A Greenwood man hopes to draw attention to diabetes prevention through a 12-mile swim  in Lake Chicot.

Zane Hodge, an English instructor at Mississippi Delta Community College, will hold his annual Chicot Challenge swim June 1 in the lake, located west of the Mississippi River next to Lake Village, Arkansas. He uses the swim to  raise funds for the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi.

Zane Hodge

“Everybody knows about diabetes, but they don’t know how bad it is,” Hodge said. He called it “a gateway disease because it opens you up to all other problems,” such as blindness, amputations, heart disease and liver failure.

Diabetes occurs when one’s blood glucose level — also known as blood sugar — becomes too high.

In a healthy person, digestion turns food into glucose, which is distributed throughout the body’s cells and converted into energy with the help of insulin, a hormone. A person with diabetes has difficulty processing glucose.

Hodge is focusing on Type 2 diabetes, often known as adult onset diabetes, which runs in his family.

“I’ve lived long enough to see what it does to people, and it’s all bad,” he said. In October 2016, Hodge lost his mother to Type 2 diabetes.

“Her death certificate reads end-stage liver disease, but her liver disease was caused by diabetes,” he said.

Hodge explained that Type 2 diabetes can be preventable with a healthy diet and regular exercise, lamenting people’s diets and attitudes about the disease in the Delta.

“’I’m healthy; I have just a little sugar,’” said Hodge, mimicking naysayers. “There’s nothing sweet about diabetes.”

According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, there were 308,295 adult Mississippians living with diabetes in 2016.

The disease resulted in 1,083 deaths in the state that same year, according to the department — and for those with Type 2 diabetes, complications such as lower extremity amputations, blindness and other hardships arose.

Hodge, who will turn 63 on June 2, the day after the Chicot Challenge, said he’d like to be an example that “you don’t have to be inactive just because you get older.”

“Just get out and do something,” he said. “Start with walking; just about everybody can walk. Be consistent with it.”

“No amount of exercise is fun until you can get in shape,” but once you get in shape, it can be fun, he said.

For his Chicot Challenge in  2017, Hodge swam 23.5 miles and was able to raise $4,000. In 2018, he himself was not able to swim due to a shoulder injury, so he had several friends do the swim as a relay. They were able to raise $1,900. He said this year he’d like to raise $4,500.

Hodge, who injured his shoulder in June 2017, was able to get back to swimming last May.

“I think my first swim was 300 meters,” at Twin Rivers, he said as he built up the distance little by little. He soon took to swimming in empty catfish ponds belonging to Tackett Fish Farms, where he was given permission.

He aims to swim six days a week, but if he can’t do that he’ll settle for five.

“I just want to encourage people to give and to take care of their health,” he said. “Small changes can make a big difference.”

Donations can be mailed to the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi to Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, 800 Avery Blvd., Suite 100, Ridgeland, MS 39157. Hodge requests that people write “Chicot Challenge” in the check’s memo line.

Donations can also be made to Hodge directly or by purchasing a T-shirt produced by him. He may be reached at 897-0020.

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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