Don Muchow ran from sunrise to sunset. His run mascot? Coco, the diabetic monkey, created by Disney and Lilly Diabetes. In the end, he had run 2,845 miles, from coast to coast, including being the first ever person to run from Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, to Disney World, in Orlando, Florida. This was all to raise awareness for type 1 diabetes (T1D), which he has lived with for 49 years.
As Don completed his coast-to-coast journey, managing his diabetes was something that he had to keep at the forefront 24/7. Just because he was setting out to accomplish this didn’t mean that he could stop doing that, because there are No-Days-Off from T1D.
Don’s courageous effort of doing something extraordinary shows that people living with T1D truly can do anything that they put their mind to.
Read the interview below to find out about how Don completed his heroic coast-to-coast run.
How did you come up with the idea of running from Disneyland to Walt Disney World?
Disney’s slogan “if you can dream it, you can do it” goes double for everyone like me, with a serious lifelong medical condition.
Our diagnosis is like a second sport that we have to master, just so we can do the fun stuff like run, ride, or swim. It’s definitely harder to do these things with an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes, but the challenge makes the success even sweeter. Every day is a victory.
No question, some dreams are hard to fulfill, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on them. Epic is for everyone, and it happens one step at a time. The key is just to keep going.
So when the son of a type 1 friend suggested Disneyland to Disney World, it instantly clicked.
How did you monitor your diabetes while on the road?
I wore my Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor and Tandem t:slim insulin pump on at all times. The Dexcom sends my blood-sugar levels to the Tandem pump every 5 minutes, which accordingly adjusts my insulin up and down using the Control-IQ algorithm originally developed by TypeZero.
Thankfully, my wife can also track me on Dexcom’s Follow mobile app to see my blood-glucose levels in real-time. She would know even before I did what kinds of fuel I needed at every stop. When I’d arrive at the van about every hour to refuel, she might meet me, for example, with hummus or cookies or chicken salad, depending on the readings.
Dangerously low blood sugar—hypoglycemia—is the deepest, most visceral fear that every person with type 1 diabetes has. We all struggle to avoid unpredictable dangerous lows during physical activity. It keeps a lot of us on the sidelines out of justified fear of seizures, brain damage, even death.
The ability to adjust insulin automatically based on blood sugar readings is a huge enabler, because it reduces that constant fear of a sudden medical emergency.
What’s your advice for other people with type 1 diabetes?
I’ve met so many type 1’s during my runs who have literally never met anyone else with this disease.
For many years, I was like that, too. I desperately wanted better ideas from other type 1’s, but I didn’t know how to find them. Everything I learned, I learned the hard way.
The truth is that there are hundreds of thousands of us struggling with the same issues with being physically active. Our type 1 community is strong, connected, and here to figure it out together.
You can find us through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube channels, podcasts, online forums, and in-person at events, like JDRF meetings and TypeOneNation and TypeOneRun events. You don’t have to go it alone. And it’s so much easier and better not to.
Were you excited as you got closer to the finish line? How do you feel now?
To be honest, I was 100% focused on running each day’s miles as safely as I could and getting up and doing it all over again the next day. My feet held up, no major blisters, and the days went by even faster when folks from the type 1 diabetic community came out to say hi or run a segment with me.
As I approached the Disney World finish line, and a couple days later my transcontinental finish line, time felt like it sped up, slowed down, and stopped all at the same time.
I was living in the moment, unable to believe this was happening to me. It felt surreal, as if I were watching it happen to someone else. And then, I just felt overwhelmed, grateful, exhausted, buzzed, exhilarated, and suddenly very tired and painfully aware of all the dings and scrapes I had determinedly ignored throughout the run. Just unbelievable.
Did you keep training during the run’s pandemic pauses?
When I’m home, I’m always on the move. I run, walk, ride, and swim. I probably covered 1200+ miles without ever leaving my zip code!
The breaks didn’t make much difference, really. I stayed on top of my conditioning because I wanted to be ready to start whenever the time was right.
We watched the case and hospitalization trends closely and, in fact, still do. We didn’t want to give or get COVID, especially because folks with type 1 have a greater risk of developing severe COVID. I also thought it would be selfish to risk an injury that might require medical care when our healthcare folks and hospitals were so overwhelmed by life and death situations.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is take yourself off the playing field so the folks who have important work to do can get it done.
What was the first thing you did when you arrived at Disney World?
When I officially reached Disney World, I couldn’t stop! I still had to get to the Florida coast to complete my transcontinental crossing. Disney ushered us to the front of the line at our favorite ride, “It’s a small world,” and I celebrated with a Mickey ice cream bar. Best of all, I got to meet cast members and other Disney guests that are part of our type 1 diabetes community.
After that, I ran 15 more miles before I called it a day.
Now we’re looking forward to a more relaxed return trip to the Magic Kingdom!
While Don may have chosen to set his goal from Disneyland to Disney World, he wants to encourage anyone living with T1D to not let it hold you back. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it!
To see more about his adventure:
Don’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/don.muchow.9
Facebook page for the run: https://www.facebook.com/T1Determined