Passionate. A little feisty and a ball of fire at times. A great sense of humor and a broad smile. These are things I will remember about Jerry Pope, friend, fellow cyclist, Red Rider and Champion fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. Jerry is an example of someone who lived life with passion against great odds. In 1981 he was paralyzed after an accident. Later he developed Type 2 diabetes. In 2010 he became a double amputee. But those were not the things that defined Jerry. Yes, life was difficult in many ways but he didn’t let his circumstances beat him. He was an athlete – he skied, golfed, played tennis and cycled on a hand cycle. He was a business man. He was a friend to many, many people. Unfortunately Jerry passed away during Tour de Cure. He was coming back in and most likely had a heart attack. Heart problems are one of the related complications of diabetes. Read his story in his words here (and you can donate in his memory).
I met Jerry shortly after I came to Tuscaloosa and before I took up cycling. Once I started cycling, I saw him out on the roads and rode with him many times. We shared a passion for raising awareness about diabetes and for finding ways to educate people about the disease. Jerry and I spoke quite a bit about fundraising efforts and how to get people involved in Tour de Cure. We shared our successes and our frustrations in our efforts. The morning of Tour de Cure he told me he had 26,000 miles on his hand cycle and that it was time to buy a new one. He also told me that he wanted to be an inspiration to others – he wanted people to see that diabetes was not a limitation for living life to the fullest. Jerry did inspire all of us and will continue to. This year, as in the past, he spoke before the riders left. He also spoke at our kick off event. In fact, I think he tried to encourage people every chance he had to do so.
Jerry inspired me to try harder and to continue to work to raise awareness about diabetes. He was a man of faith as well. One of the last things he said to me this morning was that no matter what was going on in our lives there was always someone who had something worse. He believed that God watched over him and I know he did. As I sat and waited at the emergency room for his brother to arrive, I had an image of Jerry’s smile in my mind. I think he now looking down over all of us, smiling.
Live life to the fullest. Find your passion and pursue it. Don’t let your circumstances limit you. This is how I will remember Jerry and will try to honor his memory by following my passion.