By Leah Blain
Friends & Neighbours
Many Canadians go to Hawaii to avoid winter weather but Petronella (Nel) Peach’s December trip to Waikiki this December had a different purpose. After months of fundraising, Nel went to participate in a diabetes walking/fundraising event.
“I’ve done 14 events. I was going to retire but I came out of retirement,” says the 78-year-old.
There was a good reason she decided to do this last walking event.
“The money raised by Team Diabetes is going to send kids with diabetes to camp. It gives mom and dad a bit of break and it’s important the kids get taught (about the disease) and to know they’re not alone.”
Diabetes camps are much more expensive than regular camps, Nel explains, because they have to have specially trained medical staff trained to deal with diabetes.
Nel knows the difficulties of living with the disease. She was diagnosed with Type 1 more than 35 years ago. She understands the physical, emotional and mental toll this disease can take and that’s why she worked hard to earn as much money as she could for the young diabetics to go to camp.
“I personally raised $7,000. I paid for my own travel to Honolulu and back.”
Nel took part in two walks, the first was the Kalakaua Merrie Mile on Dec. 8.
“It was a fun event. It was slow – you talk to people, it’s not about speed.”
Nel says the Canadian diabetic world is small in a way and many of the people who show up at these yearly fundraisers have come to be very dear friends.
“It’s nice to see the same people and it’s nice to see new people.”
Some members of the team took part in the marathon, some took part in the hike while some, like Nel, took part in the 10-kilometre walk.
“It was my big day…but at two kilometres I said to Donna (also from Team Diabetes) I have to go to the side….”
She was having trouble breathing and when they realized how far the medic centre was, Nel thought it would be better to get a ride. When the taxi driver took her to finish line to sign in with the medic, she asked how much she owed him.
“He said, ‘no charge,’” she says, smiling as she recalls his kindness.
While she was waiting she saw a man in a wheelchair.
“He had no legs. He was a volunteer. He was from Edmonton, a war veteran. He told me he was in the Afghan War. I felt so humbled. Here is a person, a Canadian with no legs, in a wheelchair volunteering at the Honolulu marathon. That really touched my heart.”
When she got back to the hotel she found she had a message from Donna.
“She comes down with a medal from me. And that’s when I started to cry. I said, ‘How did you get this?’ She said, ‘I talked to the people who give out medals and I said one of our team members had a medical issue and couldn’t finish, so they gave me one.’…I got my bling,” she says pointing to the medal hanging alongside her other ones. [She really loves her ‘bling’ – these mementos of her hard work and fundraising].
Nel says although she won’t be participating in any more walks, she is not finished fundraising and being an advocate. These events, she says, are symbolic of the day-to-day life of a diabetic.
“Living with diabetes is like a marathon but there’s no finish line – not until we find a cure.”