Diabetes drives Everett man’s bike trek

Gregory Reese says he’s a changed man. And he’s about to hop on his bike and pedal hundreds of miles to celebrate the good that has come his way.

At 42, he suffers from nerve damage in his feet and other long-term effects of Type 2 diabetes. He is unemployed. He lives in downtown Everett’s Commerce Building, a low-income apartment facility run by Housing Hope.

His life has its struggles. Yet Reese is grateful for help he received in 2013. He is also determined, despite health problems and modest means, to make a positive difference in the world.

He’ll start by getting on a train. Reese has a one-way Amtrak ticket to Sacramento, Calif.

On Sunday, he’ll take the Coast Starlight train from Seattle’s King Street Station. His Schwinn mountain bike, a gift from someone at Everett’s Mars Hill Church, will be boxed up for the train trip. In Sacramento, he’ll stay with a stranger. That resting place will be the first of many overnight stops he’ll arrange via the Couchsurfing.org website.

He intends to ride every other day, on a bike route he found using Google Maps, until he reaches San Diego. Most stops are about 40 miles apart. With the route he chose, it’s a trek of more than 600 miles.

In San Diego, Reese plans to visit an American Diabetes Association office, where he wants to make a donation — if he is able to collect any money along the way.

“I want to inspire other people, and educate them about the disease. I want to ride every other day, and meet new people, and be an inspiration to the diabetes community,” Reese said recently.

A year ago, the disease threatened Reese’s vision and his very life.

A native New Yorker, Reese said that for 20 years he had a job as an administrative assistant in a New York office. He also did janitorial work for the same employer. After moving to Washington, he worked for a time at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. He said he quit working after his health deteriorated.

Reese said he moved here after being unable to find a doctor in New York to treat his near blindness, which was caused by diabetes. Last spring, Reese contacted the University of Washington about his health problems.

His eyes were tested at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The visual acuity in his left eye tested 20/200, which is legal blindness. His right eye was 20/80. He also had a hemorrhage in one eye.

With a referral from the Pike Market Medical Clinic in Seattle, he found an eye surgeon who accepted his Medicaid coverage. After two surgeries, his eyesight is largely restored.

Twice daily, he now takes two types of diabetes medicine, Metformin and Glipizide, which help keep blood glucose levels in the proper range. Reese has worked to change his diet and to exercise.

“I’m drinking a lot of water and keeping my blood sugar down. I’m biking a lot,” he said. “I guess I had diabetes a couple years before I knew I had it. I was eating the wrong stuff and drinking the wrong stuff. My favorite was Mountain Dew — I would drink two liters a day.”

Reese said he was never obese. In New York, he even worked out at a gym. He also had a bike there, and on weekends took long rides into the city. He believes his family history put him at risk for diabetes. His mother died of the disease, he said.

He continues to suffer from neuropathy in his feet. The pain and numbness are tied to his diabetes going unchecked.

“I have it in both feet, and above my ankles. I’m taking medication,” he said. “Hopefully, with this 650-mile bike ride, I can reverse it.”

After his trip, Reese plans to return to Everett and look for a new job. He has an enhanced driver’s license, and hopes to find work as a driver or in an office. First, he has miles to ride.

And today, he has more than a new year to celebrate.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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