By: Radha McLean
What’s so unusual about the life of Charles Ray III? His story is a simple one—about a man from Raleigh, North Carolina who has lived with type 1 diabetes for 22 years without developing a single complication. Ray maintains consistently low A1c levels (averaging between 6% and 7%) and leads a life of hard work (as an evening-shift cook) and careful play (drinking only non-alcoholic beer).
What’s out of the ordinary, then, is that Ray has chosen to use his story of success to motivate people with diabetes to lead healthier lives. By spreading the word about his experience living with the potentially fatal disease, Ray has inspired hundreds of diagnosed type 1s and 2s to test their blood sugar levels and start maintaining better control. He does this via his non-profit, one-man show, The Charles Ray III Diabetes Association.
A One-Man Show
The organization, founded in 1998, run by Ray and led by a five-volunteer board of directors, adds a personal touch to the world of diabetes self-management. Ray takes the time to speak with each and every person who calls to express concern about their difficulties living with the disease.
"We try to make a difference in the lives of people with diabetes all over the world. We try to encourage them, try to give them the motivation to take care of themselves," said Ray in a recent interview.
Ray does this by telling the truth about his battle with poor control. When Ray was first diagnosed at age 17, he followed a strict dietary, insulin and exercise regimen to control his sugar levels. But a few years later, at age 20, he "started veering off into no man’s land."
"I ballooned up to size 40 waist, and weighed 240 pounds," he said.
At that point, Ray was 25 years old and his prospects were not looking good.
"I didn’t like the way I looked when I looked in the mirror."
But, then, something changed.
"I said, O.K., nobody can really do anything about this, Charles, but you."
Soon, Ray dropped down to his current 216 pounds (he stands 6’4”), started running regularly and watching the sugar and fat content in all of the foods he ate. Today, at 39 years of age, Ray remains complication-free.
"People have told me that just by reading the article on my Web site expressing how I used to be a person with diabetes who didn’t take care of myself but decided to do something about it, they feel uplifted," he said.
Why He’s Different From the Big Fish
Ray, however, is not just all talk. He throws a little bit of action into the making-a-difference mix as well. By receiving sponsorships from meter companies, Ray sends out blood-sugar-testing kits for free to people who request them. To date, Ray has received approximately 3,000 visitors on his Web site and 150 requests for testing kits from people around the country.
A small operation, true, but Ray believes his accessibility differentiates him from the big fish diabetes organizations out there.
"A lot of the major diabetes associations focus on research, education—other important aspects [of the disease]—but I try to deliver a physical product that people can use at that instant."
Of course, Ray doesn’t want to stay small. He’d love to offer more people more test kits and diabetes supplies for free—a service that requires more financial support. The association remains without funds, and has attempted—albeit on a small scale—to raise money. Ray has gotten his name out by starring in a television commercial for the International Diabetic Athletes Association. He fancies himself as an NBA star Charles Barkley look-alike—and wears a Barkley look-alike uniform in public service announcements aired on local TV stations.
Making a Big Fundraiser Happen
The latest—and biggest—effort to raise much-needed capital is his first major fundraiser, the Charles Ray III Diabetes Classic Golf Tournament. The event will feature a silent auction with items donated from the NBA such as autographed basketballs, jerseys and photos. The golf tournament is expected to attract a minimum of 100 teams. At a cost of $500 per team to participate, Ray could see funds upwards of $50,000. But Ray is looking for corporate sponsors for the event as well.
"We’re trying to attract companies who want to contribute, but don’t know about us," he says. "There are people out there who are not aware of what we’re trying to do."
The Charles Ray III Diabetes Classic Golf Tournament will be taking place at the MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary, North Carolina, on October 8, 2001. If you are interested in participating in the fundraiser, or would like more information about the organization, log on to www.charlesray.g12.com. Ray can also be reached by phone at (919) 303-6949, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at The Charles Ray III Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 20862, Raleigh, NC, 27619.