Cross-country marathon, and diabetes loses

Doug Masiuk is seen here during his run across the country to raise awareness for Type I diabetes.
Doug Masiuk is seen here during his run across the country to raise awareness for Type I diabetes. (courtesy Doug Masiuk, Baltimore Sun)

Long before Doug Masiuk became a serious runner, he had to learn how take his lifelong battle with Type 1 diabetes one step at a time.

Diagnosed when he was a toddler, Masiuk, now 38, played soccer through high school at Severna Park.


Once his soccer career ended, Masiuk had to find another physical activity to help him combat a life-threatening auto-immune disease that prevents the pancreas from producing insulin and can cause dangerously high blood-sugar levels.

Several years ago, Masiuk turned to long-distance running.


"When I wasn't playing soccer, I ran a little bit [in the off-season]," Masiuk said. "But when I was diagnosed at 3 years old, my parents were told that I needed to be active."

Though he had never run in an organized marathon, Masiuk decided last year to try to become the first person with Type 1 diabetes to run across the United States.

Starting at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on May 20, Masiuk finished his cross-country journey last Sunday when he dipped his tired and blistered feet into the Atlantic Ocean off Brooklyn's Coney Island. There was no significance to the finishing point except its accessibility.

"To be honest, [Hurricane] Sandy hammered everything and it seemed like a good place to do it," Masiuk said. "I was ready to be done."

Asked what inspired him to do something that only 230 others have officially been recorded as completing, Masiuk said, "I have a gift for running far, day in and day out. That's kind of my talent, I suppose. When I discovered that other people have run across the U.S., I thought, 'Why not a Type 1 diabetic?' That became the inspiration."

In turn, Masiuk said that he hoped he would "inspire people to show them what's possible and also show people how to avoid diabetes if they can."

One of those who Masiuk helped inspire was Carrie Carlson, a Chicago woman whose 6-year-old son Wyatt was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 21/2.

A friend of Carlson who has been affected by the disease — both the friend and her son have Type 1 diabetes — met Masiuk during the early stage of his run and set up an event for the support group she and Carlson belong to when he passed through Chicago.

While Carlson hoped that Masiuk's message would get through to Wyatt, the boy was more amazed "at how somebody can run across the country," according to his mother.

"I'm not sure he can comprehend it all [about playing sports with Type 1 diabetes], but it's starting to dawn on him," Carlson said.

Carlson, whose 6-year-old daughter, Sasha, is Wyatt's twin and is not afflicted with diabetes, said that she "gets frustrated by the stereotype" that all forms of diabetes are caused by unhealthy lifestyle and poor eating habits.

"I've seen skits on 'Saturday Night Live' where diabetes is a punch line for a joke," Carlson said. "It's a horrible disease."


Masiuk said that he averaged about five days a week, running between 20 and 30 miles a day, and spent his two days off raising awareness about Type 1 diabetes as well as talking with doctors about the advances made in the treatment.

"The longest I ran was 31 miles [in a day] out in Nevada the first three weeks of the run," Masiuk said.

Masiuk was accompanied by a driver who helped organize many of his appearances, as well as a videographer who helped chronicle Masiuk's journey on his website, 1run.org. Friends and family were there at the start and finish.

According to the American Diabetes Association, about 2 percent to 3 percent of the 30 million people in the U.S. diagnosed with diabetes suffer from Type 1, previously called juvenile diabetes because it is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.

Masiuk said that since graduating from NYU in 2002, he has spent most of the past decade trying to raise awareness and funds for research. While he has never used his degree in film, Masiuk joked, "I've been on the TV quite a bit because of this."

The past seven months have turned Masiuk into what Runners World magazine called "the Forrest Gump of Diabetics." Masiuk is more than happy to spread the message for those with either Type 1 diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, which is often caused by unhealthy eating and lifestyles.

"More than turn the camera on this [run], I was able to connect with over 100,000 people through over 100 events — media. When we looked at all the numbers, I was probably able to share my [story] with over 3 million people," Masiuk said.

Masiuk's own treatment has changed significantly since he was first diagnosed — the day after Halloween in 1977. For the past two years, Masiuk has used a continual glucose monitor called the Dexcom G-4, which tests his blood-sugar level every five minutes and provides a "window into my level in real time."

Noting that insulin used to be extracted from "cows, sheep and pigs" when he was a child instead of being created synthetically, as it is now, to closely match the insulin produced by the human pancreas, Masiuk said that "the [life] expectancy and potential [for a healthy life] has grown a lot because of those changes."

Before he was diagnosed, Masiuk said, "the technology was there for people to live a long life, but it was going to be hard. Five years before that, they were telling kids and their parents that you were lucky to get 20 years out of life with keeping your feet, without them being amputated, or not going blind."

Asked whether he has had any serious health scares, Masiuk said, "Not as of yet. I don't look at it one way or another. I follow the rules and do the best as I can. But in all probability, my life will be shortened because of this disease. That's just the reality. I just find a way the blades on the saw don't go in deep every day, and I've been allowed to because of the hard work of doctors and scientists and philanthropists and families who have made the lives of diabetics better."

Masiuk, who said that he is the only person in his family to be diagnosed with diabetes, just wants to make sure those who are not genetically predisposed to the disease can avoid it at all cost.

"For the nondiabetics whose bodies can make their insulin internally, they still need to have that balance of diet and exercise," he said. "The goal in this is to avoid getting diabetes and staying healthy. To do so, we've got to take some responsibilities and make good choices. I don't think those choices are a huge responsibility but they will make a big difference in the long run."

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