Joshua Zilm is in his seventh season as a rider on the JDRF Illinois Ride to Cure Diabetes team and his sixth season as a coach. Coincidentally, he has only been cycling on the road for the last seven years. Sure, he had been mountain biking for a decade before, but never saw himself on a road bike. Seven years ago, he didn’t even own a road bike.
That all changed when his step-daughter, Ava, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) in early 2013. Joshua immediately went looking for a way to play an active part in the fight to cure T1D, which is when he found JDRF.
“I came across JDRF during some google searches for T1D organizations while exploring ways to get involved and give back,” he said. “The Ride program stood out as a challenge and a way to get our family involved and not just be bystanders or victims of the disease.”
Before we get too much further into Joshua’s story, let’s take a step back and talk a little bit about the Ride. The JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes is a charitable bike ride with five locations around the country. It’s an experience where hundreds of riders come together from all over the world to make new friendships, enjoy the unparalleled camaraderie of the Ride community and raise money to help end T1D.
The great thing about the Ride is that there is no minimum length requirement, so riders of all skill levels can participate. You can ride the full century option, which is what it sounds like – a 100-mile ride – or you can pick the amount of miles that is right for you. After all, JDRF Ride to Cure is about the mission, not the miles.
But, as Joshua saw it, there wasn’t really a choice. He was going for the full 100 miles right off the bat.
”It was the challenge of a goal that is beyond what I ever considered possible,” he said that made him choose to ride the full century right away. “Whether 100 miles or one mile, every one of us is capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for!”
As Joshua soon found out, that goes for the fundraising aspect as well. The Ride has raised over $50 million for T1D research over the last 20 years – all from the individual fundraising efforts of the participating riders. He may have had a decade of biking experience to get him though the physical challenge, but the same could not be said about fundraising.
“I was nervous about the fundraising, maybe even more than the physical challenge,” he said. “However I was pleasantly surprised at the network of support that I have found.”
“I also tried to not look at it as asking for money, but more so about sharing my story and educating family and friends. We also came up with small incentives as a way to thank those who supported our effort – anything from duct tape wallets, or key chains, or hand written letters.”
One thing he noticed throughout his first season was how much of an impact the coaches had on each rider on Team Illinois, especially on his experience as a first-year rider. That was something he wanted to pass forward to the new riders joining Team Illinois, so he signed up to be a coach the following year.
“First and foremost the coaching team are the core face of the program and really help nurture the confidence, enthusiasm and drive of the riders,” said Joshua. “In our eyes everyone is a cyclist and we will do what is within our power to help everyone meet their goals.”
The real highlight of Joshua’s Ride career came last year when Ava, the person who motivated him seven years ago, joined him on the road for the first time as a member of Team Illinois. The whole family rallied around Ava – two grandma’s, one grandpa, an uncle, and her mother joined the duo on the road while two other grandpa’s and her sister, Ella, cheered on from the sidelines.
“I was extraordinarily proud of Ava for joining the ride in 2018,” Joshua said. “She made the choice and commitment to ride and did an outstanding job training for, and riding, 32 miles.”
“While we all know the impacts and challenges of T1D, she handles them with grace and determination. She will be riding again this year and is targeting 60 miles.”
While Team Illinois steadily growing every year, Joshua and the other coaches are always looking for new faces to join them out on the road. At first the commitment to training and fundraising can seem daunting. Joshua gets it, but he knows the coaches can help guide you through a very rewarding experience supporting the vision of a world without T1D
“Honestly I never thought I would enjoy long hauls on a road bike, clad in spandex, but I have loved it from the go,” he said. “Go out and share your story, your purpose. Take on the fight to find a cure for type 1 head on and push to make the difference.”
“Even if you only ride one year, you could be the difference that funds the cure,” he continued. “Give us a shout and let’s talk and let’s ride!”