Above: Julie and Dick Roettker at the 2022 JDRF Ride in Grand Rapids, MI
Over the past 25 years, bike riders from around the world have pedaled thousands of miles and raised over $60 million for type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. And it all started back in 1997 with 17 volunteers from Cincinnati, OH—known as the JDF Victory Team—looking for a new way to make a big impact on fundraising for (what was then known as) JDF.
The JDF Victory Team rode a cumulative 1,700 miles by moonlight in Death Valley, CA. They raised $70,000, paving the way for what we know today as the JDRF Ride Program. The very next year, in 1998, JDRF launched the first official Ride in Death Valley.
The Early Ride Years
The Roettkers have been JDRF Ride participants since the beginning.
Dick, diagnosed with T1D in 1972, took part in his first Ride in Death Valley, CA, in 1998. “I had been cycling for 10 years at that point and felt that a 100-mile ride in Death Valley was a formidable but doable challenge for me,” he said. “I was turning 40 that year and Ride inspired me to take my support of JDRF to the next level.”
Julie, Dick’s wife, joined Ride the following year after hearing her husband tell “such great stories of how impactful the weekend was.”
The JDRF Ride program was quite different back then. To start, there were less than 100 Riders at each event (compared to today’s average of 300-600 participants at each location). “Often you were riding solo for many miles,” Julie recalled.
The early Rides were also “pretty basic,” according to the Roettkers. “Although there were rest stops at the start and finish lines, it was sparse by today’s standards, which has much more fanfare, plus safety and medical support,” Dick said.
The Most Memorable Ride
Dick’s most memorable Ride was in Loveland, CO, in 2017. His friend and fellow JDRF Rider, Mike Bender, received a brain cancer diagnosis the year before and his doctors wouldn’t allow him to ride a bike by himself. “I decided to ride my tandem bike with Mike, who rode for years in honor of his son Matthew, who had T1D since he was 17 years old,” Dick said.
Mike and Dick had six short weeks to train together. At the starting line, a pack of their Ride friends surrounded them and then rode alongside them for the entire 100 miles. Mike’s son, Matthew, was waiting at the finish line, a surprise planned by Mike’s wife and Dick. “Knowing what an emotional moment it would be for everyone, myself included, made it hard to pedal that last mile with tears in my eyes,” Dick said.
Why We Ride
“It’s not about the miles, it’s about the mission.”
Dick personally experiences the impact of his fundraising. “At my first JDRF Ride in 1998, I was taking a daily shot of NPH insulin and monitoring my blood glucose with 8-10 finger checks each day,” he said. He has been on a closed-loop system since 2017. “If not for these advances achieved through research funded by JDRF, I may not be alive today.”
Julie rides for her husband, and for everyone she has met along the way the past 20+ years. “While I don’t have T1D, I’m grateful to JDRF for their role in all of the changes in diabetes management since my first Ride,” she said.
Julie also coached for the JDRF Ride program from 2010 through 2015. Since 2018, she has traveled to two Rides per year to help with coordinating and managing all the on-site volunteers.
This year, Dick will complete his 32nd Ride and Julie will complete her 27th. In total, the Roettkers have logged nearly 6,000 miles combined for JDRF, but they’re not counting. “It’s about the smiles, not the miles,” Julie said.
Dick agrees. “It’s not about the miles, it’s about the mission.”
This year, the JDRF Ride will return to Death Valley on January 18-21 to celebrate these humble beginnings. Continue the legacy with us at ride.jdrf.org/deathvalley!