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Communities across Lake County unite, walk for a cure

Riverwoods resident Val Samandas his children Jackie 10 James 7 walk Sunday annual JDRF RSanWalk Cure Diabetes Independence Grove Libertyville.

Riverwoods resident Val Samandas and his children, Jackie, 10, and James, 7, walk Sunday in the annual JDRF Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes at Independence Grove in Libertyville. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 16, 2012 1:35AM

Storm clouds cleared just in time Sunday for the 34th annual Ron Santo Juvenile Diabetes Walk for the Cure.

Hundreds of supporters from across the Chicago area hit the pavement at Independence Grove in Libertyville, raising at least $360,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Among the participants were representatives of the Highland Park High School varsity football squad, some of whom have been personally impacted by the autoimmune disease.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and her son, Charlie, have participated in the event for the past 15 years.

Diagnosed with diabetes when 2 years old, Charlie Rotering rallied his football teammates and members of a local peer support group to raise money and awareness for diabetes research.

The 17-year-old Highland Park High School senior formed Chicago Kids for a Cure two years ago. The group provides ongoing support for children with juvenile or Type 1 diabetes, and meets monthly for social, philanthropic and advocacy purposes.

According to JDRF, approximately 80 people per day in the U.S. are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Nancy Rotering said chronic diseases can be somewhat isolating, as a person “feels like their body is betraying them without any warning.”

Familiarizing others with the disease is important for children with diabetes to feel comfortable and safe, she said. The support group is one way for kids to meet others with the same challenges.

Libertyville resident Mike Larsen walked in the event for the fifth time with “Brendan’s Bunch,” named for his 6-year-old son who also has diabetes.

Larsen teaches at Edgewood Middle School in Highland Park, and is an assistant football coach at Highland Park High School.

This year, his son’s team raised $5,600 for JDRF. He estimates people have contributed close to $20,000 since his family began fund-raising.

“We’re working diligently to find a cure that I’m sure there will be in (Brendan’s) lifetime,” Larsen said.

The Walk for the Cure was especially meaningful this year for the McGregors of Highland Park.

After supporting a friend who has diabetes at the event for several years, 12-year-old Katy McGregor learned in August that she, too, had the disease.

She now takes insulin shots five times a day and counts carbohydrates before every meal. Her parents check her blood-sugar levels every night while she sleeps at 2 a.m.

Elizabeth McGregor said while the past two months have been difficult on her daughter and the family, they have received moral support from friends old and new.

“The people here have been so great,” she said. “It’s a club you never, ever want to join, but if you do, the members are awesome.”

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