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Type 1 diabetic Greg Cummings completes brutal Inclinathon with a little help from his friends

Alison and Greg Cummings after Greg's 10th Lap of the Inclinathon at the Manitou Incline, April 14, 2012.

Editor's note: Type-1 diabetic Greg Cummings, 54, completed the inaugural "Inclinathon," 13 trips up and down the Manitou Incline, including 26,1134 feet of climbing and 26.5 miles covered, on April 14. The event was created by ultra runner Brandon Stapanowich, and it may be one of the toughest physical challenges in the U.S. Stapanowich set the record with a time of 11 hours, 47 minutes earlier in the day. Twin brothers Fred Baxter (12:55) and Ed Baxter (13:15, on April 7) had also finished. But Cummings, who once ascended 1.41 million vertical feet over the course of a year, struggled along in the dark, 19 hours after he had begun. He endured a threatening insulin reaction and walked  backward to easy the pain in his knees. But he was determined to finish - and he did, in 20:20. The following is his account of a long day and the special people who played a part.

Additional Inclinathon coverage
Ed Baxter becomes the first to complete Inclinathon
Inclinathon champ Brandon Stapanowich completes 13 Laps on Manitou ...
Fred Baxter completes Inclinathon 12 hours, 55 minutes

By Greg Cummings
Yes, I finished at 11:20 p.m. and (for me) it was an extreme challenge! It’s not just the physical part of the event, but the Type 1 diabetes that always tags along.

Following the 11th ascent, I had an insulin reaction near the bottom of the Incline that almost did me in. I collapsed right on the railroad ties and could not move. The exhaustion of 11 trips directly up and down the Incline, combined with a blood glucose that I'd estimate was in the 20s, is not possible to comprehend…and the associated confusion that accompanies low blood glucose is overwhelming!

Somehow, I was able to fumble with my phone and figured out how to call Alison (my wife) at our base camp about 100 meters below. To me, it was as if she was on the other side of the planet, because I could not get to her. It was like being paralyzed! I kept thinking, am I having a stroke?

When Alison answered, I said, "Something's wrong. I need help." Immediately, she sprinted up the Incline so fast, I think she would have left Fred, Ed and Brandon in the dust! It was amazing! I remember her saying, "Honey, your skin is gray and you're in an insulin reaction. You need to eat these glucose tablets." So I chewed-up 10 glucose tablets and shortly after began to feel better. She led me back to our camp and after about 15 minutes my blood sugar was still only 60! Glucose tablets are one of the most rapid oral blood-glucose boosters available and with a BG of 60, 15 minutes later, it had been very low! Between the sweaty clothes, the cold breeze and the insulin reaction (which often causes chills all by itself), I sat there shaking violently while trying to warm up

PHOTO: Greg Cummings (left) and Ed Baxter. The note reads: "April 14, 2012. Ascent #13, Manitou Incline, 26,000 feet! And the frog is saying, "The End!"

One thing for sure, there was no way that Alison would let me make the final two ascents and I was so physically spent from the day and drained from the insulin reaction that I was ready to call it quits. However, I quickly learned that heroes do exist!

My friend, Ed Baxter, who completed the Inclinathon a week earlier, said he’d be back later to make the final ascent with me. And sure enough, while sitting at base camp draped in a sleeping bag and still shaking violently, I looked up and there was Ed (my hero) hiking up the trail The three of us talked for a while and Ed volunteered to accompany me on the final two, very slow ascents.

If you know Ed and Fred Baxter, 58 year old twins, you know there are few people on the planet at any age that can keep up with them on the Incline. The word "slow" is a highly unusual part of their vocabulary…but not tonight. So while Alison waited in the cold breeze at the bottom, Ed and I started off.

My exhaustion was so complete that every step was a major effort and my breathing, which had been steady throughout the day, was now rapid and shallow. Upward progress was slow with many stops, but Ed was the constant gentleman and simply matched my pace. And little did we know that Ed was about to set a new personal record…his slowest ascent ever!

Our descent times were also lengthened because the soft tissues of my knees were inflamed and very painful. Earlier in the day my descents were taking 15 minutes, but now they were at least an hour. Often, I resorted to descending backwards to lessen the stress on the unhappy tissues. And through it all, Ed hung in there and was as encouraging and patient as could be.

Finally, at 10:15 p.m. on April 14, 2012, we stood on the top after the final ascent of the day. We shook hands in the cold breeze and received congratulations from each other, me for my 13th ascent of the day and Ed for his slowest ascent ever! We had each other to thank for both.

Following a cold, slow and painful descent, I reached the bottom to receive cheery congratulations from Brandon, Alison and Ed (who ran ahead)! Brandon, who had completed 13 Laps earlier in the day, had given up his late night to come back to the Incline and congratulate me and present the coveted, Golden Dragon Award, from a local thrift shop! I was so fortunate to spend the day with a phenomenal group of people! Alison, who climbed out of bed at 1 a.m. to drive to the Incline and set up a base camp for all participants to enjoy. She gave up her entire day to assist others and to save my butt! Then there’s Brandon, who came up with the whole Inclinathon idea, organized it, bought the gifts, then came back late to congratulate me after he put up the best time of the entire event earlier in the day! What a guy! And then there are the other participants who started at 3 a.m. Fred Baxter (who made the entire 13 round trips), Jeff (completed seven) and Patrick (completed eight) . Each one offered great encouragement and displayed exceptional athleticism…putting up amazing times! And all the other participants, like Amy and Suzie for making it fun and completing three ascents.Then, of course, there’s Ed Baxter to whom I owe my personal completion of the event.

Briefly, I had not participated in an extreme athletic event since October, 2011, and had maintained only a modest fitness level throughout the winter. But 18 days before the Inclinathon, Fred Baxter peaked my interest. As we descended the Incline, Fred offered various details about the event. My entire response consisted of saying, “Oh shit!, Oh shit!" over and over again. With the event less than three weeks away, and considering its requirements, that was all I could say!

The course is over 26 miles in length and has an elevation gain of about 26,000 vertical feet with the same going down…so the average grade of the event is roughly 38 percent, or 34 degrees!

Considering my modest level of fitness and being a 54-year-old Type 1 diabetic of 30 years, my goal simply became to complete the event before the midnight cut-off time. However, following the severe insulin reaction after the 11th round trip, I was ready to call it quits and go home. But, of course, Ed stepped forward and prevented that from happening. So, Ed, you are not only an amazing athlete, but an amazing gentleman! My successful completion of the event is a gift from you and I thank you for it. Please accept my sincere gratitude. There is no doubt…you are THE MAN!

Editor's note: The following story was written by Alison Cummings, Greg's wife and support crew. She offers her unique account of the day's events.

April 14th was certainly a day I’ll never forget. Greg is absolutely amazing and one of the most determined human beings I have ever met.

Along with three other amazing guys, he completed the first annual Inclinathon (climbing to the top of the Manitou Incline and descending directly down 13 times in a day). The elevation gained and lost is like climbing up and down Pikes Peak 3.5 times in one day! Five other brave souls started but they were smart enough to know their limits and call it a day. I was the support crew, cheerleader, first aid attendant, fluid pusher and most importantly, Greg’s right arm (being, of course, that he’s had type-I diabetes for 30+ years).

The event started at 3 am and the cut off time was midnight. By late-morning, Fred, Brandon and Greg were the only ones still pushing on. Brandon completed his race just before 3 p.m. with an AMAZING, super-human time of 11 hours, 47 minutes. Fred finished around 4:30 p.m. in spite of a very painful knee! No doubt, he’s a 58 year old rock star! And then there was Greg. He was remarkably strong and his times consistent until about number 7. His knees were on fire with every descending step and his blood sugars were high and low making it very difficult to continue. But he did. I anxiously looked forward to a text from Greg every time he summited.

When he texted  on Lap 11, I knew he’d finish his goal. I was just about to go find him, as his decent time was abnormally slow, when he called me and said, “something is wrong, I need help.” He said he was by the power lines and with adrenaline pumping, I sprinted to his side.

He had just slipped backwards and drunk-like was trying to get up when I reached him. He was confused and grey in color. My nurse mode kicked in as I desperately tried to get him out of a severe insulin reaction. He chewed glucose tab after glucose tab until he finally started making sense and was able to stand. I supported him as we descended to the base camp one slow and careful step at a time.

It was 6:30 p.m. and I was done! It was time to abort! I was not going to let him go back up the mountain and risk another insulin reaction and possibly become a widow. Then our knight in shining armor arrived! Ed Baxter had completed the 13x climbs the Saturday before and had stopped by to check and cheer Greg on. With his heart-stopping smile he said, “I’ll go with you Greg so you can finish.”

It was music to Greg’s ears and brought relief and peace to me as I know Greg wanted so badly to FINISH WHAT HE STARTED. So, my two heroes walked away and slowly ascended and descended Lap 12.

Greg actually felt pretty good but his knees were just killing him. By the mid point on Lap 13, Greg was absolutely exhausted. With Ed’s encouraging words, Greg plowed on. Around 10 p.m. Brandon came back to support me and finally to cheer with Ed and I as Greg reached the bottom of the Incline. It was 11:20 p.m. and it was finally finished! Greg had completed his goal “finish the race.”

I will forever be indebted to Mr. Ed Baxter for helping Greg. I will never forget the incredible athleticism of these amazing men! I am in awe!!! Will there be a 2nd Annual Inclinathon? Yes! Will I be there? Absolutely! Will Greg be there? Probably not.

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You are incredible Greg if modern medicine could bottle the motivation you have to get on the manitou incline everyday we'd have far fewer diabetics who suffer with poor health..

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