Diabetic takes on triathlons, inspires community

February 16, 2010

By Jeff Lehman

Bobby Heyer (right) races the cycling portion of an Ironman race team ride with one of his Team Type 1 teammates, Matt Vogel. Contributed

Bobby Heyer, a four-time Ironman-finisher and avid triathlete, is training to complete his fifth Ironman in Brazil in April. But apart from the physical task of finishing five Ironman triathlons, Heyer continually fights to overcome a separate challenge of its own: He is a type 1 diabetic.

Heyer, an Issaquah resident and member of the Team Type 1 triathlon team, kicked off two separate American Diabetes Association walks in October. The first was in Seattle’s Seward Park, followed by one in Tacoma. His message to diabetics was simple: “You’re never going to be perfect, but there’s no reason you can’t do anything that anybody else is doing.”

Type 1 diabetes is a form of the disease in which the body does not produce insulin, a hormone that moves blood sugar from the bloodstream into blood cells, causing the body to attack itself; it differs from Type 2 diabetes, in which insulin in the body is less efficient at moving sugar out of the blood cells, resulting in high blood sugar.

Heyer was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 15. He was a freshman in high school who at the time was actively involved in football, wrestling, skiing and track. Although he considers himself unique in that he already had such a broad athletic background, he held on to one philosophy that kept him from slowing down:

“At some point, you just have to own it.”

Referring to his condition, Heyer said he never truly “owned it” until his freshman year in college, when he decided that taking care of his body was the most important thing to focus on.

It was not too long after college that Heyer got into his favorite sport, cycling, as he joined a couple friends in completing the STP, a 200-mile bike tour from Seattle to Portland, Ore., in one day.

“That was when I truly got into endurance sports,” he said.

And after nine years, he has accomplished physical tasks that very few, let alone those with Type 1 diabetes, could dream of accomplishing. And as he has continued his pursuit of personal physical accomplishment, his passion for diabetes awareness has spread to the community.

Heyer is involved with Team Type 1, a cycling and triathlon team designed to raise awareness about people living with diabetes. The team was founded by friends and fellow diagnosed Type 1 diabetics Joe Eldridge and Phil Southerland.

Heyer got involved with the team in 2005, when he raced with Eldridge and Southerland in the Race Across America, a team-cycling race from Oceanside, Calif., to Atlantic City, N.J.

“I didn’t think we’d be that good, but we ended up taking first in our division and second overall, and set a record,” Heyer said.

The three of them, and eight other cyclists, came back to take first overall in the RAAM that next year. Heyer noted that by that point he felt as though Team Type 1 was really beginning to get its message about diabetes out to the community.

It seemed at the ADA Walk as though the message Heyer and Team Type 1 are preaching has continued to spread, at least to Gary Pruitt, a representative of Univar, one of the ADA Walk’s corporate sponsors.

“You (the community) are the real heroes for putting this all together. Every step brings ADA closer to a cure for diabetes,” Pruitt said in a speech right before the event began.

Nearing age 45, Heyer is still planning on deepening his career as a triathlete. His ultimate goal is to qualify for the Kona-Ironman-World-Championship in Hawaii; his next chance will be at the Ironman in Brazil next year.

“It certainly won’t define who I am, but I think I can do it,” he said.

Heyer mentioned that the Brazil event will be unaffiliated with Team Type 1, but he plans to continue to live his life with the goal of spreading community awareness as well as inspiring other diabetics.

“You don’t have to do an Ironman,” he said. “Just take care of yourself and live your best life.”

Jeff Lehman is a former student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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One Response to “Diabetic takes on triathlons, inspires community”

  1. Jill Anson Fischer on April 1st, 2010 5:42 am

    I have known Bobby since grade school, when he was initially diagnosed with diabetes. We went to high school and college together, and he continues to amaze me with his inspiring spirit and determination. Not only is he an amazing athlete, he is a kind, good person with a big heart. It was so nice to read about him online, as I still live in Wisconsin where he grew up. Happy Birthday to Bobby today . . . April 1st. Keep up the great job . . . we are proud of you in Wisconsin!! And you are proof that you can do anything you believe in!! All the best to you in the upcoming

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