On January 24, 2011 at just 6 years old, Chase Oyenarte became sick. The kind of sick no parent ever wants their child to go through. The kind of sick that a warm washcloth and a bowl of chicken soup could not cure. The kind of sick that requires needles and vials and monitors and alcohol swabs each and every day for the rest of his life. Chase joined the other 40,000 Americans each year to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Currently, there is no known cure for type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease where the pancreas stops producing insulin— the hormone that allows the body to get energy from food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “without insulin, blood sugar can’t get into cells and builds up in the bloodstream.” Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) in its onset has nothing to do with one’s diet or lifestyle. It comes with no warning, and despite all hope, there can be nothing to prevent it from happening.

For those living with T1D, which according to the CDC accounts for only 5% of people with diabetes, it is a daily balance of counting carbs, watching sugar intake, measuring insulin and managing the factors that can affect one’s sugars. Everything from stress to going through puberty can have an effect on a diabetic’s sugar level. Managing T1D is more complex than just taking insulin, it is a fine juggling act that even the best of magicians can’t do without modern medicine.

But, for Bobby and Kelley Oyenarte, Chase’s parents, sitting back and waiting for a cure for their son was not an option. They knew that it was going to take being active in the process and supporting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) mission which is to fund innovative research; provide support to the T1D community; and advocate to the government for action and change to help Chase and others like him to turn “Type One into Type None!”

Bobby decided to fuel his passion for helping his son and the mission of the JDRF by participating in the JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes, a 100- mile bike ride that brings awareness to JDRF and T1D. To date, Bobby has participated in three JDRF Rides To Cure Diabetes, raising money and awareness for research and a cure for T1D.

“My first ride in Loveland, Colorado, Team NF was a team of two and we raised close to $13,000,” Bobby said. ”In my second ride in Santa Fe, New Mexico, our team grew to five and we raised over $25,000.”

Why We Ride:

Today, the JDRF Team North Florida is made of seven strong riders who were all moved by Chase’s story and all those like him who maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle, despite living with T1D. Bobby Oyenarte, Shane Holt, Jeff Theiman, LaVonne Rembert, Curt Fudge, John Newton and Ryan Riggins made up this year’s team. From September 12 through September 15, Team North Florida came together in the foothills of Saratoga Springs to raise money and awareness for others like Chase.

“I rode because I have learned so much about T1D from Bobby over the past year and I also have some dear friends that have T1D. And, I wanted to do all I could to help raise awareness and fundraise for such an amazing cause,” said LaVonne Rembert, who rode with the team for the first time in Saratoga Springs.

Jeff Theiman started bike riding in March of 2018 after Bobby invited him to join TEAM North Florida for the JDRF Ride in Santa Fe with over 375 riders that following October.

“Bobby changed my life by asking/telling me that I was doing this,” Theiman said. “I have learned so much about T1D and the negative effects it has on families. I also learned how strong T1D individuals are and how us non-T1D people take so many things for granted.”

Training for the Ride:

Prior to embarking on a 100- mile bike ride among the lavish winding foothills of Saratoga Springs, you must start with a bit of training, especially for a team coming from the flatlands of Florida. To prepare for the ride, Thieman would ride shorter distances during the week and longer rides on the weekends. According to Theiman, when rain got in the way, he would take his ride indoors to the stationary bikes at Gainesville Health
and Fitness.

“It’s hard to simulate mountains in Florida,” said Theiman, “so, I started X-Force training eight weeks prior
to the ride knowing that it would strengthen my legs in an effort to power up the large hills. Last year we rode 100 miles for JDRF in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was extremely challenging getting up those mountains. This year, I put in extra work to avoid repeating that difficult ride experience in Saratoga.”

For Rembert, the Saratoga Springs ride was her first JDRF Ride but not her first rodeo. As an accomplished athlete and Ironman, long rides comes second nature to her.

“I typically ride a few times during the week and then a long ride on the weekend,” she said.

Teammate Shane Holt, who also joined in the Santa Fe ride said, “Rides would be 1-3 hours and the interval training was 20-40 minutes per session.”

In addition, to prepare for the ride, the team would go on an annual ride from Gainesville to Saint Augustine, which is about 97 miles long.

The Ride of a Lifetime:

The JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes in Saratoga Springs, which covered 100 miles through the foothills and fall-lined trees, challenged the riders both physically and mentally.

“Coming from Florida, we were expecting that the hills would be a challenge and they didn’t disappoint.” said Bobby.

“It was so beautiful. The energy from all the riders was something I had never experienced. It was completely different than what I’m used to in my Ironman races” said Rembert, who completed 30 miles of the ride due to mechanical issues with her bike.

“It was a great ride, nice rolling hills, great views, rivers, lakes, beautiful scenery! There were a few hills that were tough!,” Holt said.

For Thieman, watching fellow riders who currently have T1D manage their disease along the way put the ride in perspective.

“At stops, you see individuals who are checking blood sugar levels and you feel a sense of courage and strength that these individuals have,” Thieman said. “Suddenly, your pain and fatigue doesn’t seem like such a big deal. The individuals who have T1D are warriors.”

The ride also pays tribute to those who are no longer here and lost their battle with T1D.

“Emotionally, I struggle at mile 23,” Thieman said. “Mile 23 has a special significance for the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes program. It’s the mile where we remember the individuals who have lost their lives to this disease. It almost brings me to tears at this point in the ride.”

For Kelley, the Saratoga Springs ride was the first one that she had been to, and it won’t be her last.

“I went to my first ride weekend to support Bobby and the rest of Team North Florida and was so inspired by all the T1D riders and people who are all raising money to support JDRF’s mission to turn Type 1 into Type None,” Kelley said. “Next year in Amelia Island I hope to join Team North Florida in the ride itself.”

Kelley knows how important finding a cure for Chase and T1D is. “As his mother, the worry never stops. It has changed my outlook on everything,” she said. “As he has grown, his tolerance to needles, his ability to count carbs, manage stress, continue in club soccer despite difficulties managing blood sugar during sports, and deal with countless pump site and CGM site changes has been inspirational. He is our hero!”

Team North Florida raised $42,000 for JDRF and conquered the foothills of Saratoga Springs, but they did so much more than that. They continued the efforts of JDRF to help find a cure for type 1 diabetes.

by Nicole Irving