Monday, August 26, 2013
Hurricane Bill hadn't yet started as we dipped the wheels of the Norco tandem we baptized Diabetsy into the waters of Halifax's Point Pleasant park. It was cloudy, mild but no rain yet as we prepared to head out at 6 am that late August Saturday morning. The ride that was about to begin was the first edition of the Cyclebetes national relay. The year was 2009.
I was the first on the tandem that foggy morning and my stoker was Alex Bates. I knew of him before, but had technically really only met him the day before at the hotel in Halifax. The very first thing that I noticed with Alex was his upbeat, always happy attitude. He was excited about the adventure that we were about to embark on and so was I. His passion for life was contagious and I couldn't help but think that it always seemed that he was living on borrowed time. Once I began to know him, I realized that he actually was. We hit it off immediately given our shared passion for mountain biking and there was also the Type 1 Diabetes connection. Alex was diagnosed shortly after birth and he had really struggled with it. He had endured eye surgeries and was on dialysis in his early 20s. It didn't take long to realize that this dude was tougher than I'll ever be.
His enthusiasm on the bike was evident, especially in the force with which he pushed on the pedals. It almost felt like someone was pushing us from behind on the tandem. It was a pleasure riding with him feeling like it really was a team effort. Even with his young age of only 25 years, it felt like I was talking to someone much, much older than me. He was noticeably wise well beyond his years.
I remember him talking about his kidney / pancreas transplant that he had undergone a few years back and how it had literally given him his life back. He no longer needed to be on dialysis and the insulin producing islets in his new pancreas were also fully functional maintaining normal blood glucose. He told me that for him it was as if he had been cured even if he now needed to take very strong immunosuppressant drugs to avoid organ rejection. I can't quite describe how excited and alive he looked when he was telling me that. I will never forget that. It truly was incredible.
Last Sunday, Alex Bates passed away accidentally in a motor vehicle accident while riding his motorcycle, doing what he truly loved. In the end, it wasn't his Diabetes that took him away like I'm sure so many thought would. I can't help but think of the role that JDRF research played in making the last 5 or so years of his life quite possibly his best. Without JDRF funded research, his pancreas transplant would simply not have been possible. It's very comforting to know that the money that I have raised for JDRF has literally enhanced treatments for Type 1 diabetics like Alex and so many others. I've often thought about it, but I can't really imagine how we're all going to feel once the "real" cure happens.
On Saturday, September 7th, I will be riding my bike 200 kms in honor of Alex Bates feeling grateful to have spent those 4 days with him during the 2009 Cyclebetes relay ride from Halifax to Quebec.
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