As a parent, I am always touched by the stories we hear about parent-child diabetes advocacy teams. I love to get a glimpse into the bond between them, strengthened by shared experiences. Today I’d like to introduce you to Mitch and Carly Lenett, another example of a parent-child team whose passion for diabetes awareness and fundraising spills over into their family life.
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was four, Mitch felt responsible when his daughter Carly was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age. “I went into a little bit of a tailspin,” he said. “I blamed myself. I was really depressed, and wallowing in my own self-pity. Then several weeks after her diagnosis, it just hit me that I could do one of two things. I could either continue down this path of helplessness and guilt, or I could really make a difference. I just didn’t know what it would involve at that point.”
An idea soon came to him. “One night about six weeks later, I was laying in bed, just thinking about my little monkey, Carly, and the name Dolce & Banana® came over me,” he recalled. “I sat up in my bed, woke my wife, and told her I had this crazy idea. That’s pretty much how it was born. I told Carly and my son Ben the next day that it was inspired by them. They became involved immediately in helping us conceptualize the logos and the idea behind it.”
Dolce the monkey and Banana now adorn a line of clothing, bibs and hats, available on their website, with images depicting active antics like surfing and skateboarding. The furry and fruity duo also recently embarked on a new endeavor – a series of children’s books called, “The Adventures of Dolce & Banana.” “In the first book, Dolce the monkey gets diagnosed with diabetes,” Mitch said. “He and his family go to the hospital and learn about diabetes. It’s an educational book. Then the rest of the stories are just pure adventure. Carly and Ben have helped develop some of the story lines.” A portion of sales proceeds from the clothing line and books is donated to the American Diabetes Association (the Association).
From early on, Carly has exhibited a strong spirit and confidence. When she was four years old, she was watching her brother swim in the deep end of the pool and decided she wanted to try it too. “I just jumped in,” she said. “My brother was swimming, so I jumped in.” Mitch and his wife stood by in awe as Carly instinctively started swimming. “She swam to the other side,” he said. “Then, she swam back. She did it again and again. She swam four or five laps and we were looking at each other like, ‘What’s going on here?’ From then on, it was, ‘Can I swim? Can I swim? Can I swim?’”
Carly takes an active role in her diabetes management, assuming responsibility at an early age. “I have learned to take care of myself,” she said. “I test my own blood sugar, count carbs, operate my CGM, and I exercise like swim and work out. My mom and dad teach me and help me to do all of these things. It’s cool because my dad has diabetes too!”
The Lenett family is very involved with their local Association chapter, with Mitch serving on its advisory board and Carly serving as a Youth Ambassador. They also participate in the annual Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes® event. This activity led Carly, then 7, to pose an interesting question to Mitch in 2012. “We were getting ready for the walk-a-thon and she said, kind of jokingly, ‘Can I swim the walk-a-thon?’” Mitch said. “I told her, ‘No. You can’t swim a walk-a-thon. You have to walk a walk-a-thon.’ But then the wheels started turning and I thought maybe we could do a separate event.”
Mitch quickly got to work organizing a diabetes fundraiser. “We were a little bit behind the eight ball last year. We didn’t even have a pool,” he said. “We had an event planned and nowhere to swim. It was so nerve-wracking. Finally, a week before the swim was scheduled, I got a pool to agree to host. It was a very small event; we ran it by the seat of our pants. Carly swam 100 laps, and we were able to raise $9,000 for diabetes.”
The event garnered attention from local media, as well as local high school swim coach Tim O’Connor. Tim contacted Mitch and offered to help coordinate an even bigger diabetes fundraising event this year. Tim also arranged for Sydney Games silver medalist swimmer Kristy Kowal to attend, who offered a swim clinic to attendees, and then swam laps with Carly. “It was really fun, especially with Kristy Kowal right next to me,” said Carly. At this year’s event, Carly swam 110 laps in just over an hour, raising $11,000 for the Association. The Lenetts plan to make this an annual affair and are already planning next year’s event.
Diabetes advocacy and fundraising reflect some of Mitch and Carly’s core values. “When I was a kid, many people liked to talk about what I could not do with diabetes,” Mitch said. “I was encouraged by my parents to focus on what I can do and what I can do even better; we called them silver linings of diabetes. That’s what Carly and I work on constantly, finding those silver linings, like the friendships we’ve developed with people who are just like us and becoming responsible at an early age. Those are silver linings. This is what we want to do; to help and encourage people to live positive and productive lives with diabetes, no matter what their age.”
Carly sums up her thoughts on advocacy simply. “I just like to lead by example and talk to kids and adults about not letting diabetes stop them,” she said. “I like teaching people about diabetes and telling them to not be afraid. I tell kids that it can be scary but you can be tougher than diabetes. You can show diabetes who is boss! I also tell them to do sports because it may help lower your blood sugar. I tell people I can do everything other kids can do but have to watch my numbers all the time. Most people I meet are very nice and helpful.”
What an inspiring duo! Their determination to encourage others living with diabetes, not to mention Carly’s stamina in her fundraising efforts, is to be admired. 110 laps! Way to go, Carly! I’ll be watching to see if she tops that next year! My thanks to Mitch and Carly for sharing their stories.
All the best,
Disclosure: Mitch and Carly Lenett received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
Dolce & Banana is a registered trademark of PLA40, Inc.
Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes is a registered service mark of the American Diabetes Association, Inc.