Walking, running toward a diabetes cure

April 10, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Manchester Elementary physical education teacher Bob Cooke is on a crusade to help find a cure for diabetes, a disease with which the school's pupils are well acquainted.

The school has at least five pupils and a teacher with Type I diabetes, a percentage that is three times the national average.

Several others - including the school's principal, Bob Mitchell - have Type II diabetes.

Cooke acknowledges a personal vendetta against the disease. His adult son was diagnosed more than a decade ago with Type I diabetes.

About two years ago, his son began having seizures. He told his father, "This is going to kill me."

Cooke was jolted into action.

"I'm fired up about this," he said. "I want a cure for this."

For the past two years, he has organized a 1-mile run/walk event at the school, enlisting the pupils, staff and the community in efforts that last year raised more than $33,000 for the American Diabetes Association to help support diabetes research. The average school raises about $3,000.

Last year, Cooke's enthusiasm helped Manchester earn the title of top fund-raiser among 1,100 elementary schools across the country that participated in the association's campaign.

"This is phenomenal," said Kathryn Hill, the association's market manager who helps schools coordinate these events. "It's because of the energy he brings. He gets everyone involved."

The campaign is not just about raising money, Hill said. Schools that participate also integrate a six-week curriculum, developed by the diabetes association, that includes lessons about healthy eating and exercise.

Cooke is such an enthusiastic advocate of financially supporting diabetes research, he said, because he is convinced that a cure is on the horizon.

"These kids will see a cure in their lifetime," he said.

Type I diabetes, commonly known as juvenile diabetes, results from the body's inability to produce insulin and typically occurs during childhood or adolescence.

Type II, which results from the body's inability to properly use insulin, is the most common form of the disease. Type II used to typically occur after age 45 but is increasingly being diagnosed in children.

Maryland ranks fourth in the nation, per capita, in the number of diabetics. The ailment is the fifth-deadliest disease in the United States, Hill said, and is responsible for complications such as blindness, heart disease and nerve and kidney damage.

These are the kinds of statistics that get Cooke fired up.

With this year's theme, "Open the Door to a Diabetes Cure," Manchester is on pace to break its own record, having raised more than $40,000 going into last week's run/walk event.

By the end of the month, when the school will raffle off a Ravens game day football, Cooke expects to add "a couple thousand dollars" to that total, far exceeding last year's efforts. Hill said the diabetes association anticipates Manchester again will be its top fund-raiser among elementary schools.

"Bob doesn't give credit to himself," said Kim Blair, whose daughter Megan, a third-grader at the school, has diabetes. "He credits the students, the staff, the community. But without Bob, this wouldn't be happening.

"You can sit there and do nothing," she said. "Or you can get up and do something, and make a difference. That's what Bob is doing."

During Thursday's run/walk, Cooke and his volunteers improvised a skit about the Three Little Pigs, with the Big Bad Wolf symbolizing the menacing disease.

Cooke played "Surfer Pig," dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts with a cotton pig's snout taped to his nose. Topping off his outfit with a pink, squiggly pigtail, he told the pupils, "My mama says I'm lazy because all I want to do is surf and listen to music."

As he weaved the tale about how lazy he and his siblings were, the Big Bad Wolf - played by Derrik Hess, a physical education teacher at Elmer Wolfe Elementary in Union Bridge - tried to coax the little pigs to a cookout.

The pupils, who were lined up at the start line, giggled as they waited for their cue to begin the 1-mile course.

When the Big Bad Wolf threatened to eat the little pigs and then began chasing them, the pupils took off after him.

With music blaring in the background - including a rap rendition of the Three Little Pigs - the children ran twice around the school's back field.

When they had finished, the children were treated to cold juice bars as they watched Cooke and his cast finish off the Big Bad Wolf by stuffing him into a pot of boiling water.

Amused by Cooke's antics, the children danced around and clapped their hands to the music.

They said they had learned a lot while raising money for diabetes research. Most of them wore nametags that bore the names of friends and family members who have the disease. These were the people they were honoring by running.

Robbie Leaf, 9, a fourth-grader, was someone whose name appeared on many nametags.

"I knew he had diabetes, and I wanted to run for him," said Nicholas D'Addario, 9, a fourth-grader.

Robbie, who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when he was 3, said it made him feel special that so many of his friends care about him.

"It makes me feel better because it means we could get this cured," said Robbie, who raised nearly $1,800 of the school's total this year.

With pupils like Robbie as his inspiration, Cooke said he will remain vigilant in the cause to cure diabetes.

He's already thinking up ideas for next year's campaign.

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