On a cool evening at the end of March 2008, Doug Masiuk laced up a pair of running shoes and stepped outside. It was the first time he had run since high school, and the 31-year-old didn’t get far. Masiuk estimates he made it about two blocks through his Annapolis, Maryland hometown before collapsing on the side of the road, sides heaving, sick to his stomach.
“I was unhealthy as hell,” Masiuk recalled.
Exercise had never been a part of his adult life, he didn’t eat well and was a heavy smoker — habits bad enough on their own, but made worse by the fact that Masiuk is also a Type 1 diabetic.
Nevertheless, two days after that first run, Masiuk went out again, and made it 5 extra feet further. Then he went out again and again. Several months later, he was running around 18 miles a night.
Now, Masiuk is starting his most ambitious run yet — an attempt to break the fastest known time of the Appalachian Trail — in hopes it will bring more attention to diabetes and what diabetics can do.
DEALING WITH DIABETES
Nearly 26 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Society, and as many as one in three American adults will have diabetes in 2050 if current trends continue. There are two main types of diabetics — Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetics like Masiuk must check their blood sugar and administer insulin by injection several times a day. Failure to properly manage diabetes can result in health issues such as sight loss, heart and kidney disease, and in extreme cases, amputation.
Masiuk was diagnosed at the age of 3, and has grown up dealing with blood sugar fluctuations and other diabetic inconveniences. He wasn’t fully motivated to actively care about his health until a relative he was close to passed away from a heart attack.
“If I want any shot at making it to 80 years old, or even 55, I need to be doing it better than anybody else,” he told himself.
ADDICTED TO RUNNING
In running, Masiuk found a driving force that kept him up and motivated. He ran longer and longer distances, signing up for half marathons, full marathons and, eventually, 100-mile ultra marathons. His health improved, his insulin intake went down and he felt great.
“It was really cathartic,” he said.
Running became such a big part of his life that he made plans to try out in the marathon time trials for the 2012 Olympics. Unfortunately, he was hit by a car while running in 2011, and the resulting injuries — including cracked ribs, dislocated shoulder and hip, creased IT band — kept him from competing.
Slowly he recovered, and in 2012, he embarked on a run from the west coast of America to the east coast.
BECOMING THE CAUSE
Masiuk admits he was nervous at the start of his cross-country run, particularly during his flight to California to meet his crew. But then, something happened.
“It became so much bigger than me once I got started,” he said.
In addition to running, Masiuk began giving talks in the communities he passed through. He shared his experience as a Type 1 diabetic and as an athlete. He wanted to show people what was possible.
The response he received was heartening. People listened, and they shared their stories. In one city, he met the family of a young girl who had just been diagnosed with diabetes.
“One of my first memories, as a 3-year-old, was my mom and dad waiting in the hospital with me, my mom in tears, my dad consoling my mom,” Masiuk recalled. “And here I am, at the time 36 years later, able to share with this family that’s got all kinds of emotions, all kinds of anxiety and fear, and say this is 36 years of what you’re concerned about. And that moment, it creates this magnificent perspective in that yeah, it’s a challenge, it’s hard, … but it’s just diabetes.”
With increasing stops along the way, what was meant to be about a three-month endeavor turned into seven. Still, Masiuk completed the more than 3,000-mile journey and found both a cause and platform he was passionate about.
“It became a community thing, and that’s what made this possible,” he said.
THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
While running across the U.S., Masiuk had a lot of free time to think, and a recurring theme was — what next? Along the last third of his cross-country run, Masiuk’s brain flickered an answer. What about the Appalachian Trail?
“It’s esoteric, it’s odd, it’s niche, it’s weird,” he said of what draws him toward the trail.
In addition to running it, he’s given himself another goal — to do it faster than anybody else.
For months, Masiuk and his small crew have been working on fundraising to help him achieve this goal. At this point, they’ve gotten just enough to get started, he said.
“We don’t know what Week 2 looks like, but hopefully people are inspired to make this thing, not come to fruition, but for us to complete it.”
Masiuk has further ambitious plans for this run, which is to incorporate at least five events benefitting local diabetes organizations, local running clubs and schools in the communities he passes through. He wants to incorporate the one-on-one personal outreach that made his cross-country run so memorable.
“That’s part of my fuel too; that’s why I do this,” he said. He wants to act as a role model to young diabetics. “This is how I got through it,” he wants to tell them. “Maybe it will give them a moment and that moment will last through those trying times for that kid.”
Masiuk has been training continually, getting up early to run about 10 miles each morning from his Frisco home, then spending six hours on-site at his construction job. He then squeezes in another run before busing tables for four hours at Boatyard American Grill in Frisco, and does his best to top the evening off with an hour-long treadmill run.
“It hurts like hell but this is the best I can do to prepare to put forth a great effort and set the AT (Appalachian Trail) record,” he wrote in a recent email. “Crazy I know, but so many people have dedicated their lives to making diabetes better.”
Masiuk planned to start his run on Aug. 31 at Baxter Park, Maine. He will run the trail in roughly 25-mile sections, meeting up with his three-person crew at accessible intersections to re-fill his backpack with water and food and send him on his way again.
Masiuk plans to do twice-weekly updates on his Facebook and website pages. He hopes that along the way, his story and efforts will inspire more people, from financial sponsors to people with diabetes or similar illnesses.
“You’re sitting there with so much humility and you realize what you’re doing has so much impact,” he said. “I was a kid in the audience once, and here’s my turn to share what’s possible.”