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Athlete, motivator comes to inspire Vandenberg

Andy "Iron Man" Holder leads the June Fit to Fight run, doing jumping jacks with Airmen from the 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron.  Mr. Holder developed type I diabetes later in life, and chose to become an Iron Man athelete and motivational speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jonathan Olds)

Andy "Iron Man" Holder leads the June Fit to Fight run, doing jumping jacks with Airmen from the 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron. Mr. Holder developed type I diabetes later in life, and chose to become an Iron Man athelete and motivational speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jonathan Olds)

Andy Holder gives words of motivation to Airmen before the June Fit to Fight run at the base parade grounds June 7.  Mr. Holder developed type I diabetes later in life, and chose to become an Iron Man athelete and motivational speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jonathan Olds)

Andy Holder gives words of motivation to Airmen before the June Fit to Fight run at the base parade grounds June 7. Mr. Holder developed type I diabetes later in life, and chose to become an Iron Man athelete and motivational speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jonathan Olds)

Dylan Connolly, son of Master Sgt. Bruce Connolly of the 14th Air Force, gets an autograph from Andy "Ironman" Holder at the Health and Welliness Fair in Pacific Coasl Club June 6. Andy Holder is an inspirational speaker who was diagnosed with type I diabetes in 2005.  Since then he's decided to take control of his diabetes and inspire others by becoming an Ironman competitor, which requires him to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a full marathon of 26.2 miles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nichelle Griffiths)

Dylan Connolly, son of Master Sgt. Bruce Connolly of the 14th Air Force, gets an autograph from Andy "Ironman" Holder at the Health and Welliness Fair in Pacific Coasl Club June 6. Andy Holder is an inspirational speaker who was diagnosed with type I diabetes in 2005. Since then he's decided to take control of his diabetes and inspire others by becoming an Ironman competitor, which requires him to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a full marathon of 26.2 miles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nichelle Griffiths)

Master Sgt. Marie Haynes of the 30th Space Wing gets her blood glucose level checked by Vera Austin, a clinical specialist from San Louis Obispo, Calif., at the Health and Welliness Fair in the Pacific Coasl Club June 6. The fair was hosted by the Health and Welliness Center and free to all.  It offered diabetes screening, body mass index readings and blood pressure checks.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nichelle Griffiths)

Master Sgt. Marie Haynes of the 30th Space Wing gets her blood glucose level checked by Vera Austin, a clinical specialist from San Louis Obispo, Calif., at the Health and Welliness Fair in the Pacific Coasl Club June 6. The fair was hosted by the Health and Welliness Center and free to all. It offered diabetes screening, body mass index readings and blood pressure checks. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nichelle Griffiths)

Maj. Christopher De Los Santos speaks with Andy "Ironman" Holder at the Health and Welliness Fair in the Pacific Coasl Club June 6. Andy Holder is an inspirational speaker who was diagnosed with type I diabetes in 2005.  Since then he's decided to take control of his diabetes and inspire others by becoming an Ironman competitor which requires him to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a full marathon of 26.2 miles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nichelle Griffiths)

Maj. Christopher De Los Santos speaks with Andy "Ironman" Holder at the Health and Welliness Fair in the Pacific Coasl Club June 6. Andy Holder is an inspirational speaker who was diagnosed with type I diabetes in 2005. Since then he's decided to take control of his diabetes and inspire others by becoming an Ironman competitor which requires him to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a full marathon of 26.2 miles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nichelle Griffiths)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The air was cool and still as a sea of gray shirts and Air Force blue pants aligned in formation at the parade grounds for the 30th Space Wing's June Fit-to-Fight run here June 7.

A clear voice with a hint of Long Island accent boomed from speakers on the wooden platforms to the swarm of 30th Space Wing and associate units. He spoke, hoping to inspire them never to let anything limit their lives as he doesn't let diabetes rule his.

"Iron Andy" Holder is a full-time triathlete and motivational speaker who visited the base June 6 and 7 to tell people how he refused to let the chronic disease of diabetes control his life. After learning he had type I diabetes, he felt overcome by shock, confusion and fear. But he turned calamity into opportunity. Refusing to let himself or his family down, Mr. Holder began training for the 2.4-mile swim, the 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run of the triathlon.

There are many retired Airmen living with diabetes in the Vandenberg community, and even people on active duty may have diabetes and not know it, said Lindsay Buckalew, exercise physiologist with the Health and Wellness Center. So Mr. Buckalew invited Mr. Holder to come to the base and educate people about this affliction.

Two things show how Mr. Holder worked to overcome the disease he was diagnosed with two years ago.

The first is an insulin pump. It sits clipped to his belt above his right slacks pocket like a pager and drips insulin to his system through a catheter inserted in his side. The second is a baffled dark-blue sport polo with the word "IronAndy" embroidered in bright red-and-white letters above his heart.

Mr. Holden led the way during the run at Vandenberg. As always during exercise, his blood sugar levels dropped.

Making sure blood levels don't drop too far is one of the challenges an athlete with diabetes faces. Because he's so active, Mr. Holder must test his blood 12 to 15 times a day.
"More and more people are getting (diabetes)," Mr. Buckalew said, "and once you're diagnosed with it, you have it for the rest of your life."

Most people with type I diabetes are born with it and do not develop it later in life like Mr. Holder. Type II, or adult onset diabetes, often develops as a result of poor diet and lack of exercise, Mr. Buckalew said.

"Genetics holds the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger," he said.

The disease is lethal. Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control's National Vital Statistics Report. So, if diabetes is the bullet, then the Health and Wellness Fair here June 6 served as the KevlarTM for Vandenberg Airmen and their families. Mr. Holder encouraged those who came to the fair to push themselves beyond all limits.

"I met a young child today whose father is an Airman on base," Mr. Holder said. "His son is thirteen and has diabetes ... he doesn't want this to limit his life. He has big dreams, he has big goals, but he may need some help."

Mr. Holder travels around the country, trains for triathlons and helps people with diabetes by telling his story. He plans to start a foundation to assist people with diabetes with the goal to provide training, funding, tools, support, mentoring and coaching. Anything somebody needs we can provide them in order to live their lives the way they want to, he said.

Mr. Holder's mission statement has expanded since coming to Vandenberg, he said. "I absolutely love the Air Force Core Values," he said. "My mission statement has always been to inspire, to motivate and to challenge people to lead their lives and not let the disease run it. Now, I'm going to incorporate integrity, service and excellence (in) all I do."