Steering towards a cure: mother and son cycle against diabetes

Before her eight-year-old son Liam Mather was born, Nathalie Mather-Dugas knew little about juvenile diabetes. Today, three years after his diagnosis, she knows a lot.

Before her eight-year-old son Liam Mather was born, Nathalie Mather-Dugas knew little about juvenile diabetes.

Today, three years after his diagnosis, she knows a lot.

“If you asked me six years ago about juvenile diabetes, I had all sorts of misconceptions and I knew absolutely nothing,” said Mather-Dugas. “It’s not heredity … So when the doctor told us that’s what he had, I looked at the doctor and said, ‘Is it possible it only looks like that because no one in our families have it.’ The doctor told us that 90 per cent of kids diagnosed have no family history of it whatsoever.”

To help find a cure for the disease that afflicts about 30,000 each year, Mather-Dugas and Liam will be participating in the first ever Accu-Chek Cyclebetes Provincial Relay, a 10,000-kilometre cross-country cycling relay from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Victoria, British Columbia.

The relay, which organizers are hoping will raise $1 million for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, will be completed by adult and youth partners on tandem bicycles within provincial teams. Mather-Dugas and Liam will be part of the Quebec team, cycling between New Brunswick and Ontario on August 28-29 with four other adult-child partners.

“On the bike at all times will be an adult or a youth with Type 1 diabetes,” said Mather-Dugas. “Because I come from Quebec they asked if I would be the captain for Team Quebec.

“We’ll all be on a tandem-bike. We’ll all be on the same bike if it can make it from coast to coast.”

The relay is the brainchild of Kyle Balagno from Victoria, BC. Two years ago Balagno told his daughter, Taylor, who has juvenile diabetes, that he would do everything within his power to find a cure by the time she was 18. To raise money, Balagno and four friends relayed across Canada, crossing the country in eight days, setting a Guinness world record in the process, and raising $875,000 for diabetes research.

“Our original plan was to do it in nine, but we did it in eight,” said Balagno, who hopes the relay becomes an annual event. “It was such a phenomenal experience, and we were so successful and pleased with what we did, we didn’t want to let that event just end—we wanted to create a legacy and that’s where Cyclebetes was born.

“Cyclebetes consists of several programs. One is the national relay, which Nathalie and Liam are participating in, and there’s a Spinathon that’s done really well.”

To help prepare for the Cyclebetes relay, Mather-Dugas and Liam will be participating in this weekend’s Kluane Chilkat Bike Relay from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska. With friends and their kids riding on the tandem bike on the middle legs of the race, Mather-Dugas and Liam will do the first and last legs. Their team will be called Accu-Check Cyclebetes, sponsored by Roche Diagnostics.

“Because (the Cyclebetes relay) is not coming to the Yukon, and because we’re Yukoners, we wanted to participate in the Kluane Chilkat in the Yukon portion—and the Cyclebetes folks loved the idea,” said Mather-Dugas.

“We’re all going to have really nice jerseys with the Cyclebetes logo on them. People can write a cheque or give us cash when they see us this weekend. We have a donation sheet and we send it into the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and we can have it go towards Liam’s fundraising efforts.”

Juvenile diabetes, otherwise called Type 1 diabetes or insulin dependant diabetes, results from the pancreas’ inability to produce insulin, a hormone that distributes glucose into the body’s cells to give them energy. The removal of the insulin results in glucose remaining in the blood where if can endanger the health of the heart, kidneys, eyes, nerves, gums and teeth.

“We still don’t know exactly what happened (with Liam),” said Mather-Dugas. “At one point our son had strep throat and his body not only attacked the virus but killed his pancreas cells by mistake. And the pancreas produced insulin, which we need to live.

“If he didn’t get diagnosed, he would have died. And now he has to receive insulin every day to stay alive.”

Those who would like to sponsor Liam can do so by visiting, clicking on “Meet the Teams,” and following the Quebec team’s link to Liam’s webpage.

So far Liam has raised 75 per cent of the $2,500 fundraising goal.

Contact Tom Patrick at