By Rita J. Egan
Walking is more than a form of exercise for one South Setauket father; it’s one step closer toward his mission to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes as well as raise funds to find a cure.
Michael Ehrlich will begin a 125-mile walk Oct. 16 from Times Square in Manhattan, where he works, to Montauk. His hope is to raise $25,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
The 46-year-old took on the mission after his daughter Rachael, 13, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes, last year. It was during a trip to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania when the R.C. Murphy Junior High School, Stony Brook, student became ill and fainted in a hotel lobby. When the family returned home, Ehrlich’s wife, Leanne, took Rachael to a doctor who diagnosed her with the life-threatening condition.
Ehrlich said the walk will take him approximately two to three days. It’s an adventure he will undertake with sporadic 20-minute rest periods and without replenishing his supplies. He will carry a hydration pack that holds the equivalent of five bottles of water and bring with him a head lamp, extra socks, a windbreaker, carb-heavy protein bars and sweets. Ehrlich will also be equipped with a GoPro camera to record his journey.
Rachael and her mother support his efforts and the preparation, which has included overnight walks, involved for the trip.
“I’m really proud of him, because I see first of all the commitment to do it and train and walk overnight,” his wife said. “Sometimes, he would get home at 10 a.m. and get into bed because of walking all night.”
He has been preparing for Oct. 16 by increasing the miles he walks with each trip. The last few weeks, Ehrlich has been walking approximately 40 miles or more once a week. He has traveled on foot from his home to Wildwood State Park in Wading River, and after one of his daughter’s soccer games, from East Meadow to South Setauket. He has also walked from Rocky Point to West Hampton along the Paumanok Path, and one day after work, he walked to Floral Park in Queens.
Ehrlich said he has always enjoyed camping and hiking. His 86-year-old father, Richie, still walks a few miles a day.
“It must be in my genes,” Ehrlich said.
The idea came to him one day while sitting on the train from Manhattan. Ehrlich said he knew he wanted to raise money for finding a cure for juvenile diabetes and realized it needed to be a fundraiser that would be original to capture people’s attention. He saw the Manhattan skyline and that’s where it hit him to walk from the city to the end of Long Island.
He has done more than walking to prepare for his campaign. After initial trips where his feet would hurt, Ehrlich began researching the proper way to walk. He discovered chi walking, which has helped reduce his foot pain.
He planned out his trip with Google Maps for the best possible route. Ehrlich said walking along the South Shore seems to be the best way because the roads are less hilly and winding. He will travel from Manhattan to Long Island by crossing over the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. He is looking forward to seeing the diverse neighborhoods of Queens before walking through the South Shore’s villages.
“I’m really proud of him, because I see first of all the commitment to do it and train and walk overnight.”
Ehrlich has set up the Facebook page, Manhattan2Montauk, that currently has more than 100 followers to promote his walk. He is already at $15,000 toward his $25,000 fundraising goal. He said many believe that Type 1 diabetes is the result of a child not eating well or the parents feeding them sugary food, which is not true. He said the disease is genetic; however, researchers are not certain what triggers it in some individuals and not others.
“A lot of people confuse Type 1 and Type 2, and they are actually completely different,” Ehrlich said. “They shouldn’t even be called the same thing.”
He also wants others to know the obstacles those suffering from diabetes go through. The Ehrlich family is waiting for their health care insurance to approve an insulin pump that will be beneficial for their daughter. Ehrlich said his daughter regularly asks him if they received approval yet. As a father, he hopes his fundraiser will give her hope that one day a cure will be found and she won’t have to worry about things such as an insurance company’s approval for a medical device.
“They’re close to finding a cure,” Ehrlich said. “It’s going to happen in the next 10 or 15 years. Maybe the money we raise will help find a cure.”
Jason Rice, director of development with JDRF, said representatives from the foundation will join Ehrlich for the first few miles and the organization fully supports him. Rice said while others have walked a few miles to raise money, this is the longest walk he remembers being done.
“This is truly a special event to take on this walk across Long Island,” Rice said.
Updates on his journey will be posted on the Manhattan2Montauk Facebook page. Ehrlich said he encourages others to join him for the first few miles of his Oct. 16 walk, which will begin at 9 a.m. at 3 Times Square in Manhattan.