A Fort Atkinson High School student is taking part in a half-ironman Sunday to help raise funds for a camp serving children with Type 1 diabetes.
Kayrene Midtlien, 17, is participating in the Wisconsin Milkman Triathlon, which takes place Sunday, June 19, in Madison’s Olin Park. Her second half-ironman, it consists of a 1.2-mile swim in Lake Monona, a 56-mile bicycle ride south of Madison and a 13.1-mile run along the shores of Lake Monona.
“Riding on Insulin is a camp, and they have skiing and snowboarding for kids who have type 1 diabetes,” Kayrene said. “They have fun, but the focus of the camp is to try and make them understand that they’re not alone with their diabetes. So (children) feel more normal, they realize they fit in, they make lifelong friends that will stick with them forever.”
Kayrene, a member of ROI, has two sisters, Taylor and Payton Thompson, both of whom have Type 1 diabetes.
“I do this for them,” Kayrene said. “I do different things like Tour de Cure and Riding on Insulin to try to find a cure for them, because hopefully, one day there will be.”
Around 30 million Americans have diabetes, but only 5 percent of those people have Type 1, previously known as juvenile diabetes.
“Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed usually when you’re younger, but not always,” Kayrene explained. “I was taught that it’s kind of like keys. The pancreas does different things, but as far as the cells that get nutrition out of food and things to basically keep a person alive — they won’t get any of the food.
“They could eat for days and days and if they weren’t putting insulin in themselves, they would starve to death,” she continued. “The keys are the food, but they have no locks, basically. So there’s nothing to open to get to the things they need.”
With Type 2 diabetes, the concept is more similar to having misshapen locks so that the keys do not fit properly.
“Type 2, a lot of it is usually caused by obesity or eating poorly,” Kayrene said. “Once they’re diagnosed, it’s not to say that they’ll always have it ... One person could have it and if they start eating better, it will go away and the keys will start being able to fit in the locks and they’ll be able to do without injecting insulin, whereas some people will try and try and it might not go away as easy.”
Growing up with diabetes is rough, as Kayrene saw with her sisters.
“As a really young kid, your mom’s poking you with needles and you don’t understand why she’s hurting you,” she explained.
“Then you grow up more and you’re in kindergarten and you have the Christmas party. You walk up and there’s all these treats — cakes and brownies and cookies. It’s like a kid’s dream and all the kids go through and when you walk up to the table, you’re given carrots. … Then even growing up more, kids don’t deal with differences very well and so you get made fun of and that’s not good.”
Diabetes also is a challenge for family members, she noted.
“I remember being 8 years old and having to call the ambulance by myself because my parents weren’t home,” Kayrene said. “Even when the ambulance doesn’t have to be called, (Type 1 diabetes patients) can have seizures all the time.”
She said she can notice things about her sisters about which other people would not ever think twice.
“If one of (my sisters) said a joke that she normally wouldn’t say or did something kind of weird that she normally wouldn’t do, ... in our family, it’s like, ‘oh my gosh, go check your blood sugar.’ Or if they slept in past 10 a.m., you’d have to wake them up to make sure that they tested their blood sugar instead of, ‘she’s just tired.’ You had to be very cautious.”
In 2015, Kayrene’s parents, Sandy and Craig Midtlien, participated in a full ironman for ROI. Full ironman participants must be 18 years old.
“Last year, I did my first half-ironman to push myself, my limits,” Kayrene said. “I got into biking because my parents were into biking. My mom has always done biking with different groups in support of the Type 1 diabetes. Her friend’s group started doing triathlons and so my family did it, and it kind of became a family thing.”
All of her family bicycles and Kayrene and her brother both are on the swim team. Kayrene is on the track team, as well.
To train for the half-ironman, Kayrene has been getting up at 5 a.m. daily to go swimming.
“This year and last year, I’ve been training a good amount,” she said. “It’s definitely a commitment that you have to have time for. If it was shorter, like a sprint triathlon, you wouldn’t need as much (training). … These are just the three sports that I really love to do, so I’m not only doing it for myself, but I can do it for other people and try to help them.”
When her parents asked if she wanted to do the Milkman half-ironman this year as part of Team Riding on Insulin, Kayrene’s response was, “of course!”
“As much as I can say diabetes is an awful thing, it really brought us closer as a family,” Kayrene said. Especially being a blended family, it brought us closer together … in an odd way.”
Kayrene said she hopes to raise as much money as possible toward the fight against Type 1 diabetes. She has a fundraising page through which people may make donations.
“I’m not looking for people to put in $50, or even $20; if you have some spare change laying around to donate, that honestly makes a lot,” Kayrene said. “Fifty cents isn’t a lot until (a lot of residents in the) city donate 50 cents and suddenly you have $500. So it definitely adds up.”
All donations go straight to Riding on Insulin to help reduce the cost to families who wish to send their children to the camp.
“Diabetes is already a super-expensive disease to have,” Kayrene said, citing the price of insulin, needles, testing strips, glucose tablets, etc.
She continued: “It’s a huge cost and a lot of insurances don’t cover as much as is needed in a household. The camp being expensive doesn’t help that.”