ANTIGO — Sarah Meidl is an advocate.
The 45-year-old mother of three will soon be lacing up her sneakers and walking in support of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, raising funds and awareness for the disease that her daughter, Meredith, was diagnosed with at age 2.
And in a few months, she’ll trade in the sneakers for cycling shorts and a jersey, pedaling 100 miles in a single day in a fundraiser for the foundation. If the schedule allows, she’ll participate in two of the five rides scheduled across the nation.
In between, she works tirelessly as an advocate for those affected by violence and crime as victim witness coordinator for Langlade County.
The mix of roles allows her to blend her faith and trust in God with her belief and advocacy for science and the legal system.
“I don’t remember a time not having my faith,” she says. “It’s just a part of me.”
Meidl was born into a faith-filled family, a daughter of Steve and Mary Bradley of Antigo, and is a lifelong member St. John the Evangelist Parish, where she was confirmed. One of her fondest memories is of her grandfather, Billie Bula, who attended Mass up to age 98, always seated in the back row.
“I remember when Fr. Charlie (Hoffmann) did the funeral, he joked that it was the first time Billie ever sat up in front at church,” she says.
Meidl enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and earned a degree in psychology. She became involved in victim advocacy while in college, through an internship at the Family Violence Center in Green Bay.
She later served as community outreach and education coordinator for AVAIL, the Antigo-based organization serving victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Meidl has been the county’s victim witness coordinator for the past eight years.
“Victims need a voice. They need to know they are not alone and that someone cares,” Meidl says. “I’m not a judge. I’m not an attorney. I am there to help them understand the process, which can be very intimidating.”
She and her husband, Carl, married in 1997. They have two other children: son Holden, a freshman at the University of Minnesota; and daughter, Sydney, a sophomore at Antigo High School. Meredith, now 13, is a seventh grader at All Saints School in Antigo.
Meidl remembers the moment when her life changed forever. The day Meredith was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in May 2008.
“Up until that moment, I was a mom. That was all I was,” she says. “After that, I became an advocate.”
The diagnosis came weeks after a national news story on a couple who chose prayer over medicine to treat their daughter, who subsequently died of untreated diabetes.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘God gave us medicine and God gave us faith, and I’m not going to let her die,’” Meidl says. “I have faith and I believe in medicine. The two work well together.”
Meidl only allowed herself a short time in what she terms “survival mode” before the grief and despair turned to anger. She vowed to fight the disease and be the number one advocate for her toddler daughter.
She learned about the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, its fund-raising efforts and attempts to make life better for those with Type I diabetes and their families.
“I thought it was so unfair when people tried to comfort me by saying ‘Meredith is so young, she’ll never remember not having diabetes.’ That’s so wrong,” Meidl says. “We’ve adjusted to the relentless daily routine of blood testing, insulin administration and carb counting, but we won’t accept this as our permanent reality.”
Within a year of the diagnosis, Meidl, joined by six family members and friends, participated in her first walk to end diabetes, following a three-mile route.
The biking was a more daunting process.
“I was very hesitant about signing up for the bike ride because of the distance and training involved,” Meidl says. “My son spoke up and said, ‘Mom, I’ll ride it with you.’”
That was the start of another long series of successes.
To date, Team Meidl has raised over $100,000 over the last decade, with no sign of losing steam as this year’s fundraising season approaches.
“I call my fundraising season the rainy season because I’m always crying,” she says, as a result of all the help people offer. “I have a very generous family and we have a very generous community.”
Now a teenager, Meidl says Meredith is doing well, although it hasn’t always been easy.
“Today, Meredith’s life expectancy is maybe a year less than what it would be if she didn’t have diabetes,” Meidl says. “But with the help of JDRF, there are constantly improvements in treatments and therapies, along with a better understanding of the disease. I see those things and I think, ‘I’m doing something, I have a hand in it.’”
Meidl’s advocacy role comes at a cost.
“It can be very hard on the soul sometimes. But I hope I am making a difference,” she says.