In 1998, John blacked out while riding his motorcycle in Highland Park, New Jersey due to severely low blood sugar. The crash, and several broken ribs, woke him up. This was the second such incident in three years.
In 2009, he completed the Ultimate Coast to Coast Challenge, riding his motorcycle from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, across Canada and the United States, finishing in Key West, Florida. To qualify he had to complete the trek in 30 days or less. It took him only 86 hours and 31 minutes, besting the world record by about nine hours—this time with no blackouts.
Over the course of more than three decades, he has learned to manage his diabetes rather than let it dictate the pace of his life. But it wasn’t always easy.
“You learn that high blood sugar can kill you over a 30 year period, but low blood sugar can kill you today.”
He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1976 and didn’t receive his first glucose meter until 1990. Even then, knowledge of what diabetes was and how to live with it was far less than ideal. As a teenager, John had to make an appointment with his doctor to get his blood sugar tested and wait nearly three weeks for the results each time.
“Even when I got the glucose meter, there wasn’t a whole lot of knowledge,” he explains. “I got so focused on trying to keep myself in the right range, I started overcompensating with insulin and put myself in a lot of dangerous situations.”
Something clicked the first time John sat on a motorcycle, and he wasn’t about to let diabetes stop him from doing what he wanted to do: ride. He’s not the kind of guy you’ll see on TV riding the open road with a grin on his face in Harley Davidson commercials, something he calls cheesy and ridiculous. He’s also not someone who looks for praise for overcoming obstacles or inspiring people. He just never looked at diabetes as limiting him in any way.
Today he is a member of the Iron Butt Association, an organization of more than 50,000 long-distance motorcycle-riding enthusiasts. He says he’s probably tougher and in better shape than many people without diabetes, but he says so without pride or bravado. He’s learned to be that way, diabetes being more of a motivating factor than an obstacle.
“If anything, I guess I’ve kind of disproven the idea that a lot of people have that diabetics are physically delicate or sickly.”
Through more than 35 years with diabetes, John has never stopped riding.