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Local couple on a mission to find a cure for diabetes

Jim Horbowicz already was making a name for himself among the volunteers in the American Diabetes Association Buffalo affiliate when leaders of the national organization went looking about 1990 for a new way to raise money.

They decided a bike ride would add to the 5K run/walks designed to raise awareness and research dollars for the growing number of those whose blood sugar imbalances were endangering their health. Buffalo and Napa Valley, Calif. would serve as test runs for the idea – and Horbowicz offered to serve as chair for the first Tour de Cure in Western New York in 1991.

“First of all, this was a fundraiser, so we needed to raise money. But number two, I wanted a safe, enjoyable ride for our cyclists. Those were the two key points I emphasized for people on the committee,” said Horbowicz, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in his late teens. “We had about 200 riders, in the pouring rain, and raised $44,000...

“The second year, they kept me on as chair and we expanded the committee a little bit. We did it from Ellicott Creek Park. We had numerous routes – and the second bad weather day, which was declared the worst weather day in Western New York in 1992. Still, we had about 250 bikers and raised $67,000.”

“So we were trending in the right direction,” said his wife, Janet, to which Jim added, “but I told them after all that rain, my first job is to find another chair, which I did.”

Jim Horbowicz may no longer chair the Tour de Cure, but he and Janice continue to be driving forces in what has become the largest annual fundraiser for the regional affiliate.

Tour de Cure veteran rider and podiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Carrel talks about diabetes and foot problems in a past WNY Refresh story here.

The couple will roll into this year’s tour – the 25th – having raised about $5,000 toward an overall goal of $400,000.

More than 1,000 bicyclists are expected to participate next Saturday (June 4) in Niagara Falls in rides that will stretch from 6 to 100 miles through Niagara County. A 5K walk and fun run also will set off and end at the same spot on Old Falls Street near Niagara Falls State Park.

For more information or to register, call the Diabetes Association at 1-888-DIABETES or visit

Jim and Janice Horbowicz, of Clarence, both 68, have had a hand in each regional Tour de Cure – Janice, all 25 years as registration coordinator, Jim in various capacities.

The couple hung out together as kids growing up in Cheektowaga. They were in the same high school driver education car when each learned the other was without a senior prom date, and Jim asked Janice to go. They married in 1970. Their son, Kevin, and daughter-in-law, Karen, both pharmacists, live outside Boston, Mass. and have two children, Sophie, 2½ and Jack, 6 months.

Jim is a retired M&T Bank vice president who has served in volunteer roles with the American Diabetes Association not only close to home but also on the national level, including as chairman of the ADA Board in 2003-04. Janice worked 40 years as an assistant office manager with Prudential Insurance before she retired in 2004, a few months after Jim.

Q. Have you ridden the race and, if so, how often?

Jim: Not only did we plan and work it, but I also fundraised and solicited corporate sponsorship. M&T Bank has sponsored Tour de Cure for 25 years, since day one. Participants have to raise at least $200. Janice and I are both champions, which means we have to raise over $1,000. There’s a special event at that level. We get special parking.

Janice: We’ve done at least $3,000 every year.

Q. For the longer races, do you have to raise a little more?

Janice: No. It’s the same rate across the board.

Jim: So we ride, as well. I started out at 30 miles, then I got down to 16, then to 6.

Janice: We’re going to be virtual riders this year.

Jim: Age caught up with us.

Janice: Plus I like his help at registration now.

Jim: When we had a couple hundred riders, Janice could throw on a helmet and go out. She can’t do that now. But she still raises money.

We have massage therapists who give riders massages after the ride. Part of the planning includes rest stops every 10 miles and you’ve got to fund the rest stops for people with diabetes with carbohydrates and emergency supplies.

Janice: We generally have lots of food and water there. We’re going to have chicken dinners (after the ride, run and walk) this year.

Q. How many volunteers help out?

Jim: Initially we started with about 75. Now were up to close to 300, at least, and that’s counting the fire police, the HAM operators, the logistics people, the bicycle shops, registration, food.

Janice: Even to see the setup – where they monitor people on the route – it’s like command central.

Jim: It’s like a war room, with big maps.

Q. You say your volunteer work has been a two-way street?

Janice: We believe in the mission of the American Diabetes Association. We’ve done a lot of volunteering but I think you get so much more in return. It’s rewarding personally, you meet so many wonderful people. It’s just a good feeling.

Jim: I’ve had the advantage of working nationally with the organization. I had the opportunity to meet all of our researchers, practitioners. I got more back in terms of treating my disease than I gave to the organization. As an example, Dr. (Robert) Sherwin from Connecticut did a lot of research about when people pass out from diabetes. Each person has their own number and Janice and I have both figured out that at 26, I’m unconscious. When I get into the 30s, I eat everything in the house.

Q. What are the backgrounds of the riders?

Jim: Some of them have diabetes.

Janice: All ages and abilities because it goes from a 6 mile to 100-mile. Obviously, the 100-milers are the serious riders.

Jim: We usually have one of the first rides of the season, so those who are cycling club members can get this to count towards their cycling membership in their clubs.

Janice: People do it to support friends or family members that have diabetes. A lot of people are there also because their employer sponsors a team. Independent Health and Seneca Niagara (Casino), those are our presenting sponsors.

Jim: And GM. So not only do they give us money but they form cycling teams. It’s really part of their fitness program for employees.

Q. How is the money raised used?

Jim: The ADA uses the money for research, information and advocacy. Those are the key forces of our mission. Some of the money stays local.

Janice: There are researchers from the University at Buffalo. The ADA runs the camp for children in Rushford, a two-week camp in July for people with common interests that are managing their disease. They see there’s other people that maybe have to use an insulin pump or give themselves injections. They do this event with just three (staff members from the Buffalo affiliate).

Q. What would you like people to understand in terms of the difference between Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes?

Jim: The significant difference between the two is that Type 1, like I have, my pancreas creates no insulin, so everything I get is invasive. It comes through an insulin pump or through and injection. Type 2 diabetes is all about calculating your perceived carbohydrate count and how much insulin to take.

Janice: It’s affected by your activity level, also. Stress.

Jim: They’re both immune diseases. People with Type 2, the body either does not create enough insulin or effectively use the insulin. The major point I’d like to make to people with Type 2 diabetes is that it doesn’t matter what protocol their on – whether it’s just exercise, or exercise, medication and insulin injections – it doesn’t matter. The key is to keep your blood glucose levels from spiking, and have an appropriate a1c. People think, “Oh, I’ve got to go on insulin. It’s really bad.” It’s not really bad. It’s another form of treatment. People should welcome that. It provides another form of treatment for patients and prevents complications. People don’t welcome it. They resist it. But it’s helpful. I tell people with diabetes, “We’re different, it all depends what works for you. Oral medication may do for you, but if you need insulin before you eat, that’s fine.”

Janice: The same thing between the two are the complications.

Jim: There’s no discriminating with a patient with complications.

Q. If you can provide some insight for others with a loved one just diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, or someone just diagnosed themselves, what would some of the key things they should keep in mind?

Jim: Family and other support for people with diabetes is vital. Without Janice, I wouldn't be here.

Janice: That’s because a loved one is helping monitor someone. You have to be aware of what a low sugar level would do to your loved one. Sometimes Jim will get to the point where he can’t really think for himself. Maybe he’s fuzzy. If you pick up on that, you can take some action.

Jim: Families also need to support the people and their lifestyle changes. Those are extremely significant. I could go into multiple studies that I’ve learned about what natural lifestyle changes can do for diabetes. In fact, watching your diet and exercising is the best way to prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes. Even if you have it, you can come off medication if you accept the lifestyle changes.

Q. If you do what needs to be done, everything will be pretty good?

Jim: I would say attitude is important. They can let their disease control them or they can control their disease.

There’s always episodes. You’re going to have setbacks. They key is, “I’m going to control this disease,” and you can do that. You’ve got to have the discipline.

Janice: Everybody has a situation that they have to monitor and learn to live with. It’s being able to do that. Everybody has their own story. That’s why you can’t say, “Why me? Why us?”

Jim: I know some people who’ve had diabetes and it’s taken them years to come to that acknowledgement. Luckily, nothing serious happened. But even if you do everything right, it doesn’t exempt you from complications.

Q. If someone is toying with the idea of taking control of their diabetes, is the Tour de Cure a way?

Jim: It’s a great way to network with people with diabetes.

Q. How has the Tour de Cure changed the way you approach fitness and wellness?

Jim: Exercise is important for people with diabetes. So is control of their weight. This is a perfect fit. It gives you an opportunity to begin exercising, keeping your weight at a manageable level. Training for it helps your cardiovascular system.

Janice: Hopefully when folks have been on the tour and done the riding, it’s motivational, a chance for continuation because they feel very good about themselves.

Jim: It’s a sense of accomplishment. We stress that it’s not a race, it’s nothing more than a fitness event. We don’t care if you do it in an hour or hour and a half. The number one goal is always to raise money and number two is to make an enjoyable ride for the individual cyclists. It helps with self-worth for a person with diabetes. They think, “I can really do this. I can do this on a regular basis. I also see there’s information out there that can help me with my diabetes.... We can direct people to and they can get accurate medical advice.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon


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