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Award-Winning Editor Becomes Renowned JDRF Advocate

Monday Maine Maven

 

Writer and advocate Moira McCarthy is today’s Monday Maine Maven. Moira was an award-winning newspaper editor and investigative crime reporter before she reached her goal of working as a top ski writer.

Moira was east editor for Snow Country Magazine and is currently a contributing editor at SKI Magazine, SKI AREA Management Magazine and is the weekly winter sports columnist for the Boston Herald.

She has published five books on everything from golf to skiing, to raising a child with diabetes to raising teen girls (the last would star Linda Blair, were it a screenplay).

Moira was president of the Massachusetts American Cancer Society and president of her children’s school PTO (where she raised 100 times more than any other president had in one year).

When Moira’s youngest daughter, Lauren, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she turned all of her donation time to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and its mission for a cure.

Moira has served on almost every committee of JDRF’s International Board, was “ChairMom” of their International Children’s Congress, president of the New England chapter and was named JDRF International Volunteer of the year.

Moira is an avid tennis player and holds a number of club championships and is a tepid golfer who holds some really cute golf hats. She lives in Plymouth, Mass. with her husband, Sean. Moira’s daughter Leigh, 25, is a teacher. Lauren, now 20, is thriving as a student at George Mason University majoring in – what else? — political communications.

Moira considers herself part Maniac because she’d skied with Paul Schipper and has made jello shots from a Maine cookbook.

1.) Moira, you are a travel writer, and you also advocate for juvenile diabetes awareness. What was the catalyst for this change? What tools do you use to raise awareness?

When my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes back in 1997 (at the age of seven), there really was not much online; those were the dark ages when parents dealing with their child’s chronic illness had to hope they could find someone.

I once remember chasing a man around a supermarket so I could see if his daughter’s medic alert bracelet said “Diabetes” on it. It did — and we are still friends (he didn’t have me reported for stalking).

So when I finally got involved in JDRF, I knew I wanted to help them find a way to help people connect. I worked with things like listserves and chat rooms back before we had Facebook and Twitter.

The good news is, today a mom does not have to suffer it alone (or chase people in the ice cream aisle) to find support, information and hope; they can just go online!

 

2.) How do you use social media and speaking engagements to spread the word about your work with JDRF?

I am amazed at what I have been able to accomplish via Facebook. I have thousands of followers and am a leader in quite a few private Facebook groups for parents of kids with diabetes.

I was hesitant to start a blog. First, I don’t like the idea of making it look like I’d make any money from my child’s disease. Second, I’d always been a paid writer when I did big stuff. But last year, I knew I had to jump in.

Well, funniest thing: my second blog post went hugely viral and prompted Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) to host my daughter and me at a private meeting with him and just about his entire health staff last spring. He’s now an educated and enthusiastic supporter of not just JDRF but of all medical funding on the NIH campus.

Look, I’ve been involved in advocacy since the old days of phone lists and endless calling. That I was able to rally a national (and even international) movement in a day with a blog was incredible. I even ended up being interviewed on news stations about my social media expertise. Who knew? I now find that the blog gives me so much more than I have to give it. Every day I get a note from someone I’ve never met saying, “Your words helped me.” It’s such a gift to get.

So the anti-blogger now loves it. I also am finalizing a three-book deal (a huge thing for any author) and I know my blog and Twitter work is a big part of what has made the publisher want me.

I speak quite regularly — I am asked to speak on diabetes, life, hope and research all the time all over the country. I love doing this. Many people “know me” from Facebook, Twitter, etc. so it’s fun to meet them in person.

Also, I have a different take than the usual researchers who speak (and who are wonderful!). I always say, “Well usually you get a Ph.D.  Today you have an M O M.” And people like that. Plus my story and Lauren’s story is so honest; I don’t hold back. So they hear me talk about the challenges but about how wonderful life is despite diabetes, and it gives them hope.

My great hope for a cure seems to spread, too. It’s very empowering and fulfilling. I take it quite seriously though, and I prepare like there is no tomorrow.

I almost always speak at JDRF events but I’m thrilled beyond words to have been invited to join the prestigious faculty of a program called Friends for Life put on by childrenwithdiabetes.com. It’s THE best family diabetes program anywhere, and to have them include me with the other incredible faculty is just so exciting. That program happens in early July.

 

3.) You are working with the schooner Mary Day and her captains to fundraise for the upcoming Ride to Cure Diabetes through Death Valley. Can you explain the connection between your work with JDRF and Mary Day? How are you promoting this opportunity?

Well, first of all, I owe a great debt of thanks to Nancy. Nancy and I kind of grew up in this industry together (okay, let me reword that: We are still growing up in this industry together! We’re much to youthful to be all grown up). Nancy has been not just a role model to me but a friend. She’s listened when I needed it and helped me when I needed that, too.

In any case, I blogged this week, right after the Mary Day offered me their incredible donation, about something I’d forgotten long ago: My husband and I went on a Maine windjammer cruise the week before Lauren was diagnosed. You have to read it all in the blog, but it’s very much a “wow” thing.

I also have a strong connection to the State of Maine not only because I absolutely love the skiing up there (and have written extensively about it for decades), but because Senator Susan Collins and I (and my daughter) teamed up to run JDRF’s largest media, social media and political event of all: Children’s Congress. Sen. Collins has been an amazing partner and a friend to all who want a cure.

So I thought about how to promote this quite a bit. We do have galas and a trip on the beautiful schooner Mary Day would be a great auction item. But you know, the galas are expensive to go to, and the regular “D-Moms” (as we moms of kids with diabetes call each other) cannot always afford them.

I wanted to do some kind of contest where almost anyone could win. And since I am doing the JDRF Death Valley Ride to Cure Diabetes this fall, I wanted to link it with that. So I decided to do a raffle. You donate $100 or more to my ride and you are in the raffle.

So far I’ve only promoted it on Facebook, Twitter and my blog. Over the coming week I’ll be interviewed by other top bloggers in the diabetes world. I also just did my first newspaper interview on the raffle and the ride and have three more scheduled in the coming week. Those will be Facebooked, tweeted and shared all over.

In my dreams, we will sell 105 tickets, one for every mile I’m going to ride through Death Valley (in one day!). That would mean an additional $10,500 toward a cure for diabetes.

 

4.) How have you garnered media coverage when you have testified in front of congress to raise awareness?

Oh, yes. Lauren, the first time she testified before congress (how funny is that? “Oh, the first time my kid testified”) was a guest on CNN Live. She had to sit in a room in the DC office of CNN with just one other girl her age — who happens to be a young woman named Stephanie Rothweiler from MAINE!! — Anyway, she had to stare at a camera like it was a person and converse.

Lauren schooled the anchor on research to the point that the anchor said, “You’re 13 and you know all that? Wow!” I was in the green room with Howard Dean, who was up next, and he said, “So when’s she going to announce her run?” Funny.

That lead to both Lauren and me being guests on CNN Live a few times, as well as countless other stations.

Lauren also spoke as part of the Ted Kennedy Tribute at the DNC 2008. Sadly when he passed away, he had asked Lauren to speak for him once he was gone. It was quite a challenge for the two of us since he’d become such a great friend, but we had to do him proud.

So the morning after his death we had Good Morning America setting up at our house. I felt like Dr. Leo Marvin (“The bust of the rifle?”).

I was quoted on page one of the New York Times some years back taking on the then Governor Mitt Romney on some research stuff, and Lauren and I also appeared in a Times story about powerful advocates.

I think because I once worked as a reporter I have a good sense of what to say and how to drive my point home in a way that makes it on the air. Lauren? She was just born with it!

By the way, I already have two news stations that would want to follow my Ride to Cure journey. And I should also mention that many of the anchors have become good friends of mine. So I must not be too annoying!

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