PORTSMOUTH — The difference between Olivia Gordon and most other kids was clear right after she completed a three-mile walk at bucolic Glen Park Sunday.
As soon as she was done, the 11-year-old with long and wavy brown hair sat down at a picnic table to have her blood sugar levels checked by her mom, Terry Gordon.
Before she turned 2, Olivia was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. The disease means that Olivia’s sugar levels must be checked around the clock — particularly after she exerts herself.
“It’s 35. That’s really low,” said Ms. Gordon, adding that a normal reading would be in the 80-to-100 range.
To bring her sugar levels back up, Olivia ate some Sweet Tarts and drank a little juice. This is routine for her.
Ironically, the long walk that threw off Olivia’s blood sugar levels may actually help her and others with the disease in the future. Olivia’s big sister, Emily, organized the event — her senior project at Portsmouth High School — as a benefit for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“When she was diagnosed, everything about our family changed — financially, mentally,” said Emily, whose family focuses a great deal of time caring for Olivia. The family of five children also takes part in an annual benefit walk for diabetes research in Providence, which helped give Emily the idea for her senior project.
“I decided I would do everything that I could to help raise money, so the senior project was perfect. I thought the best idea to raise money would be a walk,” she said.
Emily knows plenty of other people in town besides Olivia who have the same disease.
“There are a lot of diabetics in Portsmouth,” she said. “I think there are 11 kids in total who have Type 1. They’re all here and lot of members of the community have donated goods for my raffle. It’s been awesome.”
Besides the three-mile walk Sunday, there were also raffles, face-painting, food, games for kids, free massages and performances by Stage Door Dance and Fly Kite Canvas.
“So far I have $600, not including the money I’ve raised today. I’m hoping to raise $2,000, but we’ll see,” said Emily, who will study psychology at Stonehill College in the fall and hopes to pursue a law degree after that.
Nancy Rosenberg, who runs an event company with her husband, was Emily’s mentor for the project and has known the Gordon family for years. But, she acknowledged, Emily pretty much took the ball and ran with it herself.
“She’s so amazing — so organized and so on top of it,” said Ms. Rosenberg. “It’s such a great cause, especially since so many kids in Portsmouth have it.”
Olivia, who attends the middle school, said she has good days and bad days.
“Some days I’ll feel like, agghhh. And some days I’ll feel really good,” said Olivia, who likes to dance, play and do crafts.
Ms. Gordon said the constant monitoring of Olivia’s sugar levels is disruptive to her life.
“She only just had her first sleepover because I check her blood sugar every night at midnight and my husband checks it every night at 3 a.m.,” she said, adding that “the constant worry about her condition” is draining.
“We just want her to have a healthy life and not have any restrictions.”
Walked away from the pack
Olivia didn’t look like she had any restrictions Sunday. Although she began the walk holding hands with Emily, she soon pulled away from the pack and ambled over the pastures and meadows of Glen Park at a brisk pace. In fact, she ended up being one of the first finishers — even if she did have to take it easy afterwards.
The entire Gordon clan, including the five kids, Ms. Gordon and her husband, Lew, finished the walk as well. “This was Emily’s idea and we’re so proud of her,” said Ms. Gordon.
She wasn’t the only one.
“I think it’s great,” said Olivia. “I’m really happy for my sister, and I’m real happy that she’s doing this for me.”