Why I Ride is a series of stories from people and families with a connection to T1D. I ride for myself, but there are thousands of others I ride for as well, many whose stories won’t necessarily be told publicly. This series is an attempt to share a few of those families with you. Supporting JDRF is a noble and worthy cause for many people. You can support JDRF through my Burlington ride here.
You know you’ve had a big sip of the cycling Kool-Aid when you start watching international tours and pick out a favorite professional cyclist to cheer for in all the major races. Long before I watched my first Tour de France, I already had a couple of favorite professional cyclists. Phil Southerland and Joe Eldridge earned those spots. The original founders of Team Type 1, (later to become Team Novo Nordisk), they were two cyclists with T1D and they gave me tremendous amounts of hope as a beginner cyclist. Through the years, Joe and I have become friends as we’ve attended many of the same events. We even pedaled together during last year’s JDRF Nashville ride, where I kept up with him on the road and held my own. (Nevermind that it was for 10 seconds. It totally still counts.) Joe has T1D and works hard to change the world for the better and to make sure everyone knows anything is possible with diabetes. Joe is one of the reasons Why I Ride.
Joe’s been on a bike since he was a kid, but it wasn’t until college that he took up road cycling. It only took five months after buying his first road bike for him to sign up for his first race. Even though he finished at the back of the pack, he was hooked.
“I saw racing as a challenge, and if I worked hard I could see results,” he said. “It’s a lot like diabetes management; everyday may not be perfect, but I try to get better.”
Diagnosed as a child with T1D, racing presented new challenges for Joe in his diabetes management. After one race, he saw the winner checking his blood sugar. Joe walked over to congratulate him and ask about diabetes. That cyclist was Phil Southerland.
“In all my years of sports, I never had a competitor with diabetes,” Joe said.
A friendship formed between the two, with Phil encouraging Joe to manage his diabetes better and Joe encouraging Phil to get more involved with JDRF. Over the next few years and many diabetic challenges, the duo brainstormed Team Type 1—a team of type 1 athletes. In 2012, the growing team partnered with global health care company Novo Nordisk and became Team Novo Nordisk—the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team.
“The success we had in the early years helped us to gain a partnership with Novo Nordisk,” Joe said. “I’m so proud of all our athletes and the progress we’ve made.”
This season, the men’s pro team has garnered 25 Top-10 finishes and been in the spotlight of some major races like the Amgen Tour of California. There’s also an inspiring and powerful commercial featuring the team airing throughout the 2015 Tour de France.
Joe’s passion remains with the Team Type 1 Foundation, which works to provide access to health care and diabetes supplies to those in need in developing countries.
“I have raced around the world and seen ow others live with diabetes, and it is a stark contrast to the access of care we have here,” Joe said. “There is a huge need to provide supplies and education to many countries.”
In addition to accessing and distributing supplies, the Foundation also provides scholarships to athletes with T1D, enabling those students to serve as an example to people around the world on how to live a successful life managing T1D.
Though he’s been cycling a while, Joe still has tough days in the bike where the numbers don’t add up.
“I try to learn from my diabetes successes and challenges,” he said. “Diabetes is constantly changing, and your management and approach has to adapt with it.”
Keeping close tabs on his diabetes management has allowed Joe to pursue some big dreams. In 2007, he was one of eight people with diabetes to set the record for the fastest crossing of America on bikes in the Race Across America. In 2012, he became the first type 1 athlete to win an elite national championship on the bike.
Part of Joe’s inspiration is his family—his wife and young son and his parents are supportive of his cycling pursuits and efforts with the Foundation. He also pulls inspiration from the T1D community. Seeing people with T1D pursue athletics reminds Joe of why he works so hard. Diabetes, for him, is a reason to work hard.
“I think managing T1D has had a positive affect on my personality, drive and ambition,” he said.
Joe is one of the reasons Why I Ride. He—along with Team Novo Nordisk—serve as motivation for me as an endurance athlete. I ride for them, and I ride for all the athletes behind me. I ride to show kids you can do anything with T1D. It may require a little more work and effort, but it is possible, and the reward is great.