Riding For a Cure

Marissa Wille, 10, of Mayfield was exhausted after riding her bike 10 miles in her first Tour De Cure in Saratoga Springs last year.

“I slept the whole way home,” she said recently, while sitting with her father, John Wille, and her father’s girlfriend, Jennifer DeCuyke, in the back of Harvey’s Home, Garden & Pet Center in Johnstown. “And then I ate, and then I started back up again.”

It had been a somewhat rough ride, according to John Wille. Marissa was diagnosed with type 1, or child onset, diabetes in February of last year. At the time of the ride, in June, neither Marissa nor her father were used to keeping an eye on her blood-sugar levels.

“At the very end [of the ride], she wanted ice cream, and I said, ‘You know what? Go for it.’ You know, she did the ride,” John said. “I said, ‘Just check your number before you actually have the ice cream.’ … So when she checked her number – what were you, like, 70? She was borderline to going low. Now that she’s had diabetes for a year, she can tell when she’s low; she can tell when she’s high; she can feel it in her body. Then, she didn’t really know, and that was hard.”

Marissa is getting ready to ride again at this year’s Tour De Cure on June 1, but she’s upping the distance to 25 miles. The Tour De Cure in Saratoga Springs offers 10-, 25-, 50-, 62.5- and 100-mile routes.

“She said it during the race last year. … She says, ‘Daddy, I’m doing 25 next year,'” DeCuyke said. “We kind of laughed at her, and then the time came to sign up this year – ‘No, I want to do 25.’ All right, and that’s what I clicked when I signed us up.”

Last year, Marissa was on a team out of Albany, Sydney’s Spinners. This year, she’ll be riding as an individual, with her father along with her.

When Marissa was diagnosed with diabetes, her aunt told her about the Tour De Cure, a series of bike rides held annually across the country to raise money for diabetes research. She immediately decided she wanted to be a part of it.

This year, Marissa and John both feel more prepared, they said. Marissa now uses a pump system to deliver insulin directly to her blood, which eliminates the need to inject insulin and makes measurements more precise, John said. John said he has also noticed an increase in Marissa’s energy level since her diagnosis.

“So now, not only does she do her regular tap, jazz, hip-hop and ballet [lessons], she roller skates at High Rollers, she plays softball,” John said. “She’s always active, always swimming. So her activity level increased, she lost weight, So there’s a lot of changes over the last year.”

The Willes and DeCuyke will join approximately 2,600 other riders at this year’s event, according to Denise Nicastro, associate director of the Saratoga Springs Tour De Cure and the American Diabetes Association office in Albany.

The Saratoga Springs event, which is in its 17th year, is one of seven Tour De Cures in New York state. The fundraising goal for this year’s Saratoga Springs event is $1.5 million; last year the event raised around $1.25 million, Nicastro said.

Marissa is known as a “Red Rider,” or a participant in the Tour De Cure who has either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. She’ll be one of only about 150 Red Riders at this particular ride, according to Nicastro.

“Most people with diabetes, especially type 2, it’s very difficult for them [to ride],” Nicastro said. “We have a lot of volunteers with diabetes, and we’re always trying to encourage them to get out and ride, but they’d prefer something else like walking. Riding is a whole different animal for a lot of them, so it’s a difficult push to try to get them involved.”

Riders need to raise at least $200 to participate in the Tour De Cure. So far, Marissa and her family have raised a little more than $600 through fundraising events at Harvey’s. DeCuyke, who works as a certified dog trainer with Paws Up!, set up three special dog obedience classes as fundraisers at Harvey’s – one in March, the other two this past week.

Marissa also put together a gift basket, which she filled with her favorite dog products from the store. The basket was raffled May 18.

In addition to raising money for diabetes research, the Tour De Cure offers a chance for people with diabetes to meet each other and share their stories, DeCuyke said.

“When she was diagnosed, it kind of felt like we were all alone,” DeCuyke said. “You felt like, you didn’t know anybody who had type 1 diabetes, so it was really nice to see how many people were supportive there.”