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Engagement in U's diabetes research gets personal for longtime supporter

(Left to right) Zack, Emily, Pete, Sue, and Josh Rockers (Submitted Photo) Eager to support his wife as well as friends who had diabetes, Pete Rockers began volunteering with the University of Minnesota’s Golf Classic “fore” Diabetes Research when it started in 1997. Since then, Rockers’ involvement in the University’s diabetes research has only intensified.

His wife, Sue, has type 1 diabetes and received treatment at the University decades ago, before the family moved to the east and west coasts and later returned to Minnesota. Rockers says that watching his wife live with diabetes prompted him to get more involved in supporting research for a cure. “You have to be a strong person to deal with [diabetes],” he says. “It never takes a break.”

Rockers, cofounder and partner of the software company Avantstar, describes the University as a leader in diabetes research and the best place to lend his support. “It’s not hard to get behind a leader,” he says. “I’ve always been impressed by the University’s mission to cure diabetes. I think that pushes people to work harder and be more creative.”

That firm belief led Rockers to serve on the Golf Classic event committee year after year, helping to secure major sponsorships. In the past 15 years, the Golf Classic, along with additional contributions, has raised $4.45 million to advance cure-focused diabetes research at the University’s Schulze Diabetes Institute. Besides volunteering his time and talents, Rockers supports the cause financially.

“It feels good to give back,” he says modestly.

Last March his engagement deepened further when his son Zack, 20, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. “It did nothing but increase my commitment to the cause,” Rockers says.

Zack’s diabetes was diagnosed through TrialNet, a global network of researchers focused on the prevention and early treatment of type 1 diabetes. The University is a core participant.

“Zack was in a high-risk category early on,” Rockers says.“We caught his transition to diabetes very, very early.”

Now a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, Zack has continued in TrialNet and comes to the University of Minnesota campus every three months to receive treatment. “The people are really helpful,” Rockers says. “For a new diabetic, I think the education aspect [of TrialNet] is great.”

He says that Zack is also lucky to have a role model close to home—his mom, Sue, who is a nurse. “Zack has had a great example through Sue,” Rockers says, adding that she has shown Zack how to manage diabetes so it does not consume his life.

In the past year, Rockers has joined the Diabetes Development Advisory Committee at the Minnesota Medical Foundation, the primary fundraiser for diabetes research at the University of Minnesota.

“The University is one of the leading centers focused on a cure,” says Rockers, who hopes that Sue and Zack—as well as others with diabetes— will reap the benefits. “We’re lucky to have this capability in our own backyard.”

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