Sienmi Du is currently a medical student at UCF’s College of Medicine, but she knows all too well what it’s like to be patient.
Du currently lives with a medical condition similar to diabetes, but doctors are not sure how to categorize it. People living with diabetes usually have pancreas that do not produce enough insulin, but Du hasn’t let her illness get in the way of living her life. Although she was diagnosed at 24, she already boasts an impressive resume and has both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from UCLA, where she conducted research on multiple sclerosis.
Now, Du wants to raise awareness about an illness with which she is entirely too familiar. As part of a biking team comprised of UCF students, Du will be riding in the upcoming Tour de Cure race, which will take place March 13 at Lake Nona.
“I’ve always wanted to do a Tour de Cure, and when I moved here for medical school for UCF, I knew that the Tour de Cure had an event here," Du said. "I wanted to start the team, and I wanted to raise money for the race. Overall, it’s been a great team-building experience.”
Before the race, Du was part of an informal running group. She recruited people who were on the cycling side and was able to get a handful of people together. Du is the co-captain of the UCF College of Medicine Kreb Cyclers, along with Courtney Wagner.
“Training has been a lot of fun to get students from all different athletic backgrounds together," Wagner said. "Some of us have been cycling for years and then others were able to ride their first 10- or 15-miler. We want to continue training together afterward, because it's been such a great experience.”
Du says that the best thing about riding is that it allows her to clear her mind, and makes her feel free and happy.
”It’s been so fun, and I’m really glad that I did this because it keeps me on my toes and keeps me exercising," Du said. "It’s hard as a medical student to find time to squeeze in a workout, and as a diabetic, it’s very important to try to stay healthy.”
The Kreb Cyclers is just one team that will be riding during the nation-wide event.
“The Tour de Cure is a national event," said Cesar Cesareo, associate director of development at the American Diabetes Association's Orlando-Maitland office. "The ride supports our association’s mission of advocacy and helps fund diabetes research. It’s a ride, not a race. We have riders that range from novice to professional. But really it’s more than just a ride. It’s a celebration.”
Du believes the best thing to come out of her experience in handling her condition is that she can empathize with patients on a deeper level.
“I think that it’s a real benefit, as a doctor, to have both sides of the story," Du said. "It is not fun to deal with, but the positive is that it has motivated me to do the Tour de Cure and has helped me become more compassionate and understanding.”
Even though her work involves medical research, Du is still concerned with the faces behind the diseases.
“I want a human aspect to my career," Du shared. "I want people to think about while I’m working toward better therapies and ultimately I want to improve the lives of patients."
Cesareo hopes everyone realizes how important it is to honor those who are participating in the Tour de Cure who have diabetes.
“The people riding with diabetes – we call them our heroes,” Cesareo said.
Jillian James is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.