For school, walk-a-thon is a team effort

Manchester Elementary pupils try to raise diabetes awareness and money for research in annual event


As Megan Blair jogged with other fourth-graders on a path at Manchester Elementary School, she proudly wore a sticker that read, "Helping to score a diabetes cure for Jack."

Megan, 9, said she chose to run the one-mile run/walk in honor of Jack, her 5-year-old brother who has Type I diabetes.

Meanwhile, other Manchester pupils donned stickers that bore Megan's name because she, too, has the disease. They also ran in honor of other classmates, teachers and relatives with the disease.

The event was part of the school's annual effort to raise funds for the American Diabetes Association as well as awareness about the disease.

"It's important to educate people about diabetes and what it does to kids," said Kim Leaf of Manchester, who attended the event to support her son Robbie, a fifth-grader who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 3. "It's a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week disease."

For the past three years, the fundraising event has been organized by Bob Cooke, Manchester's physical education teacher who has a personal interest in finding a cure for diabetes. He said his motivation has been his son, Bobby, 34, who was diagnosed with diabetes as an adult more than a decade ago.

As of last week's event, Manchester's pupils had raised more than $47,000. Cooke said he expects the total to be more than $50,000 when the drive ends in about two weeks. The proceeds from the auction of an autographed Ravens football will also be contributed.

"The support that I have gotten is unbelievable," Cooke said. "This isn't big corporation donations, this is little kids and their parents."

Last year, the pupils raised $45,216, which was the most money collected by any school in the country participating in the association's School Walk for Diabetes program, according to Mary Pat King, the program's national director. This year, more than 2,000 schools are involved, she said.

"No one has taken it to this level across the country," King said. "The kids have so much fun running, walking, dancing and jumping. These are forms of exercise that they can do anywhere."

Kim Blair, Megan and Jack's mother, said envelopes were distributed to students for collecting donations before the event.

"Some people put in $2, and some people pass it around to all of their relatives and come back with $500," Blair said.

Each year, Cooke organizes the run/walk around a lighthearted theme to drum up enthusiasm among the school's pupils and staff. He called this year's event "a football fairytale."

Each grade watched a skit featuring characters including Cooke as Little Red Riding Hood in a red cape, red wig and shoulder pads. At the end of the skit, the pupils took off running in pursuit of the Big Bad Wolf.

Other Carroll schools are raising awareness about diabetes, said Julie Frieman, a representative from the association's Maryland office.

Last weekend, Oklahoma Road Middle in Sykesville raised about $16,000 during its Diabetes Fun Day, Frieman said.

Nearly 21 million children and adults have diabetes in the U.S., which is why the association funds research and educational programs, King said.

Some students have Type I diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes, which develops when the body is unable to produce insulin. There is no cure for Type I diabetes; it is controlled by using an insulin pump or injections.

Other students have Type II diabetes, which results from the body's inability to properly use insulin. Type II typically occurs after 45 because it is related to age, obesity and heredity, but it is increasingly seen in children.

School officials are most aware of the students with Type I because they need the most assistance, said Margaret Hoffmaster, supervisor of health services. Others are monitored because they are at risk for Type II because of obesity, she said.

"We are seeing more and more diabetics, and they are spread across the county from kindergarten up to 12th grade," Hoffmaster said.

Clinedinst said working with the diabetic students keeps her busy. She monitors their blood sugar levels before lunch, before bus rides and whenever their levels get high or low. She also educates the staff.

"It is important to work with the kids to make sure they have some independence and good self-esteem," Clinedinst said.

Leaf said her family struggles with controlling Robbie's diabetes - monitoring carbohydrates in his meals to keep his blood-sugar level stable. She keeps a logbook with all of the numbers.

She said that while she tends to be overprotective of where he goes and who cares for him, he is active.

"He's a kid with diabetes, but first he's a kid," Leaf said.

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