‘Celebrity challenge’ truly was

Twelve local celebrities made it through a week of diabetes earlier this month, but only one could win the prize for best adhering to the strict regimen.
Petrina Carlson, with the local branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, was named the winner of the Valley Diabetes Education Centre’s “Celebrity Challenge” last Thursday night during a fundraising supper at La Place Rendez-Vous.
“This was the hardest thing I ever did, besides having a child,” laughed Carlson.
When asked what her secret to success was, Carlson replied it was simply determination.
“I decided I was going to do it exactly the way they said so I could get the true picture,” she noted after the dinner.
A regular pop drinker, Carlson switched to diet, beginning by mixing the two until she had become accustomed to the taste. She also stopped putting sugar in her coffee.
Part of her success also may have been due to preparation.
“I sat down for four hours one night before the challenge and planned out my week’s menu,” she remarked.
Carlson also recalled a family outing to a local fast food restaurant, where she still managed to stick to the diet while everyone around her enjoyed the typical fast food fare.
“I thought, I’ve got to stick to it no matter what was around me,” she said.
Carlson went so far as to ask for medicine for diabetics when she came down with a cold during the week.
Rather than giving insulin shots to a teddy bear, Carlson instead carried around a small plush lion which had been used in two previous challenges by other Royal Bank staff members.
Both of them won, as well.
The whole experience has had a positive impact on her life, Carlson noted. “I’m more conscious about what I’m putting into my body. I never want to get this [diabetes],” she stressed.
She has taken to eating a healthy breakfast every morning, which she rarely did before the challenge, and even lost four pounds over the course of the week.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” Carlson said. “It’s changed my life.”
Other participants also had good things to say about the “celebrity challenge.”
“I certainly gained a great awareness about the disease and I hope that I never do get it,” said Allan Dearing of B•93 FM, admitting he had a piece of apple pie on the last day of the challenge.
Sandy Hill, president of the Fort Frances Lions Club, thanked her husband for keeping her in line, and also presented the Canadian Diabetes Association with a cheque for $400 from the local service club.
“It was an eye-opener for me,” echoed Josie Miller of the Northern Lights Credit Union here.
Miller said she had suffered from insomnia before the challenge, but found it stopped when she changed her diet. “I slept well on the challenge. I learned a lot,” she noted.
Jim Martindale, president of the local Voyageur Lions Club, said he hopes the service club can spread the challenge to other communities, “not only on the Canadian side but the American side, as well.”
“I’m hoping to bring this experience to a number of other people,” he remarked.
The other participants in this year’s challenge were Wanda Barker (Super 8), Melanie Bragg (Family and Children’s Services), Alisa Armstrong (RBC), Dave McBride (Canada Safeway), Don Patrick (Gagne Pharmacy), Randy Thoms (Shaw Cable), and myself (Fort Frances Times).
Following the dinner and the presentation of the award, guest speaker David Spears spoke to the crowd about his experiences with diabetes since his diagnosis in 1986.
He first went to have himself tested for the disease after a friend’s wife recognized his symptoms, including extreme thirst, severe muscle spasms, extreme exhaustion, and “strong feelings of impending death.”
Spears spent a week in hospital upon diagnosis, having been admitted with a blood sugar level of 46 mmol. A normal reading is between four and six.
The disease also temporarily affected his vision. “I was unable to recognize anyone from about three feet and beyond,” Spears noted.
Once his blood sugar was stabilized with insulin and his symptoms were controlled, Spears returned to work as an engineer with CP Rail.
But he later learned the Railway Association of Canada’s policies regarding diabetes restricted his role at work until he was off medication.
Spears subsequently was reassigned to a position as second engineer on the passenger line in Thunder Bay until it was discontinued.
Over the next several years, he spent months at a time out of work because of his diabetes, though his blood sugar levels were well controlled with diet, exercise, and medication.
After years of lobbying, the RCA eventually changed its policies regarding employees with diabetes.
“I’m excited for those who will not have to fight like I did to keep working,” Spears said to a standing ovation.