Aboriginal people are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, something that Bibianna King has experienced firsthand as she has watched many of her relatives struggle with the disease. Her husband and mother-in-law have diabetes, and her aunt had to leave the community to relocate to the city for dialysis because of kidney failure caused by diabetes.
“I don’t know if I can make a difference in their lives today, but I’m thinking into the future,” says Ms. King, who organizes an annual run with Team Diabetes each June in La Loche to raise funds for the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA). “It’s something I’m really passionate about – the more awareness we have, the better off we will be.”
But Ms. King doesn’t stop at raising funds for research, treatment, care and prevention of diabetes. Since realizing a personal dream by completing her first marathon with Team Diabetes, the national, physical activity fundraising program of the CDA, in 2006, she has also become an inspirational champion of health in her community.
A student support worker in La Loche, a community in northwest Saskatchewan that is adjacent to the Clearwater River Dene Nation, she says “My target group is the kids that I work with, the younger kids, where I feel I’ll have the most impact. I’m always talking to them about healthy eating and the importance of physical activity.”
Once while she supervised a class, a student told her about a party planned for the following Friday. “I said, ‘You know, we always have class parties, but I never see healthy foods coming to our school. Wouldn’t it be unique if we had one where it’s just healthy foods instead of junk food?’”
She suggested some healthy options, and on Friday morning the third-grade students invited her to their party. “There were two tables full of fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks. There were no sugary drinks,” Ms. King says.
When she travelled to Rome with Team Diabetes to run in the 2011 marathon, the children of La Loche wrote letters and asked her to take them along, hoping that a representative of the CDA would sign their letters and send them back as a keepsake. “When Fred DeFina, the director of Team Diabetes, asked me if I could speak at their victory dinner, I said, ‘Only on the condition that you will send these letters back to the kids with your signature on them.’
“And he said, ‘Better yet, Bibianna, I’ll send each one a medal.’”
Those children are now in seventh grade, and many still have their medals hanging in their rooms, reminding them to make healthy choices every day, she says.
The children also inspire her, says Ms. King. “One of the boys who was in grade three at the time of his first run has since showed up with his mom at every run we’ve done. He made it to a cross-country event where he took second place last year, which was amazing. His mom tells me he has my picture on his refrigerator, and says he wants to be like me.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 or 15 degrees below zero – he shows up and runs,” she says proudly.
To learn more about the different ways you can donate to the CDA, visit www.diabetes.ca/donate.