Annual antique tractor ride raises money for juvenile diabetes research
TOWN OF ALBION Ethan France is an active, athletic 11-year-old boy. He's no couch potato. He plays basketball, baseball and soccer.
The difference between Ethan and his teammates is that after a game, his mom gets up in the middle of the night to check his blood sugar.
Ethan was diagnosed in November with Type 1 diabetes. His 7-year-old cousin, Cody Gilman, was diagnosed with the same disease when he was 13 months old. Their friends, family members and several wagonloads of friendly strangers took a 30-mile ride Sunday morning along the back roads of northern Rock County to raise awareness and money to fight the disease.
Juvenile diabetes is difficult to live with, but it doesn't have to be fatal, said Ed Cook, the event organizer and the boys' grandfather.
"It could be worse," Cook said. "You could have something you can't live with. Of course, this (Type 1 diabetes) might be, too, if you don't keep on top of it and check your blood sugar all the time."
This was the third annual tractor ride organized by Cook, who collects antique tractors. His rural Evansville home is marked by an antique tractor mounted on a pole—the only one in the town of Porter, he says, smiling.
The ride started at GeneO's Wild Ride Saloon in Evansville. It followed back roads through the unincorporated community of Fulton. Some tractors pulled wagons full of waving riders. Along the way, cars stopped at intersections, and families got out to wave at the tractors. Homeowners sat in driveways and enjoyed the parade.
Cook led the way on his Massey Harris 33. The tractors puttered along in the sunshine into Indianford, where they took up all the available parking at the community's two bars and one bait shop. After a break, the ride headed back to GeneO's for lunch and prizes. The return trip included a drive around Gibbs Lake County Park.
Tractor owners and riders paid to participate. Gordie Boucher of Janesville added $1,500 to the pot. Aside from a small amount of money for Cody and Ethan to attend a camp for children with diabetes, the rest of the money goes to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, said Sarah Gilman, Cody's mom.
Gilman, who lives in Evansville, took a deep breath when asked what she wants people to know about juvenile diabetes. It's a lot, she said.
Aside from constantly worrying about her child's safety, she finds herself dealing with people who misunderstand diabetes, she said.
Cody and Ethan have Type 1 diabetes, which means their bodies don't produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Insulin breaks down the sugar and takes it out of the bloodstream into cells where it can be used.
The boys are dependent on insulin injections.
"It's their life support," Gilman said.
People with Type 2 diabetes don't necessarily need insulin. They can manage their blood sugar with medication, proper diet and exercise, Cook said. It is the type of diabetes some people develop if they are overweight or live unhealthy lifestyles.
Having Type 1 diabetes is nobody's fault, said Ethan's mom, Betsy France of rural Janesville.
"People assume we're bad parents and fed them something wrong," France said. "Ethan is a very healthy, active kid. He doesn't meet the stereotype that people have about diabetes."