Swimming for a cause

Local high school student with diabetes participates in Swim Teal Lake for Diabetes

Swimmers and kayakers are pictured at a previous Swim Teal Lake for Diabetes event. Julie Johnson, a 9th grade student at North Star Academy who lives with diabetes, will be participating in the 16th annual Swim Teal Lake for Diabetes Saturday to raise funds for the Upper Peninsula Diabetes Outreach Network. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — A local high school student living with type 1 diabetes is raising funds for the Upper Peninsula Diabetes Outreach Network by participating in the 16th annual Swim Teal Lake for Diabetes Saturday.

Having lived with type 1 diabetes for 9 years herself, the swim’s mission had a special significance for North Star Academy student Julie Johnson, who has been working to raise funds and find sponsors for her participation in Saturday’s Short-n-Sweet swim.

“Julie is pretty amazing,” UPDON office manager and Swim Teal Lake Benefit for Diabetes race director Kristen Cambensy said in an email. “It is great to see someone so young being so active and really striving to bring awareness and also make a difference in her community.”

The funds raised will support UPDON, a small organization that has been nationally recognized for improving outcomes and care for diabetes and throughout the Upper Peninsula. UPDON, which began in 1985, is a program partner with the Upper Peninsula Commission on Area Progress, or UPCAP.

The organization, with just two-part time employees, serves the entire Upper Peninsula and aims to ensure resources for cost-effective diabetes prevention, detection, treatment and support are available while maintaining a U.P.-wide diabetes coalition, officials said.

A swimmer participates in the Swim Teal Lake for Diabetes event. The organization aims to ensure cost-effective diabetes prevention, detection, treatment and support resources are available while maintaining a U.P.-wide diabetes coalition. (Photo courtesy of Upper Peninsula Diabetes Outreach Network)

“The swim helps UPDON be able to offer programs and services to people in the U.P. who are living with diabetes,” Cambensy said. “This is our major fundraiser of the year. We are extremely lucky and grateful to have the West End Health Foundation as our major sponsor for the Swim. Through the foundation’s generosity, they are matching all swimmer donations, up to $20,000.”

The importance of fundraising for UPDON hit home with Johnson, who is in ninth grade at North Star Academy in Marquette Township. She’s lived with type 1 diabetes for nine years, meaning she must use insulin each day to live and control her blood glucose.

It’s a chronic condition that occurs when a person’s pancreas produces little to no insulin. It cannot be prevented and is not caused by what a person eats, according to UPDON.

“I’ve had some difficulties in my life such as some restrictions on my eating, lots of shots, lots of blood taken and I had to stay in hospital one time because of ketoacidosis, for (a) long time did shots on my arms and legs. I have a pump now that helps,” Johnson said in an email. “I struggle with anxiety because of my autism but I like to help people because it’s an important thing to do.”

Prior to Swim Teal Lake for Diabetes, Johnson was inspired to start a penny war fundraiser at North Star Academy, raising hundreds of dollars for the cause.

It all started when Johnson brought it up to her teacher, who spoke with the principal about the idea. The school’s principal then spoke with other teachers and found “they all wanted to do it,” Johnson said.

“It became a school-wide penny war,” she said. “It felt really good to help others and felt even better the school and others were willing to do the same.”

Over $400 was raised in the penny war, which would help support UPDON, as well as Johnson’s participation in the swim.

She was inspired to participate in the swim and raise more funds for UPDON after she heard about the Teal Lake Swim Short and Sweet from her mom, she said.

“I usually would just come watch the people swim,” Johnson said. “But I also swim for Special Olympics in many races, so I knew I could swim the Short-n-Sweet.”

Raising funds through the swim can make a big difference for local people living with diabetes, Cambensy said.

“This is a huge opportunity for us and will allow us to do more programming throughout the year,” she said.

One example of programming UPDON is working develop is an insulin initiative which aims to ensure “that all people living with type 1 diabetes across the U.P. have access to affordable life-saving insulin,” as insulin prices have increased dramatically in recent years, organizers said in a press release.

The funds raised will also help support programs that aim to prevent type 2 diabetes, as well as the third annual Type 1 Diabetes Summit, which is scheduled for Nov. 2 and will feature Olympic Swimmer, Gary Hall Jr., who is living with type 1 diabetes, she said.

Beyond raising funds, Johnson and Cambensy hope the swim can help raise awareness of diabetes and clear up misconceptions.

“Don’t always assume the rumors are true,” Johnson said. “For example, you can eat candy even if you are diabetic.”

While living with type 1 diabetes can be challenging, Johnson wants others who have diabetes to know: “even though it adds difficulty in your life, don’t let it get in your way.”

For those who wish to donate, checks can be made payable to West End Health Foundation and mailed to the U.P. Diabetes Outreach Network at 1025 Commerce Drive in Marquette. Credit card donations can be directed to Pam Christensen of the West End Health Foundation at 906-204-7410.

For more information on the swim, visit www.teallakeswim.com, call UPDON at 906-273-1120, or email cambensyk@upcap.org. To learn more about UPDON and find out more about diabetes resources in the U.P., visit upcap.org/program/u-p-diabetes-outreach-network-updon.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.