By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — Ryan and Brad Goodwin have something in common with football star Vince Wilfork and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.: diabetes.
The eighth-grade twins spent time with the New England Patriots’ All-Pro defensive lineman and Shaheen during a special assembly March 26 at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School.
Shaheen and Wilfork are teaming up to support diabetes research and education. They came to Hood for Diabetes Alert Day, a one-day call for people to learn more about the disease and its risks.
Both Ryan and Brad have Type I diabetes. So, too, does Shaheen’s granddaughter Elle, who accompanied her grandmother along with her service dog Coach. Elle had only had her dog for a week, but already Coach was hard at work, alerting her to any potential diabetic dangers.
Wilfork’s father David died from the disease in 2002 at age 48.
The Hood gym was rocking before Wilfork and Shaheen arrived. Many of Hood’s 734 students sported Patriots’ jerseys and helmets. They stomped and clapped in anticipation.
But the program wasn’t about football or government, it was about a disease some 26 million Americans struggle with every day.
Wilfork quieted the crowd with childhood memories of his father’s illness.
“I was only 6 or 7 years old, and I didn’t know how bad it was or what it meant,” Wilfork said. “I remember my dad having to be carried to the restroom or bathed or fed or given insulin. I started to see the effects (diabetes) had on my family.”
Wilfork said he couldn’t go out to play much when he was young because his father needed care and his mother was working to support the family.
Losing his father made him more aware of diabetes and what it can do to a family, he said.
“He was my best friend and taught me everything I know,” Wilfork said of his father. “I didn’t have anyone to come explain to me about diabetes.”
He and Shaheen want to change that.
By the year 2050, about one in every three Americans will have diabetes, she told the students.
“Diabetes is also very expensive,” she said. “We also have to address the costs along with prevention.”
Both stressed the importance of exercise and healthy eating habits.
“I’m lucky. I run around a lot. But we all have a job to do, that job is to take care of yourselves,” Wilfork said. “Help your friends; let them know what they need to do to make changes.”
Some students, including the Goodwin twins, had specific questions about the disease.
Wilfork encouraged the twins to live every day and never live in fear of the disease. Hearing advice from a sports hero helped, the boys said later.
“I am now really inspired to take good care of myself,” Brad said.
Ryan credited his twin brother for giving him support.
“I’m doing excellent because I have him,” he said.
Wilfork urged the assembled students to be strong, active and focus on staying healthy. He made a final sweep of the gym, giving high-fives to some young fans.
Derry School Board Chairman Brenda Willis credited Wilfork for his kindness and commitment.
“He gave a great message to our students,” Willis said.
For the famed Patriot, it’s all about spreading the word about being healthy.
“That’s why I’m here today,” he said. “Just remember, we can all do something about it. The more we can educate people about diabetes, we make it better for our younger generation. I just regret not having my dad with me to see where I’m at now.”