Keenan Weatherford hopped on his bike this week to get the word out about diabetes, a disease that affects millions of Americans.
Weatherford, 24, a Laurel native, lives and works in Missoula. He is an intern with the Emmaus Campus Ministry at the University of Montana.
He also has a connection to diabetes. His sister Kelsey, 20, has Type 1 diabetes. And his mother, Kirsten Weatherford, is the Montana manager for the American Diabetes Association.
“I feel like diabetes is a disease that not a lot of people are very aware of or very educated about,” he said.
The National Diabetes Statistics Report, released in June 2014, said that as of 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the population, had diabetes. Of that, 8.1 million were undiagnosed.
Weatherford got on his bike Sunday for a 375-mile trip from Missoula to Billings to both draw attention to the disease and raise money for the ADA. Weatherford figures he collected about $500 during the ride.
He also got to have some fun along the way.
“The highlight of my trip probably was that I met a Norwegian cyclist, Ole Christian, who’s riding his bike from Boston to Seattle,” Weatherford said. “And I got to sit and talk with him about cycling, and just life, over a beer in Big Timber. So it was pretty fun.”
On Saturday morning, he met up in Molt with seven friends and family members to complete the last leg of his journey. The group included his father, Keith, and sister Kendra.
After he completed the trek, Weatherford planned to spend the weekend at the family home in Laurel.
“I grew up in Laurel, and if you’re from Laurel, this is the place to be on the Fourth,” he said.
In addition to this most recent ride, he has taken part in seven Tours de Cure, the Montana version of which will take place this year on Sept. 12 at Missouri Headwaters State Park in Three Forks.
Tour de Cure is the single annual fundraising event for Montana, said Kirsten Weatherford, who met up with the riders on Saturday morning to lend support. The goal this year is to raise $225,000 and beat last year’s total of $190,000.
The event funds a year’s worth of programming for the Montana chapter of the ADA, she said.
“Our mission is to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes,” Kirsten Weatherford said.
A lot of people view diabetes as a disease of choice, which she called “simply a misperception.” She appreciates her son getting out on the road to help promote awareness and raise funds.
The pair met up in Helena to do a kickoff event for the Tour de Cure.
“I am absolutely in awe of what he’s done,” she said of her son. “He took this on himself to bring awareness to a disease that is often not taken seriously.”
Another cyclist who joined Weatherford on the ride Saturday was Leif Wellhaven, board chair for Montana ADA. Wellhaven’s 20-year-old son, Colton, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes about 10 years ago.
“There are obviously a lot of people that live with diabetes every day, and this is just a little something we can do to show appreciation for them and honor them and raise some money for them,” Wellhaven said.
In Montana, 84,000 people have been diagnosed with diabetes and another 30,000 remain undiagnosed, he said. A ride like Weatherford’s helps provide people the opportunity to learn about the disease and get tested.
Wellhaven plans to take part in the Tour de Cure on a team of 54 people who raised $25,000 last year and hopes to do the same this September.