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Elected Public Official Becomes the First Diabetic to Step Onto International Freestyle Wrestling Mat

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. HOLDEN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today as a member of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus to report on an extraordinary sports history that soon unfolds. This April 8th, at USA Wrestling's U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas, Peter J. Wirs, the elected State Constable for the City of Harrisburg's Fourth Ward, will become the first diabetic ever to step onto an international freestyle wrestling mat; notwithstanding that Mr. Wirs is 49 years old; suffered a heart attack December, 2001; and suffers from acute and chronic asthma.

Constable Wirs' success story of overcoming diabetes to participate in a sport he has longed to compete in since junior high school marks an important lesson for all of us. Today, diabetes is now epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the American Diabetes Association and other national healthcare leaders. This is all the more critical as more and more Americans are suffering from obesity.

Unfortunately, this problem is not new. President Kennedy, speaking at the 1962 Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia, asserted that: "We are under-exercised as a Nation." Kennedy initiated the President's Council on Physical Fitness to urge America to pursue more exercise and sports in our daily lifestyles.

Today, over one-third of all Americans are obese, and more then 60 percent of Americans are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Obesity is a major precursor for Type II diabetes, where the pancreas produces too much insulin or the body otherwise cannot process the insulin the pancreas creates.

Diabetes is now an epidemic, as reported by Time magazine this past December 8th, 2003. 16 million Americans are expected to contract Type II diabetes. "Type II diabetes is increasingly being diagnosed in children and adolescents," according to the ADA National Diabetes Fact Sheet. Type II now appears to be at the "highest risk" during puberty, according to the ADA's October, 2003 issue of Diabetes Forecast. While approximately one in every 400 children and adolescents have Type I diabetes; recent Government reports indicate that one in every three children born in 2000 will suffer from obesity, which as noted is a predominant Type II precursor.

Among adults age 20-55; 8.3 percent of all adult men will be inflicted with diabetes, while 8.9 percent of all adult women age 20 will contract it.

Diabetes is even more prevalent among minorities. 13 percent of African-Americans age 20 and older, and 10.2 percent of all Hispanic-Latino Americans have or will have diabetes, meaning that on average, Hispanic Americans are 1.9 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites of similar age.
As a result, diabetes represents a substantial economic toll. In 2000, $91.8 billion was spent on direct medical costs for diabetes, while an additional $39.8 billion was spent on disability, work loss, premature mortality, etc., resulting from diabetes. In other words, the annual cost is $7,764 for every U.S. diabetic. Medical expenditures per capita for diabetics is 6.5 times that of nondiabetics.
Yet, studies universally show that "lifestyle interventions"-this is to say a regimen of diet and exercise-can reduce development of diabetes by 40 percent to 60 percent. However, lifestyle intervention requires discipline with a tangible end result that is within reach. It requires personal resolve, a lifelong commitment.

That's what makes the story unfolding this April 8th at the USA Wrestling's Nationals so impressive. Constable Wirs, a constituent and good friend of mine, two years ago weighed over 250 pounds. Two years ago, his Type 11 diabetes was so out of control that Wirs would lose a whole day a week from insulin shock, a situation where a diabetic loses motor movement coordination, the only remedy is in essence to sleep it off. This means that Pete Wirs would lose 52 days or over seven weeks a year to diabetes. Over the past 25 years, diabetes has cost Mr. Wirs over 1,300 days or 185 weeks out of his life. It took all of his energies and effort to simply pursue his professional career as a journalist, publisher and political leader. He had nothing left for personal pursuits, leisure or sports, let alone a social life.

However, Pete Wirs always wanted to compete in wrestling, the one sport he was shown to be good at in junior high school physical education classes. However, back in the 1960's and 70's, we didn't know about Type II diabetes, only what today we call Type I or insulin-dependent diabetes. Because Wirs' Type II diabetes was unknown, no one was able to ascertain why he was so heavy, sluggish and constantly out of breath. His diabetes was finally diagnosed in 1975 by the late Philadelphia Councilwoman Dr. Ethel D. Allen.

Two years ago, Pete Wirs finally said enough was enough, in his own words he was "sick and tired of diabetes controlling him, now he was going to control diabetes." Pete Wirs started to exercise every day. I would repeatedly see him exercise at the Harrisburg YMCA. Pete Wirs also started jogging, and now jogs five miles a day up and down Harrisburg's Riverfront Park through City Island. He dropped from 250 pounds to 167 pounds. And Pete Wirs got involved in the one sport he always wanted to compete. It wasn't an easy sport like golf, but among the most physically and emotionally demanding sports man partakes in-wrestling.

Today, Pete Wirs had his life back, so much that this past November 22nd, he got married, to the very attractive Anna May Casper in Historic Old St. George's Methodist Church inside Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.

And on April the 8th, Pete Wirs, despite being 49 years old and a heart attack victim, will become the first diabetic ever to step onto an international freestyle wrestling mat in the USA Wrestling Nationals and Veterans Championships at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Mr. Speaker, we don't know whether Constable Wirs will win or lose his first match. Although in the Veterans Division, competitors are divided into both age and weight, there is no doubt that Pete Wirs will be up against seasoned, experienced amateur wrestlers. But no matter what the score, Pete Wirs will have scored a morale victory by simply stepping onto the mat; by getting his diabetes under control, and proving to all of us that physical fitness is not a diet, a fad, but a life-long commitment to healthy eating, continuous exercise and sports activity.

Mr. Speaker, so important is this milestone for all diabetics, the Pennsylvania Wrestling Club of which Constable Wirs serves as executive president, is administering a nationwide public service program to encourage diabetics to commit themselves, as has Mr. Wirs, to a lifestyle of dietary control and exercise. Entitled "Going for the Gold," the campaign will award up to 500 "Diabetic Control Points" for diabetics engaging in continuous exercise and participation in an organized amateur athletic sport, all while raising money for the American Diabetes campaign.

Mr. Speaker, Constable Wirs is an inspiration to all diabetics and indeed to all of us. In President Kennedy's words, Pete Wirs becomes a "profile in courage" when he steps onto the freestyle wrestling mat this April 8th for his first competitive match. Our congratulations to Constable Wirs, and all of his fellow team members, coaches and boosters in this important sports history in the making.


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