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#tshirtstories: Madison’s Story | Walkers with a cause

Every t-shirt tells a story. Whether it’s the remaining remnant of a distant memory, a celebratory souvenir, or a fabric badge of courage, t-shirts take on meaning well beyond their original intent.

Six-year-old Madison, who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) when he was only two years old, and his mom Mel know the power a t-shirt can possess.

Three years ago, they took part in the annual JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) One Walk that takes place on the National Mall in Washington D.C. This year, they again invited friends and family to walk by their sides, raising money and awareness with every step to help cure a disease that affects 1.25 million people across the country.  

For each walk, Madison’s cheering squad has worn a custom-designed shirt that helps brings the group – and their mission – together.

For Mel and her husband Sam, the annual walk is not only an opportunity to raise funds, but a time to bond with a community that understands the frustrations and challenges of raising a young child with T1D.

“The way I describe what it feels like to parent a young child with diabetes, is it’s a lot like when your kid gets a fever,” Mel explains, “The thing with Type 1 is, it’s like a fever that never actually breaks….I would love to worry about stuff like should he take piano lessons, or is he doing his homework, I don’t know, whatever parents of kids who aren’t challenged this same way seem to worry about.”

The annual walk is also a chance to do something about a situation that mostly feels completely out of their control.

“There are millions of kids affected by this,” Mel says, “There are adults who have been waiting their whole lives for something better. ….But, none of that technology can actually make it to your doorstep unless there have been clinical trials….None of those things happen without funding. That’s why we’re walking.”

For this year’s event, for the first time, Madison was old enough to take a more active part in both the walk and the creation of the custom t-shirt design worn by all the family and friends walking or rooting for him behind the scenes. Like any six-year-old might, he turned to a familiar source of inspiration.

“He’s really obsessed with Star Wars right now,” Mel says, “…. and he loves imperial walkers or AT-ATs so, we decided to be Madison’s Walkers AT-ATs v T1D.”

A family friend who happens to be a graphic designer created the unique design – a sneaker perched astride the legs of the Star Wars AT-AT – and the uniform for Madison’s Walkers began to take shape.

Mel and Sam used Custom Ink to print the shirts for the walk, but they also used Custom Ink’s fundraising platform to create an online campaign for selling t-shirts to their team and others looking to support their cause. Money was raised for JDRF through a portion of every t-shirt sale …..and spirits were raised, too.

“[Buying a shirt online] gave people an opportunity to feel like they were part of the team even if they couldn’t actually physically be there to walk with us. They would have a shirt, you know, team swag,” explains Mel, “It reminds you that beyond the event itself, it’s important to us all the time. Every day. Not just that day. So we’re excited about shirts.”

For this year’s walk on the Mall, Madison’s Walkers raised more than $10,000. For Madison, the event was a chance to feel supported by his loved ones in a crowd of smiling faces and AT-AT shirts. For Mel and Sam, every walk means another step toward funding research that might one day allow them to control this challenging disease, rather than the other way around.

Got an amazing t-shirt story of your own? We’d love to hear it. Use #tshirtstories on Twitter or Instagram to share how a t-shirt helped make a moment even more memorable.


Rachael is a copywriter at Custom Ink.

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