food,” he reasons, “drunk lots more fizzy drinks and I wouldn’t have concentrated so much on my diet. Now I’m very careful about my diet and the impact of exercise. I understand it and it’s a real positive health benefit.”

Sport, and a doctor’s sage advice

Duncan had grown up with sport, a love of which he shared with his father. His fear was this would change. He feels lucky his diagnosing doctor said there was one thing he could do to give him good health going forward. That was to keep doing sport. Duncan recalls, “My doctor said, ‘the rest won’t necessarily look after itself but it will kind of fall into place if you do that’. He encouraged me to get out there and keep physically active.” His doctor emphasised it wouldn’t be easy with blood sugar levels to test and manage, eating sensibly before exercise, needing to be careful, but suggested it was the one thing that would really, stand me in good stead, which was music to my ears!” states Duncan. “I just wanted to go out then, play sport and be healthy. Of course, you do go through ups and downs but sport has been a big part of my life.”

Inspiring role models who achieve the extraordinary

The other important aspect for Duncan was having role models with type 1 diabetes. “When I was diagnosed there was an English footballer called Gary Mabbutt, who demonstrated that with type 1 diabetes you can still do and achieve a whole lot so that was really positive.” Duncan sought out other role models later in life. “Steven Redgrave is a five time Olympic gold medallist rower. He’s also been a big inspiration to me and like Gary has put a lot into raising awareness of type 1 diabetes. My heroes have shown you can live a fairly normal, in fact, quite an extraordinary life.” 

For young diabetic Australians, Duncan admires Brett Stewart who has type 1 diabetes and plays for Manly Sea Eagles. “He does a lot of work through his profile, trying to raise funds to make pumps more accessible for young kids with diabetes, giving something back.”

Technological improvements

Duncan highlights the changes he’s experienced since he first had diabetes. “Blood testing has come on quite significantly. I used to have to do my blood tests near running water. You used to have to test your blood, rinse the strip, wait 30 seconds, and then you’d find out what your blood sugar was. The monitor would be quite big as well. Now it takes 3 seconds; a finger prick blood test which you can pretty much do anywhere, standing on the side of a rugby pitch or when I’m half-way up a mountain running somewhere.”

He also recalls the old days of insulin injection. “You used to have to draw up proper old-school injections where you’ve got a vial of insulin to mix, draw it up into a syringe and then inject yourself.” Now he carries insulin around in a pen in his pocket. He continues, “The insulin used to take quite a long time to react. You’d have an injection at set times of the day but then wait half an hour before you started eating. Of course insulin technology has come on in leaps and bounds since then. I still inject four times a day but kids now have options to use insulin pumps. They are really convenient because they’re continuously attached and they just dial up how much is needed and the insulin is delivered almost instantaneously. Doctors are finding them much better for managing blood glucose more effectively, and no need for so many injections. They’ve been some pretty significant changes there.”


Duncan has great admiration for Greg Donovan and the Born To Run team. “What those guys have done, 5 of these events in 5 different continents absolutely blew me away. And it was a no-brainer for me to get involved and help in any way I could.” After raising money for type 1 diabetes doing the 100km Alpine Challenge in Victoria last year, Duncan read an article written by Greg. “I just couldn’t believe the coincidence,” he enthuses. “I thought ‘no way is this guy doing ultra-marathons to try and raise money for type 1 diabetes’ - that was essentially what I’d just done on my own; fundraising for type 1 diabetes with an endurance event. I just thought the fit was perfect so contacted Greg.” Duncan happened to be cleaning out his gutters when Greg phoned. “I was sitting on my roof just listening to Greg’s story and being inspired by what he was trying to do for his son, Steve, who has type 1 diabetes. From that moment on, I’ve really thrown myself into it to try to raise money, and get myself ready to take part.”

A lucky banner

Duncan pays tribute to his “usual suspects” of family and friends who have always have been incredibly generous raising funds for type 1 diabetes. He’s overwhelmed by the level of community support, “I’m almost moved to tears just thinking about what other people have done for me given I’ve made the commitment to do the Big Red Run.”

To keep him inspired while running he’ll be channelling that community spirit. “I’m using the support of friends and family and everyone who’s contributed by writing their names on a bandana,” he reveals. “I’m writing everyone’s name down so that when I’m in the depths of despair, feel I can’t go on, that my legs are about to give up, I can just grab that and have a look at all those people who are behind me.”

Fundraising target of $20K

He says because of the magnitude of the Big Red Run he has set his fundraising target much higher this time. “I’ve been hitting up corporate sponsorships and small businesses and people who can contribute ‘in kind’ such as through auctions and raffles for donated prizes. Some of my friends are now more are aware of what I’m doing and why, and others didn’t even know I had diabetes. As more and more people become aware they say ‘I can help, I can do this and that’. I think the scale of the Big Red Run has changed everything.”

Duncan believes there’s a potentially higher degree that his sons may be predisposed to having type 1 diabetes. He emphasises, “While it’s not necessarily a hereditary disease, if they get it I want their lives to be easier than mine. Or for other kids who are being diagnosed right now at age twelve, thirteen, fourteen – it’s about a better future for them,” he says. “If that means a cure, fantastic, but it also means continual progress insulin technology or transplants or a whole range of things.” He’d particularly like to see progress on continuous blood glucose monitoring which is non-invasive or less hassle. “I know they’ve developed it, but it’s quite expensive to access at the moment. With convenient continuous monitoring it would be much easier for kids to play sport or get through the roller coaster of blood sugars that I’ve spent 27 years trying to master.”


Duncan’s been preparing for the 250km event over 6 days through careful control of diet, “and also running,” he laughs. He’s been taking advice from physios and doctors and relying on his running experience although stresses he’s done, “nothing anywhere near this!” He’s been, “Just getting out there and doing short and fast runs and some very long and arduous runs and walks to just get used to time on my feet.”

He’s also been keeping track of his blood sugar levels saying, “I’m not completely comfortable about entering nearly 6 marathons in 6 days in the desert. I have some fears about how the diabetes is going to cope but also how my body’s going to hold up. Getting to the end of the line is a real challenge for me. Getting to the start line’s been hard but I’m there, nearly,” laughing, “and I just want to finish. I don’t really care about times. If I have to walk a few days, that’s fine.”

A friend by his side

Duncan acknowledges he couldn’t have taken this on alone. “As a diabetic I really need someone there by my side.” That someone is Tom Todd who’s been training with Duncan and without whom Duncan says, “I don’t think I would have entered because I needed someone looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m ok.” When running with Tom, they usually run slowly enough so they can talk and motivate each other. But most of the time, he says, “when I’m training alone I just get out there thinking about a holiday I’ve had or about my wife and my boys, or even about an issue at work. I occupy my mind with things that distract me. I just go off into my own world.”

The beauty of the outback

The fact that the event is Birdsville was an added incentive for Duncan to participate. He’s spent time in parts of Australia including the Northern Territory but never been to outback Queensland. He’s looking forward to “seeing the Birdsville pub and experiencing the community feel that Greg and the team have built up. It’s an event that’s being run the first time in Australia and that’s a big part of why I’m doing it too.”

DUncan Enjoys an energy gelKicking it into touch

Ultimately, Duncan’s doing the Big Red Run challenge because he sees type 1 diabetes as something that doesn’t have to beat you. His message to kids with type 1 diabetes is not to be put off by what you can’t do – think about the stuff you can do and have fun trying. He elaborates, “You can get through as a healthy individual and that’s why I want to do the race, get through it and say ‘up yours diabetes’! I’ve just done 250kms in 6 days!”

If you'd like to sponsor Duncan, Visit Duncan's Fundraising page

Tuesday, July 09, 2013
A Mother's Perspective

Big Red Run volunteer Liliana Lees is in charge of a van. Not just any van, a van transporting six participants from Melbourne to Birdsville. She says she won’t be able to relax until the Satellite phone arrives. She is also anxiously awaiting confirmation that the van is an automatic. “It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a manual,” she laughs. Liliana, husband Richard and son Billy are also deliberating what music to select for the three day journey. Billy turns 20 the day they arrive in Birdsville on 7 July.

Liliana regrets that bad knees prevent her from running but wants to be a part of the event and contribute in any way she can. On arrival, Liliana is happy to be assigned whatever needs to be done. “I’ll do anything, scrub toilets - I don’t care!” In Birdsville, Liliana plans to seek out out Greg Donovan to give him a hug. She admires what Greg has achieved for his type 1 diabetic son and the diabetes community.

Billy’s diagnosis
Liliana’s son also has type 1 diabetes. He was diagnosed around 18 months ago, at the beginning of Billy’s final year of school. It has been a difficult journey for her, seeing her son so ill, and observing him adjusting to life with diabetes. “Billy was in a great place before he was diagnosed with diabetes. He was maturing, close to finishing school, on his way to becoming an adult. Discovering he had diabetes was extremely difficult, for us all.”

It took a while for Billy to be diagnosed as having type 1 diabetes. Living in the Yarra Valley in Victoria, Billy had been unwell, experiencing ongoing flu symptoms, losing a lot of weight and falling asleep. After numerous visits to the doctor, blood tests, and ruling out glandular fever, it was suggested he be tested for type 1 diabetes. During that test, Billy passed out due to severe dehydration. Twenty-four hours later it was confirmed Billy had diabetes.

Adjusting to life with type 1 diabetes
Liliana feels it was fortunate that Billy had some time in the school holidays before Year 12 commenced to become familiar with what he had to do and “get a grip with what was going on.” But watching her son having to inject himself was hard. “I told him he didn’t have to do Year 12, to take the year off”, she says, “but he wanted to finish his VCE, give it his best shot”. Billy had a good start to Year 12 and Liliana was surprised by how well he was doing. Liliana is appreciative of the support his school offered as “it provided a loving, caring, nurturing environment for Billy.”

But adjusting to managing a lifelong medical condition can have some initial setbacks, which Billy unfortunately experienced. Liliana becomes emotional recalling this period. “Billy became very, very sick. He had stopped taking his insulin because he was sore and tender at the injection site. He was also very down. As a mother of a grown son, it was heartbreaking and so frustrating, because he didn’t want to talk about it, which I understand.”

Turning the corner
Liliana found herself relying heavily on information provided by support foundations to get through this period. “I reached out to JDRF and they were simply wonderful,” she says. Through the peer support group, a mentor from Sydney got in touch with Billy. They bonded over a shared interest in technology, and Billy was guided through a difficult patch by someone who’d experienced what he was going through.

Billy finished his VCE and achieved a reasonable mark despite his grades being affected by his illness. “We again suggested he take a year off before going to uni, to take a gap year,” says Liliana, “but Billy couldn’t be swayed.” He’s studying an Associate degree in Engineering. Liliana is proud of Billy’s perseverance despite at times having to miss days at uni. “He’s particularly interested in programming, robotics, mechatronics, and biomedical engineering, which is all about finding solutions to medical problems.”

Learning to live with type 1 diabetes
These days, Billy is doing a lot better. Liliana admires his determination. “He’s definitely a fighter!” But she confesses, “I still find it really hard. I wonder if he is getting adequate levels of insulin or too much. It’s like a razor-edge and I wonder how he can live like that.”

She’s discussed this with her son who recently had an outstanding HbA1c result with regard to his blood sugar levels, indicating his diabetes is under control. “He reassured me. He said, ‘Mum, I’m doing all right’. He pointed out that he hasn’t had a hyper or hypo event. He hasn’t been to hospital. And he’s right!” Liliana realises that just as Billy has had to learn so much in a short period of time, she is learning too. Learning to trust that Billy will be O.K.

The future
When asked where funds should be invested for diabetes research, Liliana worries a cure may not be possible. She believes Billy has the right idea. “He says that if they could stop the autoimmune system attacking the pancreas, that would be the key and I agree.” She also feels that until there is a cure, the focus should be on finding a treatment that doesn’t involve needles. For all mothers, she says, “that would be heaven.”

Visit: to contribute to Liliana’s fundraising page.

The Big Red Run is Australia's first and only 250km, multi-stage desert running race, being held in the Simpson Desert from 8-13 July 2013. Based out of Birdsville, the event will give runners and walkers the option of participating in the Big Red Run, a 250km six-day stage race, the Born to Run 100km or the Big Red Dash 42km. All money raised will go to fund type 1 diabetes research. Visit:

Sunday, July 07, 2013
In the prime of his life

Keith Lill is a 28-yr-old soldier with the Australian Army based in Albury-Wodonga with his wife and 6-month-old son. Keith is competing in the Big Red Dash. 12 November 2011 is a date he will never forget; the day he was diagnosed as having type 1 diabetes, which took him completely by surprise and which he knew nothing about.

What inspired you to join the Army?

There were two reasons initially. Firstly, it was a good way to get my trade as a diesel fitter. I’m originally from the wheat belt in WA, which was in the middle of a drought when I was leaving school so farming wasn’t really a viable option. And being a soldier appealed to me at that age, it was something I wanted to do. I’ve had a great career to date. I’ve experienced everything I wanted to.

You were relatively recently diagnosed with having type 1 diabetes. What led to the diagnosis?

I’d just returned from an Army operation in Africa, and was feeling pretty unwell. It felt like I was hung over all the time, but I obviously hadn’t been drinking. I’d lost a lot of weight; about 12kg over about 12 weeks. I had a lot of tests for all those nasty things you can get overseas. Just before I’d come back from overseas I’d had a really bad virus. Whether it was a link or not, no one really knows. We have no family history, I’m well past being a child or teenager, and I’m not in any of the risk categories for type 2 diabetes, so I was really out of the ordinary. There is only one other person I know of apparently in the Defence Force who has type 1 diabetes so it’s not something the doctors here are used to looking for in their patients.

What was it like being diagnosed? Did you know much about type 1 diabetes?

No, I was really ignorant, as a lot of people are. It was shattering at the time - it was a really big shock. I wondered if it meant the end of my career and there were many other things I had to sort though. A lot of people say similar sorts of things. But then you sort of grow used to it, it becomes part of you, and it’s not something that you dwell on all the time.

Has having type 1 diabetes impacted your career?

Definitely. I was in a high operational unit for the previous seven years and now I instruct at a technical college. I’ll no longer able to be deployed in any war zones or anything like that. But the Army has been good with maintaining my employment given my situation. They’ve gone out of their way to ensure that I haven’t been left out in the cold due to it. 

How do you find managing your treatment? 

I'm lucky enough that with my active lifestyle and career the disease is very manageable although I certainly have days where I struggle. I require 6-8 blood tests and 4 injections a day but as yet I haven’t had any other implications as a result of my diabetes. 

What support have you had?

When you’re first diagnosed, you’re issued with an educator and an endocrinologist and a small team that helps through the initial stage. They’re really good for providing all the education you’ve got to learn pretty quickly - that was all great. Now I see my endocrinologist once every two months for about a 20 minute appointment and that’s about it really.

What advice would you give to people who have recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, especially those diagnosed later in life?

That it’s not a curtain on your lifestyle. That’s the major thing I had trouble dealing with.
You have to do some things differently but after a while it becomes pretty natural and all the things you love to do you can still do, albeit some you have to do a bit differently. For instance, I’m running in this marathon, and I still play AFL at a reasonable level. I still do all the things I used to do before I was a diabetic. I’ve just got to take a few more precautions before and after I do things like that.

What is your motivation for competing in the Big Red Dash?

I want to try and give some support to JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and the research team. They looked after me so well initially after my diagnosis it’s nice to be able to do something for the foundation. It also works in well with my individual goals to do the marathon. A lot of people who don’t understand the disease would think it’s sort of undoable for someone with type 1 diabetes, but it’s great to be doing something like this to prove to yourself and everyone else that it’s not such a limit.

How have you prepared for the Big Red Dash?

I’m not a runner by any means – it’s a huge change from my normal training. I’ve never run a marathon, or even a half-marathon. I’m lucky enough that my career as a soldier has always involved training toward some goal; this is just a different one. I’ve done a lot of running, that’s about it really. I suppose you have to run to prepare for a marathon.

What are you expecting? What’s your plan of attack?

My plan of attack has changed a lot over the past month or two! Originally I was aiming to complete the run in about 3.5 hours but then I had a closer look at the track and the sand – whatever time I run I’ll be happy with. It’ll be one of the more physically demanding days of my life, if not the most physically demanding. I’m simply expecting to be surprised. There will be a lot of unknowns in the event which is good.  I’m not anxious or anything, just excited.

Where would you like the raised funds to be invested?

I suppose the big one is the cure, and the cause but also the vaccine being trialled, especially for kids. It’s not too bad for someone my age in managing a condition like this, but it’s a lot of maths and understanding of food and your body and I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a young child or even a teenager to start to be trying to control their diet at that age.

How are you getting to the Big Red Run?

The Army’s supplying me with a support vehicle, and I have a ‘support crew’, although that’s pretty loose terminology. It’s a way of describing taking three mates with me (one will be running with me). We’ll see a few things over the three day drive to Birdsville which will be great. Hopefully on the trip back I can just sit in the back and stretch my legs! 

The Big Red Run is Australia's first and only 250km, multi-stage desert running race, being held in the Simpson Desert from 8-13 July 2013. Based out of Birdsville, the event will give runners and walkers the option of participating in the Big Red Run, a 250km six-day stage race, the Born to Run 100km or the Big Red Dash 42km. All money raised will go to fund type 1 diabetes research.

Runners and walkers have descended on Birdsville, Queensland from across the globe for the week-long running event from 8-13 July, which will include Australia's first and only 250km multi stage desert running race.


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