Trek highlights diabetes battle

Journey across lake to take five days


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A Canadian Forces survival expert is going toe to toe with a treacherous frozen lake to help rescue Canadians from a deadly enemy -- a growing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/02/2011 (4307 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Canadian Forces survival expert is going toe to toe with a treacherous frozen lake to help rescue Canadians from a deadly enemy — a growing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes.

Ernie Whelan, 39, an instructor at the Survival and Aero Medical School at 17 Wing in Winnipeg, will set off Wednesday on a five-day, 100-kilometre, solo cross-country ski trek across Lake Winnipeg to raise funds for, and awareness of, diabetes.

Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2007, Whelan said his gruelling fundraising journey, dubbed Gliding Thru Barriers, will begin at Hecla Island on Feb. 23 and wrap up Sunday Feb. 27 at Victoria Beach.

JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Ernie Whelan, a former SAR tech, trains on the Assiniboine River for his five-day trek across Lake Winnipeg.

The former search-and-rescue technician, who requires daily insulin injections to control his high blood sugar, said he is determined to prove that people battling Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for about 90 per cent of diabetes diagnoses, can accomplish anything. “I want people to understand diabetes a little more,” Whelan said. “I want people to start recognizing and understanding this disease instead of going off old wives’ tales and hearsay.

“You’re not limited in what you can do as a diabetic, whether it’s trekking 100 kilometres or getting up and going for a walk with your kids. I want to show people you can’t toss diabetics off to the side because they’re no good to society.”

Whelan, who’s married with a two-year-old son, said his solo trek poses hazards, even for someone with his years of military training.

“It can be dangerous,” he said. “Lake Winnipeg is not a forgiving lake, especially in winter. You can get storms.”

His goal is to ski at least 20 kilometres a day while pulling a large sled carrying all his supplies, including a tent, food, a personal locator beacon, snow shovels and saws, a cellphone and his insulin.

He said anyone interested in his journey can follow his progress on Facebook by typing in the words Gliding Thru Barriers.

“Every 10 minutes my position will be updated via a GPS satellite,” he said. “I’ll be taking photos along the way and hopefully posting those to Facebook.”

Any money raised from his trek will go to the Canadian Diabetes Association, which earlier this month warned Manitoba is facing a “diabetes storm” that threatens not only the health system, but the provincial economy.

The number of confirmed diabetics in the province is expected to jump to 139,000 cases by 2020 from the current level of 94,000 cases, a staggering 48 per cent increase.

Type 2 diabetes, normally associated with middle-aged people who are unfit and sedentary, is the fastest growing chronic disease in Canada. It costs Manitoba $498 million annually, a bill expected to jump to $639 million a year by the end of the decade.

Whelan, who is five-seven and weighs 165 pounds, said the fact someone as fit and active as him can acquire the potentially deadly disease — a leading cause of blindness, amputations, strokes and kidney failure — should alarm all Canadians.

“It can hit anybody at any given time,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that and they think you have to be overweight. You need money to fight the disease, but knowledge is power.”



Here’s how to help

You can support Ernie Whelan’s five-day, 100-kilometre odyssey by going to the Canadian Diabetes Association’s website and, under quick links, clicking on My Diabetes Fundraiser.

Then click the “go to my fundraiser” button. Next, click on “search for an event.” Then, in the event name box, type Gliding Thru Barriers.

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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