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Vincent Van Great balanced pain, joy to create charity bike ride

A photo shot from a low angle shows a man standing next to a blue bicycle while holding one of the handlebars, with orange support beams from a large bridge behind him.
Lily Shea Photography
Vincent Van Great

As a producer, rapper and singer, Vincent Van Great has put his name on a lot of things. This Saturday, May 6, he’ll add another one as the inaugural Vincent Van Great’s Bike Ride for Juvenile Diabetes rolls out at Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery.

Van Great tapped into a couple areas from his own life when coming up with the event, the first being the most influential: his experience as a juvenile diabetic.

“As a type 1 diabetic, I understand firsthand the daily challenges and struggles of living with this condition. I’m also aware of the lack of awareness and understanding that exists around diabetes in society,” he said. “A few years back, I started to have several brainstorming sessions with my management team about how I can be an advocate, which brings us to now. I felt like by creating a bike ride for type 1 diabetes, we can raise awareness about this condition and its impact on people's lives, and hopefully find a cure.”

The second was his love of a particular kind of two-wheeled transportation. He’s an ambassador for Bublr Bikes, helping with outreach in addition to lending his production skills and even getting his own signature bike from the Milwaukee company. Van Great’s connection to the activity goes back much further, though, which made the choice of charity event relatively straightforward.

“I grew up riding bikes with my homies — to the park, to shoot hoops, to each other’s houses, even to the store. Our bikes were EVERYTHING to us, so it's no coincidence that my relationship with Bublr Bikes has grown over the years,” he shared. “Not only is the bike ride to raise awareness for diabetes but also to promote an overall healthier lifestyle.

“Biking is a great way to exercise, but it’s also a healthier means of transportation for the environment. By choosing to bike instead of driving a car, we can help reduce our impact on the environment and promote a more sustainable future."

In that spirit, this Saturday’s ride is for everyone. He worked with Bublr Bikes (official partners for the event) to create a route that fits all types, whether you’ve been on a bike all your life or just took off your training wheels.

Part of the proceeds will go to JDRF, previously known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. But raising money is only one of the goals for Van Great, who recognized he had a platform to elevate the issue in people’s minds.

Along with that awareness, he and his partners from the Wisconsin chapter of JDRF want to make it easier for people in the community to get information and materials so they can manage their diabetes, and even help with early detection efforts so they can get a handle on it sooner.

“Diabetes affects over 37 million adults and children in the U.S.,” said Tanya Bissen, executive director of JDRF’s Wisconsin chapter. “And of that number, 1.4 million are living with type 1 diabetes. Because it is the ‘lesser known’ diabetes, it’s been a challenge to get the attention of legislators and policymakers to help them understand the very stark difference between type 1 and type 2.

“When we don’t have their attention, it trickles down to our healthcare providers, making it harder to provide awareness and education to those who need it most. This is where JDRF steps in to try to fill those gaps.”

You can register for the event on Van Great’s website or on the day of the ride at Best Place (917 W. Juneau Ave.) starting at 9 a.m. It’s $25 for adult riders, $10 for non-riders, $80 for a group of four, and free for kids 12 and under. The event officially kicks off at 10 a.m., with the riders departing at 11 a.m. and returning at noon, followed by a little social time with snacks and beverages until 1 p.m.