Survival’ pushes woman to run

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 16, 2003

[02/27/03]Every afternoon, Rosa Coffie goes to the Vicksburg National Military Park with the single goal of running 12 miles. As she traverses the steep hills and roads of the park with ease, it’s hard to tell that she’s running with a medical burden.

It has nothing to do with times, competition or training. It has to do with survival.

Coffie, 38, was diagnosed with diabetes in 1994. It has changed her diet and her life, but not her passion for running.

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“When it’s you, you’re afraid. If you’ve been around people and know what it does to them … it’s a lot to be concerned about,” said Coffie, whose mother was also diagnosed with diabetes. “I’m not perfect. I mess up from time to time. But I take care of myself.”

Coffie, who will run in her fifth Run Thru History Saturday morning at the park, has been taking care of herself for years.

At first, she was an avid basketball player. She never played organized ball, but would spend hours on the Mission 66 outdoor courts near her home.

One day, however, she got bored while waiting for her turn and decided just to run a bit for exercise. It was a life-altering decision.

She fell in love with the sport and was soon taking on the military park’s daunting hills the same hills that turned back tens of thousands of Union soldiers in 1863. Over the years, Coffie has increased her daily distance from three or four miles to 12, and sometimes as many as 16 or 18 miles.

She joined the Mississippi Track Club two years ago, and has run two marathons in addition to numerous shorter races like the 10K Run Thru History, Mississippi’s largest event for running enthusiasts. Registration is still open for this year’s event.

“Running serves as an outlet for me. It relieves stress … It’s a freedom sport, pretty much,” Coffie said. “I still keep my basketball skills polished, but running is my thing now,” Coffie said with a smile. “I love basketball, but I get more benefits from running.”

One of those benefits is helping to control her diabetes. Type-2, or adult-onset diabetes, from which Coffie suffers, is the body’s inability to produce or use insulin, the hormone that regulates the level of sugar in the body.

Too high or too low a level can cause dizziness, irritation and trembling hands. If unchecked, a diabetic person can faint, go into a coma or die.

To combat the disease, Coffie gives herself insulin injections or oral medication daily, and constantly monitors her blood-sugar levels and her food. She has eliminated pork, chicken and beef from her diet and favors vegetables and fish.

“It doesn’t keep her from doing anything she wants to do. Very rarely she misses a day running,” said Coffie’s husband, Jake.

The exercise she gets from running also helps by improving the flow of insulin through her system. It isn’t without its risks, especially on hot days, but it is part of living with diabetes.

“It helps a whole lot, because it burns glucose. You have to be careful though. You have to make sure your glucose is high enough, especially with the sun. It just dries you out,” Coffie said. “It’s like running with a monkey on your back, so to speak.”