Flora Allen-Hopson continues to fight for a cure for her grandson's Type 1 diabetes.
As the mom of NBA champion, Ray Allen, I’m probably best known for cheering my heart out for my son from the sidelines while sporting my signature “bedazzled” number 20 jersey. But what I want people to know is that I’m just like every other mom or grandmother in the world. We all love our babies and would do anything in our power to support them, love them and encourage them but, also, to try to shield them from every hurt, every pain and anything that would cause them heartache. It’s our job to try to uplift our families. As moms we try to fix everything, kiss all the “boo-boo’s” and make them better. What I never imagined, was there would be something I couldn’t fix for my family, a hurt I couldn’t kiss away, a “boo-boo” I couldn’t make better.
It was a defining moment in my life that I’ll never forget.
It was June of 2008 and my son, Ray was preparing with his Boston Celtics teammates, to battle the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA Championship. In a very dramatic and heartbreaking turn of events, over the course of what should have been the most joyous week of his life; Ray’s son, my 17-month-old grandbaby, Walker, was fighting for his life in a California hospital. In one week, Walker went from being a normal, healthy and precocious toddler to a valiant, fearless fighter using all of his mini-might to survive a diagnosis of type one diabetes.
Diabetes, as a whole, currently affects 246 million people worldwide and is expected to affect a staggering 280 million by 2025. Over a million children and adults are living with type one diabetes, an incurable potentially life-threatening condition with debilitating side effects. In a million years, I never imagined it would affect our family? My son’s baby? My grandson? This was the moment that changed me forever. I was tested. Everything that I knew as truth and certainty went out the window. I didn’t know it yet but, this was the moment that “my Walker made me a RUNNER!”
As my little grandson laid ill, attached to IV’s pumping the necessary insulin into his tiny body in order to save his life; I looked into my son’s eyes and for the first time and watched as his otherwise strong frame bent with sorrow like a wilted flower. Ray and his wife Shannon held a bedside vigil for their precious child and rallied to be strong for Walker. He never shed a tear, but shrouding Walker with love and prayer. They began learning everything possible about his condition in order to best care for him and vowing to do everything they could to find him a cure. But, as they stood firmly and determined, I found myself feeling helpless. I’m a mom. And again, I’ve lived my entire life believing that I’m supposed to be able to fix anything, kiss away every “boo-boo” and make it all better. For the first time I had to face the reality that I just couldn’t fix this and as a family, type one diabetes was bigger than any challenge we’ve ever had to face.
Its been almost four years since that awful diagnosis. Still, with God’s help, Walker continues to thrive despite so many finger pricks his parents must give him (10 times daily) and the five to seven insulin injections he must endure every single day for the rest of his life until there’s a cure.
Maybe I can’t “fix” this but, thanks to a deep commitment, physically, emotionally and spiritually, I’ve embarked on a special journey as mom. This journey has invigorated my soul and pushed me to the limits of what I thought wasn’t possible and confirmed my faith in all that is good. The really beautiful thing about life is that when our own kids are all grown-up and go out into the world to live their dreams, if you are very fortunate, or rather blessed, like I have been, God gives you a second chance at loving your own kids by loving their children.
For the past three years, I have laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement to run the Boston Marathon in honor of my grandson Walker and his unwavering persistence, strength, resilience and hope. He continues on his path to triumph over this cowardly disease that is type one diabetes. In my own way, I’ve used running for Walker not only to raise awareness of type one diabetes and its symptoms, but, also to raise thousands of dollars to support the very necessary research for a cure. It’s the least I can do to show Walker how his joy and determined nature has inspired our whole family. It’s the least I can do to show my son how proud I am of the loving father he is… the least we all can do to find a cure for the millions of “champions” like my Walker who do battle with diabetes every moment of every day.
It’s funny, but every year people keep cautioning me about “Heartbreak Hill,” an extremely tough portion of the Boston Marathon, but, I always tell them that running up a hill isn’t heartbreak. Diabetes is heartbreak. Watching your 17-month-old grandson fight to live is heartbreak. Standing by helplessly as your grown son kneels in prayer over his baby… that’s heartbreak. But, it doesn’t have to be. And, that’s why I can’t stop! As difficult as it is to run 26.2 miles while fighting the elements and physical exhaustion, I could never stop, never quit. You see, Walker doesn’t have the luxury of “taking a break” from diabetes, taking a “day off” from the daily pain he endures and that is greater than any pain or suffering I could ever endure while running 26.2 miles. Until Walker has his cure, I will be running. I will be cheering. I will be rallying all moms and grandmothers to get involved. And, with God’s blessing, I will make a difference and maybe, just maybe you may even recognize me less for my “bedazzled” #20 jersey and more for my t-shirt emblazoned with the very words that are forever in my heart. You see, I may not have known it, or ever imagined it but, today I can say with the deepest conviction and certainty that “my Walker made me a runner!”
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