Diabetic Solo Skipper Becomes Disease’s Ambassador

February 14, 2003

Canadian John Dennis, who became the first skipper with diabetes to successfully circumnavigate nearly half the globe in the Around Alone singlehanded global yacht race, has announced his new role as Bayer’s 2003 ambassador for diabetes self-management and aspirational living.

Dennis, who encountered insurmountable technical difficulties in the Indian Ocean on his way from Cape Town, South Africa to Tauranga, New Zealand, officially retired his entry, Bayer Ascensia, on December 24, 2002. He will not, however, let technology stop him from delivering his message about diabetes self-management worldwide. The 57-year-old skipper known as “Pops” will continue on his voyage, following the Around Alone fleet in the final leg of the race from Salvador, Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island in April 2003. He will sail not as a competitor, but as a ceremonial ambassador for diabetes and will have with him one additional crew member.

As part of his ambassadorial role, John Dennis is encouraging anyone with diabetes who has a personal goal or aspiration which they need help in achieving to apply to The Ascensia Dream Fund. The Ascensia Dream Fund has been established to provide support and recognition to people with diabetes for whom self-monitoring is a cornerstone of their diabetes management. It began when Dennis approached Bayer requesting sponsorship in the Around Alone race, and the satisfaction of helping John inspired Bayer to create a Fund to help other people with diabetes achieve lifelong dreams. Eligible people with diabetes in the U.S. can apply to The Ascensia Dream Fund by downloading the Official Rules and an application at its websites, or, or by calling 800.332.3210. Applications must be received no later than September 12, 2003.


“We are so proud of John’s achievements. Obviously we were moved enough by John to make him skipper of the Bayer Ascensia, but we never imagined the impact he’d have on the sailing and diabetes communities as well as our organization at large,” said Joe Malta, vice president, Self-Test Business, Bayer Diagnostics. “John has really become part of the Bayer family and we look forward to his ambassador role as he helps generate applications for The Ascensia Dream Fund 2003. We are convinced that there are more people out there like John who can inspire and motivate others to actively manage their diabetes. Who knows, the 2003 winner may be a musician or even an artist who uses self-monitoring as a way to maximize their life experience.”

Dennis says he has already met several people along the way who may be potential Dream Fund applicants 2003. “During the race it just wasn’t being on the water or the thrill of coming into port that kept me going. Some of the most significant moments were spent with other people living with diabetes or physically challenged, sharing our stories and discussing what’s possible when your diabetes is in control. It’s those conversations, emails and knowing stares of my peers in the diabetes community that are locked in my memory, and are the basis for my ongoing role as an ambassador and role model moving forward.”

These memorable experiences took place for John all over the world as he was racing, starting in the U.S., then moving to the UK, and then on to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. For example:


–While in Newport preparing for the start of the race, Dennis befriended a seven-year-old boy from Boston, Massachusetts, with type 1 diabetes, and has been helping him better manage his day-to-day experience as a child with diabetes.

–While in Torbay, England, he spoke with a group of persons with disabilities, all of whom identified with John’s personal challenge and motivation to sail in the Around Alone race.

–In Cape Town, South Africa, he hosted a motivational speaking event for health-care professionals, encouraging them to engage in goal oriented, self-management dialogues with their patients.


–When returning home for the holidays, he visited with a class of school children in New Jersey whose interest in learning more about diabetes and the world had been inspired by following the progress of the Around Alone sailors.

All of these experiences so inspired Bayer, Dennis, and the Around Alone race, that race organizers agreed to let Dennis take on his new role as diabetes ambassador for the remainder of the race. “John has played a critical role in the race thus far, and we were disappointed about his retirement from the fleet. But, we believe John’s journey is an important one, and we wish him all success going on from here,” said Race Chair Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Clipper Ventures PLC.


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