Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Competition And Cause To Pump You Up

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

Zack Weissmann gets pumped by lifting weights, by training people in CrossFit, and by the little rectangular machine that’s almost always clipped by his waist.

An insulin pump. A 24-year-old with a college degree in biology, he’s worn the pump half his life.

“Every living memory I have, I’ve had diabetes,” Zack said. “I don’t know anything else. I’m blessed from the aspect that I grew up not knowing what it was like not to have it.”

Zack was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, a lifelong debilitating disease for which no cure currently exists, when he was 21 months old. All these years, while playing organized baseball or soccer, track or football since age 5 through high school, while on the powerlifting team in college, while becoming certified as a CrossFit trainer, he’s been the diabetic on the team. Doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.

“I can do anything anyone else can do,” Zack said one morning this week after leading a CrossFit class in Ruston. “I just have to be aware of what my body’s doing.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I went through a time at 11 of 12 when I didn’t want to listen. Hormones kicked in. I wanted to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I was self-conscious with the shots I had to give myself; that was part of it. But then I was able to get the pump, which I hardly even think about now. And I decided that if anybody asks me about it, instead of being self-conscious, maybe it gives me a chance to help educate them.”

Zack has a couple of partners, both in research-for-a-cure support and in spreading the word of the dangers of Type 1 and the acceptance of living with it. Those friends are the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and also a Shreveport organization that has benefitted the JDRF in a record-breaking way.

The fourth annual Shreveport Diabetes Golf & Tennis Classic is May 17-19 at East Ridge Country Club. If this young fundraiser were a golfer, it would be way, way under par going into round four.

Consider that as a startup in 2011, all Shreveport’s Robbie Gaiennie and Joe Sterkx were trying to do, realistically, was raise $10,000 a year for the JDRF; two of Robbie’s brothers had died from the disease before age 50, and her son, now 15, had been diagnosed at age 4.

Armed with not much more than a willingness to work and a passion for fighting what Sterkx calls “a brutal, brutal disease,” the pair have parented a tournament that has the chance in two weeks to exceed the $250,000 mark in funds raised through four years.

What began as a stapled four-page flyer from a copy machine to announce the first tournament has “exploded,” Sterkx said, into a format and system of organization that the JDRF wishes to copy nationally. Plus, there’s that quarter-million dollars – that’s above the annual cost of putting on the tournament -- toward research.

“We’ve got a loyal group of volunteers, a strong board, wonderful members and staff at East Ridge who are willing to help, plus supporters all over the community and individual and corporate sponsors who’ve really gotten behind this,” Sterkz said. “You’ve got to have a passion for it and you’ve got to work your butt off; add to that the people who are willing to go above and beyond to help kids, and that’s why we’re a success.”

To play or to get involved, go to or call (318) 584-2300 or (318) 453-3051. To help immediately, make a difference for a teen with diabetes through education and encouragement.
“I have a cousin back East who was diagnosed at age 14 or 15; he’s a couple years older than me,” Zack said. “He’d lived one way for all those years, so now he’s not sold on eating right and doing what he needs to do. I tell him to come on, that he’ll get used to it. I guess it’s denial to a certain extent…he hasn’t died yet and doesn’t think he’s going to die.

“I’ve had the proper support structure around me; my family’s very supportive and I’ve learned what works for me and accepted it and I keep going,” he said. “It just makes sense.”