Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

760 km to better health

Epic trek to raise cash for diabetics

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Jim Rondeau has a knack for making me feel guilty.

Take just before last Christmas, for example. There I was, innocently sitting in the convention centre at the kickoff breakfast for the Salvation Army's annual kettle campaign.

My salivary glands were in overdrive because, gripped in my sweaty little columnist hands, was a plate heaped with a mountain of bacon, bacon that had been politely slid my way by less-carnivorous colleagues at our table.

Then, from out of nowhere, Rondeau, Manitoba's affable healthy living minister, appeared and -- there is no other way to say this -- began giving me the evil eye.

"I'm assuming you're not going to eat that, Doug!" Jim chirped, frowning at my bacon bonanza.

"Of course not," I grunted, sadly shoving the plate aside, "I just like looking at it in the morning."

The thing is, like me, Jim Rondeau has Type 2 diabetes, the fastest-growing chronic disease in the world.

Unlike me, as healthy living minister, Rondeau is Manitoba's point man for diabetes prevention and is responsible for getting our 1.2 million bacon-loving citizens off their butts to curb the skyrocketing epidemic.

That brush with bacon came back to me last week when I bumped into Rondeau again at a reception in the legislature for the Canadian Diabetes Association and he filled me in on what he's doing for his summer vacation.

Instead of lounging around on a beach -- or refusing to get off the couch, which is what I usually do -- Jim and his partner, Dennis Tam, are going spend about 30 days walking 760 kilometres to help make Winnipeg a healthier place for people with diabetes.

Starting Aug. 9, they're going to be walking the famed Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, or simply The Way, a pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. "We'll average about 25 kilometres a day through arduous mountain terrain for about 30 days," Rondeau explained. "We'll be staying in hostels and monasteries and bed and breakfasts. This is all on my dime, not the government's. I'm paying for everything."

It's part adventure vacation, but mostly the trek is intended to raise money for a special fund, dubbed the Camino Food Fund, to help Winnipeg Harvest deal with clients who, along with hunger, are battling diabetes.

"What I'm trying to do is create a fund that will be used by Harvest to acquire healthy foods for diabetics," he said. "Healthy food is more expensive. With a chronic disease like diabetes, the longer you control your blood sugars through diet and exercise, the longer you delay the serious complications of the disease."

Their trek was inspired by the 2010 film The Way, starring Martin Sheen as Tom, a cranky U.S. doctor whose son dies in a storm on his first day walking the Camino. Tom decides to embark on the pilgrimage -- completed by about 273,000 pilgrims in 2010 -- to honour his son.

Reminded of the fatality in the film, Rondeau laughingly says he plans to survive. "It's a bit scary, but it's an adventure and it's for a good cause, too," he chuckled. "We've been walking 50 to 70 kilometres a week with backpacks for the past four months to get ready."

Catherine Wirt, Harvest's director of client and community relations, said the food bank is thrilled with Rondeau's anti-diabetes adventure. "It's amazing," she said, "I think that's the kind of action that really gets people's attention."

But Wirt noted Harvest doesn't buy food directly, relying instead on private and public donations. The new fund, she said, will be a huge boost for their efforts to raise the profile of healthy eating for diabetics and everyone else. "We're developing a health resource room and one of the things we hope to do is one-on-one nutritional counselling," Wirt said. "The fund will help us push for healthier donations and let our donors know we really are seeking healthy food for our clients."

Along with testing out his fancy new rainbow-coloured sneakers, Rondeau's goal is to raise $25,000 for Harvest, and donations are already rolling in.

"I've probably got $5,000 to $10,000 this week already," he declared. "Since I've come out with Type 2 diabetes, people have come up to me and said: 'Hey, I've got diabetes, too!' and they start talking about their challenges.

"So if this can help change the world, that wouldn't be a bad thing."

Hopefully, Jim Rondeau is already on the Way to that goal. One step at a time.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Put your best foot forward

HEALTHY Living Minister Jim Rondeau is putting his feet on the line to help people with diabetes by trekking 760 kilometres on Spain's Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

There's a less stressful way for you to help -- just donate to the Camino Food Fund by visiting www.winnipegharvest.org or call 982-3581.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 2, 2012 A2

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