Don taking some laps.

Don Smith starts his Feb. 2 birthday celebration by swimming 150 pool lengths, the equivalent of two miles, and he does it for a great cause.

A retiree from Ohio, Don, who turns 70 years of age this year, now lives in Sun City Center. He stays active, still feels energetic and healthy and wishes many others could feel the same way. This is why in 2003, Don participated in the Diabetes Youth Services in Ohio “Swim for Diabetes” fundraiser as a way to celebrate his birthday.

He has continued the annual tradition on his own ever since.

Don’s efforts have raised a total of more than $260,000 when he began his annual inaugural fundraising swim. Proceeds go to the Diabetes Youth Services in northwest Ohio where Smith used to live, and in Southwest Michigan.

“We use the money raised to offset the cost of camp, directly and indirectly,” said Beth Ruf, Diabetes Youth Services executive director in Toledo, Ohio. “The cost of diabetes is high so we do everything we can to make sure kids get to camp. We have never turned anyone away because of a family’s inability to pay for camp fees.”

Don Smith

DYS of Toledo, Ohio is the only one of its kind in the country. When kids attend camp, they learn from  an educational program staffed by registered nurses and dieticians who teach the kids how to manage their diet and learn the benefits of exercise.

While Don and his wife Connie never had any children, they are supportive and sympathetic to the needs of children with diabetes and their families. And DYS has been their way to help.

“I really believe in what DYS does,” Don said. “Educating the children early in their life how to manage their health by showing them an active lifestyle will help them live a better and longer life every day. Type 1 Diabetes does not take a vacation!”

Don has been active over the decades and readily shares his story and his passion of helping children who struggle with Type 1 Diabetes. To Don, he sees that children with diabetes and their families bear an extra burden and that DYS gives them an opportunity to better cope and thrive.

“Children who manage diabetes often feel isolated and alone,” Ruf said. “Any chronic illness has its challenges and camp allows these kids to feel ‘normal’ for one week of the year and gives them a support system for a lifetime.”

Don plans to continue his fundraising swim for years to come and hopes that his efforts will inspire and energize others – just like the youthful audience he has on his annual birthday swim.

“He has attendees at the pool every year,” said Ruf. “I think it’s a little party.”

Don’s next swim will take place at the Sun City Center Community Pool on Feb. 2nd at 8:00 a.m. People who wish to make a donation can make checks payable to Diabetes Youth Services, 2100 West Central Avenue, Suite 110, Toledo, OH 43606 or online at www.dys4kids.org