Rotarian rides again
On his way from his home in California to the Rotary International Convention in Hamburg, Germany, Edwin Velarde took an unusual detour.
In an effort to raise awareness of diabetes, Velarde, 57, rode a bicycle for the last leg of his trip, cycling 525 miles from London to Hamburg. After making stops along the way to visit Rotary clubs and talk about the impact of diabetes, he arrived on 31 May after 13 days of riding. He spoke to clubs in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.
This was not the first time Velarde, a board member of the Rotarian Action Group for Diabetes, had cycled to a convention. “I thought I could create awareness by riding to conventions,” says Velarde, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 29. He biked from Busan to Seoul, Korea, in 2016, from Chicago to Atlanta in 2017, and from Rotary headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, to Toronto in 2018. This year, the journey had added meaning; Velarde dedicated this ride to his son Davis Edwin Velarde, who died at 22 of lymphoma in April.
Diabetes is a chronic illness that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce insulin (type 1) or when the body cannot effectively use insulin (type 2). When diabetes is not controlled, it can result in severe damage to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves and can double a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
The World Health Organization estimates that the number of people with diabetes rose from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.
Several years ago, when Velarde was feeling fatigued and depressed about his illness, a friend gave him a bike. He took it out for a spin.
“That ride woke me up to the fact that I was not fit,” he recalls. “I realized I wanted to become a cyclist, and not just someone who rides a bike.”
Velarde’s goal is to rally support among Rotarians to find a cure for diabetes, and to spread the word that a healthy lifestyle can help people who have type 2 diabetes better control the illness.
“We have what it takes to conquer the diabetes epidemic,” he says. “Imagine the 422 million people we could help.”
— ANNEMARIE MANNION
• This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.