Athlete, motivator comes to inspire Vandenberg
By Senior Airman Stephen Cadette , 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 12, 2007
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."