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Diabetes walk honors deceased UA athlete

By Anthony C. Braza
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 5, 1998
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Leigh-Anne Brown
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Junior softball player Katie Swan (left) crosses the starting line at the walk for diabetes yesterday morning at Reid Park. The softball team and hundreds of Tucsonans showed up in support and memory of softball player Julie Reitan, who died last year of complications related to the disease.

A record number of Tucsonans participated yesterday in America's Walk for Diabetes, not only to raise money for diabetes research, but also to honor a former UA star athlete who died of complications related to the disease.

The local chapter of the American Diabetes Association dedicated this year's walk, at Reid Park, to Julie Reitan, a University of Arizona softball player who died June 27, 1997 of hypoglycemia, a low blood-sugar disorder.

Vicki Gaubeca, publicity chair for the walk, said there is a reason why this year's turnout of 1,680 was up from 1,370 in 1997.

"I am guessing it has a lot to do with Julie (Reitan) and dedicating the walk to her memory," Gaubeca said of the 23 percent increase in walkers.

She said the Tucson ADA raised $94,000 in pledges and expects the total to be $111,000 after corporate support is calculated. Gaubeca said the money raised and the number of walkers are both records for the Tucson annual event.

Reitan was a member of the UA softball team, which won two national championships before she died her junior year.

Mike Candrea, head coach of the UA women's softball team, said dedicating the walk to Reitan was appropriate.

"It is a good opportunity to help the American Diabetes Association and honor someone important to us," Candrea said. "She was an inspiration and I still think about Julie every day."

Julie's mother Elaine Reitan was touched by the attention her daughter received but said she earned it.

"Being on the softball team, with the success they had, she knew so many people," Reitan said. "She really had a big impact."

UA women's softball team members were among those who participated in the walk.

Chrissy Gil, a team member who knew Reitan, said she thought some good can come from honoring her during the walk.

"A college student passing away, it opens everyone's eyes to the fact diabetes is a serious disease," Gil said. "People see the importance of raising money for research."

The walk took place in more than 300 cities across the country yesterday.

Gaubeca said Tucson was the leader in the number of participants last year, and she hoped to match the feat this year.

"We were No. 2 in the country as of Thursday," Gaubeca said.

The ADA will use the money raised at the six-mile walk for research, advocacy and public awareness of diabetes, a disease that affects 16 million Americans.

Katie Swan, another softball team member, said she liked being involved with the walk because it is the sort of thing Reitan would have done for someone else.

"She made a huge impact on the community by doing things like talking to schools about staying off drugs," Swan said. "If someone else had died, she (Julie) would have been the first over the finish line."

Anthony C. Braza can be reached via e-mail at Anthony.C.Braza@wildcat.arizona.edu.