PORTLAND – Having completed a lap around Back Cove, Steffi Rothweiler relaxed on the grass of Payson Park on a sunny Sunday morning and looked around at the tents, the kids and the multitude of colored T-shirts.

In red she saw Adam’s Pals and Team Julia. In yellow were Abby’s Dancing Divas and Strides for Isabelle. The Diabeaters wore black, Gabby’s Gang white and Aidan’s Activists gray. Hannah’s Heroes opted for tie-dyed tees.

A 17-year-old senior at Falmouth High who is a captain of her field hockey and tennis teams, Rothweiler remembered earlier editions of this annual Walk to Cure Diabetes when a caricature of her face adorned a yellow, lime green, orange, red or aqua T-shirt. Steffi’s Stompers, the wearers called themselves, and rallied under the motto: Diabetes Stinks.

“It’s sad to see all the newly diagnosed kids,” Rothweiler said. “They’re so little. I know what they’re going through.”

And yet, Rothweiler said Sunday’s 14th annual walk was a hopeful affair as well, with colorful tents and balloons, face-painting, music, dancing and a barbecue picnic.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, kicked off the event with a short speech and mentioned how, as founder and co-chair of the Senate Diabetes Caucus since its 1997 inception, she has seen funding for diabetes research triple to more than a billion dollars.

“This disease is devastating for so many families,” Collins said after stepping away from a lectern set up on the grass. “It is meeting and getting to know the children that have it that has motivated me. They look like any other child, and yet they’re coping with such a serious disease.”

There are two types of diabetes. The first, and the focus of Sunday’s 1,000-walker fundraising effort, is sometimes called juvenile diabetes because it develops most often in children and young adults. The pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that allows people to get energy from food.

Type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disorder, is more common in older adults. The body still produces insulin, but it doesn’t work the way it should.

“We thought there would be a cure by now,” said Steffi’s mom, Chris Rothweiler, whose daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1999 at age 5.

Technological advances, such as continuous glucose monitors and an artificial pancreas, give hope to those affected by the autoimmune disease, but clinical trials are still needed before approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Meantime, Rothweiler and others will continue to count carbohydrates, monitor glucose levels and carry an insulin pump.

Six years ago, Rothweiler traveled to Washington to testify before Congress in favor of stem cell research. This summer, 14-year-old Caroline Jacobs of Shapleigh did likewise. She spent Sunday’s event behind a “Become an Advocate” table.

Seeing poised and polished teenagers with diabetes such as Rothweiler and Jacobs gives hope to Tricia Payson, whose 11-year-old daughter is the namesake for the Abby’s Dancing Divas team of yellow-shirted volunteers, a troupe that includes the Uptown Dance Competition Team.

Abby Payson, who lives in Richmond, has been dancing since she was 3. Her diabetes diagnosis came at age 5, three weeks before the 2004 walk for a cure.

Her father, Jeff Payson, works for Taylor Rental, which donated the six tents erected Sunday as well as all the tables, chairs and portable dance floor.

“It’s her favorite day of the year,” Tricia Payson said with a nod toward her daughter, who wore an elaborate balloon-animal headdress featuring a blue dog leaping through a green hoop.

“She was up at 5 this morning. And it’s hopeful for us as parents, because sometimes you feel very alone.”

Organizers won’t know how much money was raised Sunday until all the donations come in. Caroline Sweeney, whose 9-year-old son Aidan is the inspiration for the Activists wearing gray T-shirts, said the goal is $200,000.

“Every state has a walk,” Sweeney said, “and the majority of the research money comes from walks.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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