‘Type 1’ teen rides, sells artwork to help fight diabetes
By Leslie Vreeland, Contributing Editor Aug 25, 2017
Ayla Kanow, 13, is on a mission.
This weekend, the Telluride Mountain School student is in Loveland to compete in a bike race.
On Thursday, Ayla and her friend and fellow TMS student, Lydia Hagan, will present an art show from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Baked In Telluride.
In both cases, the goal is the same: to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Kanow was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago. Of the hundreds of millions of people in the world who have this disease, only a small fraction — it is estimated that just one out of every 20 people who are diagnosed — have so-called Type 1, the form that Kanow has. Type 1 diabetes requires constant vigilance and multiple injections of insulin just in order to stay alive — much less healthy. “Managing” it amounts to a full-time job (the disease used to be known as Juvenile Diabetes, since most people diagnosed with Type 1 were under the age of 21).
The question is, why does Kanow care so much about raising money to fight diabetes? She’s doing it for herself, sure. But more than that, “I want to be inspiring,” she said. “So many people have helped and inspired me.”
One of those people is Ayla’s mom, Joanna, who also has Type 1 (and who will be riding alongside her this weekend). The Kanows, in turn, have a famous role model who has inspired both of them — professional cyclist Phil Southerland, co-founder of Team Type 1. The team, sponsored by health care giant Novo Nordisk, races on the International Cycling Union (ICU) Professional Continental Tour, according to Team Novo Nordisk’s website, “competing in major professional races around the world.”
The way the Kanows met Southerland is a story in itself.
Southerland, who was diagnosed with Type 1 at the age of 7 months, had written a book about his journey (“Not Dead Yet: My Race Against Disease: From Diagnosis to Dominance”). Joanna Kanow, an avid athlete, owned it.
Five years ago, Southerland and his wife were aboard a small plane out of Denver, bound for Telluride on a ski trip. Joanna Kanow, her husband, Daniel, and Ayla were all on that same flight, returning home from the Barbara Davis medical center in Denver, where Ayla had been rushed several days earlier.
Joanna recognized Southerland from the photo in his book.
“She asked if I would mind saying a couple of words to her daughter,” Southerland recalled. “Ayla had just been diagnosed, and was devastated.”
Southerland not only didn’t mind, he kept talking. After the flight was over, “As we were standing there waiting to retrieve our bags,” he said, “I had a chance to let her know, ‘You know, life will be okay.’”
Ayla is a game skier — Southerland called her “a little ripper” — and the two made plans to ski together. Over the next few days, he and she were zipping around the mountain, pausing beneath trees to check their blood sugar levels (which Type 1 patients must do several times a day). For the past few days, Joanna had been administering Ayla’s insulin injections. There on the mountain, Southerland challenged the eight-year-old: give yourself your first shot, and I’ll give you a professional racing outfit.
A YOUNG RIDER
With Southerland as inspiration, Joanna Kanow has ridden in “Century” races to raise monies for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the leading global organization funding Type 1 research (the group has invested more than $2 billion in research). Ayla has long wanted to join, but couldn’t until this year, as the minimum age for entrants is 13.
“Ayla is one of my favorite people,” Southerland said fondly. Just four days after she was diagnosed, he marvelled, “she had the look of positivity.”
No matter how she fares this weekend, in his eyes, she has already won.
“Diabetes only chooses the champions, and I mean it,” Southerland emphasized.
Living with such a challenging chronic condition, he explained, essentially forces one to choose: Will you manage it, or allow it to manage you?
There can be no in-between.
“You just need to decide what you want to be a champion of,” he said. “This is your chance to live life to the fullest.”
To donate to Ayla’s ride and learn more about the JDRF, go to tinyurl.com/yd2of3vn.