15,000 Miles and Counting-Type 1 Bicyclist Sees the World

by Daniel Trecroci

For Marco Meijerink, having type 1 diabetes is a challenge, but it is not his biggest challenge.

“Diabetes is, of course, always there but it does not dominate my life,” says the 31-year-old native of The Netherlands. “What is a challenge is the next big mountain, the next desert or the next jungle.”

Marco and his girlfriend, Lisette Verzijl, 29, are in the midst of a seemingly never-ending bicycle trip around the world, which found them in Lima, Peru, at the time of this interview.

Before his great biking odyssey, Marco was manager of a computer company. In 1991 he and Lisette were cycling in Sweden and Norway for three months, with plans to do a world-cycling expedition. After three months, he started to drink a lot of fluids and go to the bathroom more frequently-the classic signs of having diabetes.

“Because diabetes is well know in my family-my father, sister, grandmother and aunt have it as well-I soon realized soon that I had it,” he says. “The doctors confirmed this.”

Marco’s first worry was if it was still possible to do big cycling trips.

“We tried a weekend and that was not a big problem,” he recalls. “If a weekend is possible then a week is also possible. And if I week is possible then a month, a few months, a year…”

Ten years later, the odyssey continues.

The Deserts, Jungles and Diabetes

At first, Marco and Lisette, who does not have diabetes, made little trips through Europe. But once they started it was hard to stop.

“Soon we cycled in Africa, Asia, Middle-East and Eastern Europe,” says Marco (see below for list a of countries through which Marco and Lisette have biked).

Marco says that his cycling expeditions have never been a problem for his diabetes, even while going through the deserts of Pakistan, the mountains of Nepal or the jungles of Malaysia.

“The amount of insulin I take depends on the amount of exercise I do during the day, as well as the climate and altitude where I am biking.”

Marco says in some places it is impossible to keep his insulin in cooler confines.

“In the desert, it can be as hot as 120 degrees,” he says. “Fortunately, I have never had any problems.”

Marco tests frequently and takes eight units of insulin before breakfast. He then embarks on whatever biking journey he has planned that day and takes another eight units before dinner. He then takes eight units of Lantus at 10:00 p.m.

“Before the trip, I would take 15 units for breakfast, 10 for lunch and 15 for dinner.”

All Around the World

While traveling, Marco makes money giving lectures and interviews for newspapers, radio and television. Novo Nordisk provides him with his insulin.

Between their bike trips, Marco and Lisette work to earn money, and they never spend a lot of money on their trips.

They usually save money by camping, but in some countries like Bangladesh (“where the cost of a hotel is around one dollar”) they will opt for the indoors.

“Countries in Asia and Africa are cheap, so that’s not a big problem, however, in the United States, [money] is a little more of a problem.”

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