BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Zach Skinner is 20-years-old and a recent graduate of the culinary school at Niagara County Community College. He plans to earn a Bachelors Degree in Food and Beverage Management at Niagara University. As you have probably guessed, Zach loves to cook, and yet he rarely tastes any of the food he makes.
That’s because Zach was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 13-years-old.
He explained, “I was losing a lot of weight, always going to the bathroom, always drinking a lot of water. It was very weird. I could eat anything, and nothing would stick. I was literally skin and bones.”
His mom, Debbi Coniglio, says the diagnosis changed their whole world, as they tried to figure out how to count his carbohydrates, track his blood sugar levels, and give him the correct amount of insulin. She is the District Music Coordinator for Sweet Home Schools, and because of her experience with Zach, she decided to become a Safe at School workshop presenter.
“I put on workshops for parents and families on how to keep their children safe at school. You’re not there to help monitor them and it’s a huge scare, so we just talk about how to keep them safe and what plans to put into place,” said Coniglio.
They also became regular riders in the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure. The ride raises money for diabetes research, but also supports children with the disease going to diabetes camp. It’s a place where they can be themselves, and not feel strange or different for having to monitor their health so closely.
“You definitely feel like you are in the normal with everyone else. Everyone’s doing the same things. Even when you don’t know anyone, you have that one connection where everyone has diabetes so that’s how you just meet everyone,” said Zach about going to camp.
He enjoyed his experience there so much, he became a camp counselor, and has gone back each summer to the camp in Rush, N.Y. to help other children dealing with the disease.
He and his mom also ride in the Tour de Cure each year, to help raise money for that camp. It typically costs $1,500 to send one child to camp. Through the tour and other fundraising efforts, the American Diabetes Association is able to get the cost down to roughly $600 per camper.
Debbi Coniglio says it’s a fun way to keep everyone healthy, and also give those fighting the disease a sense of pride.
“The first time he rode in it when had been diagnosed, all the kids get these red shirts, they’re a red shirt rider, and he was very proud of his red shirt. He wore it and rode in front of us and he actually wore it quite a few times that summer to show off that he had this special shirt from the Tour de Cure,” said Coniglio.
Although Zach has struggled to learn how to live with diabetes, he’s grateful to his mom for pushing him to go to camp, and for the lifelong friends he’s made.
The Tour de Cure is Saturday, June 7 in Buffalo. For registration or volunteer information, or to learn how to donate to the American Diabetes Association, click here.