A healing journey: Pastor beats scary diagnosis
Journeys are nothing new to Pastor Chris Renick. In April, he will take on the journey of a lifetime – a trek on the Appalachian Trail. What led him to this moment has been nearly two years in the making. A diagnosis led him to the woods. A place where he has always found peace and God.
Shortly before turning 51, the Batesville United Methodist pastor was told by his doctor that he was diabetic. A year earlier he had a much scarier diagnosis – non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Routine scans before Renick was to begin chemotherapy revealed no cancer. His oncologist told him that each year he prayed for a miracle. That year, Renick was the doctor’s miracle.
Fast forward to the diabetes diagnosis. It did not particularly bother him. The previous year’s news helped to put it all in perspective. With a family history of the disease, the prospect of type 2 diabetes was not surprising. In fact, his doctor told him that he had probably been diabetic for some time. With an A1C (blood sugar level) of 9.3, the 26-year pastor had work to do. “She said I needed to get that number under six,” Renick said of his doctor. The diagnosis, attributable to heredity and lifestyle, was addressed with education and medication.
Admittedly, he did not feel bad when he started the four-class series at Margaret Mary Health in Batesville. After meeting with a diabetic nurse and a nutritionist, the pastor learned how to monitor his carbohydrate and calorie intake along with taking a prescribed medication. Walking at least 10,000 steps every day was also recommended. Soon, Renick knew this was a diagnosis he could control with diet and exercise. After beginning this regimen, he began to lose weight.
“I became a label reader,” the pastor said. Now, breakfast usually consists of oatmeal or Greek (zero) yogurt with fruit. The nutritionist taught him to eat meals from a smaller plate and to divide his plate into three sections: one-fourth of carbs, one-fourth of protein, and one-half of veggies. His diet is based on whole foods with lots of salads and fresh vegetables.
A post-diagnosis-three-month check-up revealed Renick’s A1C had dropped to 6.1. The doctor was pleased with his progress and stopped the medication. Although still prediabetic with an A1C of 6.1, Renick was determined to do more. At his six-month check-up, he had lost the majority of his weight, down 64 pounds, and registered an A1C of 5.1.
Shortly after logging those 10,000 steps a day, Renick stumbled onto some YouTube videos posted by people who had hiked the Appalachian Trail. Wondering if a trail trek was a thought he could entertain, it was not long before he began stuffing a backpack with water bottles, then weights, before heading out on his daily walks.
When the walks needed a little mixing up, the humorous pastor decided to intersperse the walking with some running. “It took so long to walk, I thought I ought to try running one day a week,” he deadpanned. Renick had never been a runner and was unsure if he even could run. This did not stop the determined pastor. “I would run until I could go no further. Then, I would walk, get my breath back, and then run again,” he said.
A month after he started running he challenged himself to run his first 5K. After three months (of running), he ran a 10K. His longest run so far has been 11.5 miles. Now, Renick runs twice a week and walks the other days. His usual walk is five to 10 miles a day in Batesville’s Brum Woods both on the paved and wooded trails. Because of his Sunday workload, Renick makes this his “lighter” exercise day. Some days include treadmill walks set at a “15” incline to simulate hills. Occasionally, he heads to Versailles State Park to hike the “really nice” trails there. Sometimes, he bikes with his wife, Angie, to break up the routine.
Most days, Renick is joined by his yellow Labrador puppy, Milli. Angie, suggested he get a big dog when his thoughts turned to walking the Appalachian Trail. She did not want him to walk alone and thought a dog would help. On this first trail walk, which Renick calls a trial run, Milli will not come along. Before embarking on such a long journey, her growth plates need to be fully formed.
While Renick trains both himself and Milli for the trail, he found another companion to join him on this first journey – the couple’s daughter, Chandler. The 24-year-old office manager for a non-profit agency supporting women and children in abusive situations in Chapel Hill, NC, was the only other family member who showed interest in accompanying Renick.
A little over a year from the initial diagnosis, Renick’s A1C is at 5.3. He admits to easing up on his diet a bit and even allows himself more carbs because he now burns so many calories and has an increased metabolism. “I no longer diet. I just have a new lifestyle. It has become a habit,” he said.
In early December, the Renicks enjoyed a short trip to Gatlinburg, TN where he took a solo hike to Newfound Gap. This hike of approximately two miles on a portion of the Appalachian Trail gave him a small taste of what he and his daughter will encounter a few months from now. Renick related, “It was straight uphill, and every two steps I had to take a 12-inch step up.”
After all of his diet and lifestyle changes, Renick still has a favorite splurge. It is a Batesville favorite – Schmidt’s donuts. Incredibly, he went a whole year without a donut. Now, he treats himself to one donut per month. Always one to crack a joke with a straight face, Renick said, “My death row meal is donuts and bacon.”
As for his advice to others facing a scary diagnosis like diabetes, Renick said, that one thing he found to be true is so many people start things with good intentions. When they don’t see the results quickly enough, they stop. “It really is important to make good choices each day, then days become weeks of good choices, then months and eventually the results come,” says Renick.
He is living proof of staying faithful to a journey. Stay tuned for a follow-up story in April about his preparation for the trek and his three-day journey on the Appalachian Trail with his daughter, Chandler.