Couch Potato Turns Exercise Spokesperson: What Makes Him Do It?

He looks a little like NBA player Charles Barkley, but Charles Ray III is another kind of star.

The 33-year-old man from Raleigh, N.C., makes his living as a cook for the local Holiday Inn. But in his spare time, he works on becoming a spokesperson for people with diabetes.

Ray has produced his own public service announcement to show that it is possible to have diabetes and still be active and healthy. The ad is currently being aired in two states, and Ray is fighting to get exposure in other parts of the country as well.

The fact that his work is supported by the International Diabetic Athletes Association (IDAA) is a source of pride for Ray. He knows first hand how it feels to be a young man trapped in an unhealthy body. He was 17 when he was first diagnosed with diabetes. Before he made a commitment to his health, he “was one of these people that didn’t take care of themselves. I was twenty-six and felt forty-six.”

Ray found his diet was anything but wholesome. Bacon, TV- dinners, and other fatty and salty staples of American cuisine topped his list of favorites. When he cooked, he says with a laugh, “A few fries would fall off the tray, and I don’t have to tell you where they were falling.”

To compensate, he’d take more insulin, which left him feeling constantly tired. Though not seriously overweight, Ray knew that he wanted to lose some pounds. Nothing really inspired him until he decided to use an insulin pump.

Ray’s doctor knew his habits well, and made him prove his dedication to getting healthy. Only after Ray checked his blood sugars three times a day for two months was his doctor convinced that he could prescribe the pump. “I had to show him I was ready to change my ways,” Ray says.

As his health improved, Ray found the desire to exercise. Today, he jogs a couple of miles each day and works out on a Stairmaster, and he is delighted by what the activity has done for him.

“I don’t really want to work out sometimes. It’s tough, I’m human. But once I do it I always feel good.”

The public service announcement came from his conviction that exercise is the key to controlling diabetes and his wish to share that knowledge with others. Fox television agreed to shoot the announcement, in which Ray exercises and says, “You are not alone; I run on insulin, too.”

Ray carries around everything he needs to stay in control, including his pump, glucometer, and a small notebook to record his blood sugar readings. Since getting his pump and constantly checking his levels, he has had no serious incidents. His average fasting blood sugar is 135-137 mg/dl. Recently he found his blood pressure was a bit high, and he took steps to bring it down by cutting his salt intake and taking garlic and potassium supplements. His blood pressure is now in the normal range.

Ray’s wife Heather, who also has diabetes, is a source of strength. “Heather inspires me more than anybody, because she’s my biggest critic,” he says with affection. “She tells me what I’m doing right or wrong.”

Ray recently went to a seminar sponsored by the IDAA and can’t recommend the experience highly enough. “A lot of people aren’t aware of this organization, but I got so much out of it. I was in the majority for a change-there with all these other people with diabetes. Being there with everybody’s pump beeping was a good feeling.”

Ray is working hard to get his public service announcement aired in more cities. He goes to the library, finds the names of television stations, and then contacts the people in charge.

“My phone bills are pretty big,” he says, but he hasn’t kept track of the time or money he has put into the project. “I compare it to a second job.”

Ray encourages people with diabetes to call the IDAA for more information. Their phone number is (800) 898-4322.

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