My 13th Marathon, but My First With Type 1 Diabetes


Editor’s Note: Al is a member of the Beyond Type Run 2022 team—a team of nearly 50 people living with type 1 diabetes who ran the 2022 NYC Marathon on November 6. They’re on a mission to raise awareness and funds for type 1 diabetes, with fundraising open through the end of 2022. Congratulate Al by making a gift on his fundraising page!

In the Spring of 2021, at the age of 57, my focus was training with my wife for The Ride to Conquer Cancer. The training was going well and we were well on our way to easily completing the 125km ride.

But something wasn’t quite right.

At first, I thought it was from the training or an old injury coming back to haunt me. It started with very uncontrollable and painful tingling in my feet, making it difficult to walk. Maybe I just needed to stretch or drink more water, I thought, but that didn’t seem to do the trick. Then I was having trouble with my eyes. I had blurry vision and it was getting harder to focus.

Of course, my thought was I’m just getting older so it must be time for new glasses. Training continued but then the effects really started to take hold. Even on an easy bike ride, I struggled and was too weak to push myself. The muscles in my legs ached and felt like they were on fire.

I was getting weaker and skinnier by the day. In just over a month I lost over 30 pounds. My clothes were all now loose and baggy and I had turned into a stick man. It wasn’t until my wife Janet and a few others pointed out the weight loss that I thought something could be wrong.

After a visit with the doctor and a blood test it was clear that diabetes had found me. The diagnosis was difficult to take, with so many things running through my mind.

Why me? I’ve always led a healthy lifestyle and have been very active. How will I continue to do all the things that I love to do? From backcountry snowshoeing, canoeing, hiking, cycling and, of course, running.

I’ve always been that guy—hey look a mountain, let’s see if we can climb it, or I wonder where this trail goes, to I’m sure we can paddle that far. Adventure is always waiting.

Dealing with my new diagnosis

Al walks away from the camera in deep snowDiabetes wasn’t completely new to me, and the thought of getting it was scary. My dad had diabetes. Watching him struggle made my new diagnosis that much scarier. From the highs and low blood sugars, to losing a leg from poor circulation, to kidney failure. We would visit him while he was having his dialysis and the putrid smell in the renal unit was something I will never forget. Sadly, my dad passed away a few years ago.

Over the years I’ve had what some would call, “sand kicked in my face” or “hiccups”, and I’ve always found the strength and courage to fight back and overcome those obstacles.

At eighteen when I was set to be the captain of my rugby team, I was a passenger in a car that lost control and went off a cliff and was seriously injured. In my thirties, I suffered double herniated discs in my lumbar. I remember falling to the ground like a tree in the forest.

In my youth, I fractured two vertebrates in my neck playing rugby. Then there was the time after having surgery on my back, which was the scariest of them all, I suffered a pulmonary embolism. I’ve always managed to find my way back and move forward.

The thought of losing my leg or having kidney failure isn’t appealing to me. I have too much to live for and I’m not ready to throw in the towel. I’ve overcome some obstacles in my life, and knew it was time to take control and not let diabetes beat me.

Education is key: the more you learn the better chance you can get this under control and move on with an active life.

Learning to live with diabetes

I turned to the internet looking for answers and help. There are some great websites with a wealth of knowledge. I was very happy to find Beyond Type 1’s website, where I found some very inspiring stories that helped motivate me to get going.

My diabetic team was also very helpful and always there for support. Shortly after my diagnosis, my team had me using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), the DexCom G6, and it has turned out to be fantastic. Knowing where your glucose levels currently are, and if they are trending up or down was a real game changer.

Al and Janet smile into the camera, wearing bike helmets, biking shirts, and sunglasses

Then came my insulin pump, the T-Slim with control IQ technology by Tandem Diabetes. This technology is so cool, so programable and user-friendly. At first, it was overwhelming, but now teamed with my DexCom I’m ready to take on the world.

I’m so thankful for the help and support from everyone especially my wife Janet. Without you, I would be like a ship without a sail.

This marathon is for you Dad, may you rest in peace.

WRITTEN BY Al Fortune, POSTED 11/03/22, UPDATED 11/07/22

Al lives in Parkville, BC Canada and has been living with type 1 diabetes since spring 2021. New York will be Al’s 13th marathon and first with type 1.