At first, Neli Avila didn’t think that her desire to drink more water amounted to anything serious.
Or the frequent bathroom breaks and brain fog.
It was 2012 and Avila, a Maple Ridge resident who was 45 at the time, was going through a divorce. She assumed her dehydration levels were related to stress, she said.
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For more than 25 years, she had turned to running as an escape from the daily doldrums of life. She loved the social aspect of the sport, being out in nature, and staying fit.
But then, on a whim, she went to see a doctor to figure out why she was constantly feeling dehydrated: her pancreas was failing, and she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“I was a little shocked and stunned,” said Avila.“Being an avid runner, I was running 10ks and half marathons at the time. I was like, ‘How can I be a diabetic?’”
Initially, she said she was scared her diabetes diagnosis would prevent her from running.
However, through new technology, such as a smart patch, Avila learned to manage her diabetes and continued to enjoy her favourite sport — completing 10 marathons between 2017 and 2023.
As Avila started to run again, she also became inspired to raise money for diabetes research and awareness.
In the leadup to her first marathon, she joined Team Diabetes, a national fundraising program for Diabetes Canada. She had a goal to complete a marathon in Lisbon, Portugal and raise money for diabetes on the way.
“I was like, ‘I wanna go do this marathon!’ And raise money for diabetes,” Avila said.
Following the Lisbon marathon, Avila decided to launch her own venture for diabetes research, MAD Dashers, a non-profit organization that would donate the money she raised from running marathons.
“I’d been running all my life and I thought maybe type one diabetes is now my purpose,” Avila said. “I started fundraising for other diabetics, running, and doing the things that I love to do.”
In 2019, as she started to complete more marathons, Avila had a dream to host her own race for diabetes. That year, she launched the MAD Dashers – Dash for Diabetes, a 5k and 10k walk and run event aimed at raising money and awareness for diabetes.
On May 28, roughly 100 runners — including people who are living with diabetes — are set to meet outside the Osprey Village in Pitt Meadows for the fourth annual Dash for Diabetes.
“I feel like when I do these events, I inspire other diabetics to not be ashamed of the disease,” Avila said. “To embrace it and talk about the different technologies that are available to change your life.”
As the race continues to grow, Avila has her sights set on raising $10,000 through the race.
However, this year, she admits that number is a stretch, but is looking forward to getting more participants on the startline in the years to come.
Whatever amount of money she earns will go towards Diabetes Canada, a national charity that has the goal to help the roughly 11 million Canadians who are living with diabetes.
Specifically, she said, the funding will go to an overnight diabetes summer camp on Vancouver Island, and education resources for parents looking to learn how they can help their children living with diabetes.
“This disease is around the clock,” Avila said. “[But] because you have diabetes, it doesn’t stop you from doing the things you enjoy doing. You can manage it. You can live with it. There is hope.”
The Dash for Diabetes will start at 8:30 a.m. with an opening speech, followed by the start of the five and 10 kilometre race at 9:00.