You can’t choose who gets and who avoids diabetes. But for one day in April, you can choose to be a hero in the fight against the disease.

Runners and walkers can challenge diabetes on the North Coast by participating in Providence Seaside Hospital’s Outpace Diabetes 5K/10K Walk/Run on Sunday April 14.

The event’s goal is to raise awareness of the health of children and adults who have diabetes and who live in North Coast communities.

For one Cannon Beach youngster living with diabetes, the event unites an entire team of her supporters and admirers. She just doesn’t know it yet.

Emma Mekenas wasn’t born with Type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed on Dec. 7, 2012 at the age of 8.

“It was shocking, out-of-the-blue,” said Emma’s mother, Jennifer Phillips.

Up until that fateful day, Emma had been like any other fun-loving 8-year old girl. She loved being a third grader at Cannon Beach Elementary and being with her many friends.

Now, her days were suddenly occupied with the worries of constant, painful blood testing and the realization that overnight, her life had become very different.

Phillips, a branch supervisor at the Cannon Beach Bank of Astoria, found herself in uncharted territory, trying to retain a sense of normalcy while coming to grips with Emma’s new reality.

“We had to start testing her blood every day with a finger prick,” Phillips said. “She also has to have insulin four times a day. It was a lot to absorb.”

Anyone who’s met Emma, however, knows she is not one to stand still for anything, even diabetes.

“She’s an amazing little girl,” Phillips said. “She told me ‘my body my rules.’ She learned how to test herself a day after her diagnosis.”

With Emma’s diagnosis came escalating medical bills.

Phillip’s co-workers, looking for a way to help out, came across a Facebook request sent by Sydney Van Dusen, director of Providence Seaside Hospital Foundation. It asked for donations to the upcoming Outpace Diabetes event.

“We all thought it would be fun to do something in Emma’s name,” said bank teller Jennifer Brien. “We decided to put together a team in her name. It seemed like everyone in Cannon Beach jumped on the band wagon.”

From humble beginnings, the idea snowballed into a community effort.

“We took donations for the team here and at Cannon Beach Surf,” Brien said. “We were amazed at the results.”

The amount raised was more than enough to pay the entry fee for Emma and her 22 classmates to do the Outpace Diabetes run together.

Not only is Emma’s classmates joining her in the run, but they are doing it as a team. “We had T-shirts made up for all the kids that say ‘Team Emma,’” Brien said. “It’s part of the big surprise for her.”

The T-shirts and logos are designed by Crowerks in Cannon Beach. Emma’s grandfather, Mark Mekenas, owner of Cannon Beach Surf, is organizing logistics.

“She’s been such a little trooper,” he said.

While keeping the secret is hard, Team Emma organizers know the payoff will be worth it.

“We’re going to pull her out of class for something just before the race,” Phillips said. “When she comes back in, all the kids in her class will be wearing her T-shirt. There’s also going to be a poster for all her friends to sign.”

In addition, Miss Oregon will be making an appearance at the run with a special gift for Emma.

“She’s bringing Emma a tiara,” Brien said. “Her sister has type 1 diabetes and it’s her platform.”

The support for Emma extends beyond Oregon to San Diego, Calif. There, Mekenas family members are organizing a Team Emma for a similar event in October.

That’s where the whole surprise takes a new twist.

“The donations we’ve received have also been enough to send Jennifer and Emma to San Diego for that diabetes walk,” Brien said. “There’s also some left over to cover some of the medical bills. Jennifer doesn’t know this part yet, and it’s been hard keeping a secret.”

As the planning for all the surprises Team Emma has to offer continue, one important thing has become clear for Phillips as a mother.

“The togetherness part was the most important thing,” Phillips said. “There were times when Emma would have to be left out when someone had a birthday cake or friends went to Dairy Queen. Now, she’ll be able to do this with all of her friends around her. It’ll make her remember that she’s not alone.”

Donations are still being accepted for Team Emma at the Cannon Beach Branch of Bank of Astoria and Cannon Beach Surf.

 

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