Diabetes fund named for Waylon Jennings

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, June 14, 2012

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C ountry music legend Waylon Jennings is being remembered through a fund dedicated to diabetic research at the Translational Genomic Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix.

According to the American Diabetes Association statistics, 25.8 million people in the United States have diabetes.

The Waylon Fund was created in October 2011 in honor of Waylon Jennings, who died in 2002 due to complications from diabetes.

The fund was made possible through the efforts of TGen and Jennings' widow, Jessi Colter, and their son, Shooter Jennings.

Colter stated in a TGen press release, "I am honored to put Waylon's name behind TGen's diabetes research efforts. I have met the researchers and am confident that donations in Waylon's memory are an investment that will lead to better ways of preventing and detecting the disease."

Several country music stars also support the Waylon Fund through a national honorary committee. Keith Urban, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson and Billy Ray Cyrus are a part of the committee that promotes TGen's Waylon Fund.

According to a press release from TGen, Billy Ray Cyrus said, "The late Mr. Jennings' impact on the music world has undoubtedly inspired me and my career. I admire the work of the Waylon Fund, and am honored to be a part of this meaningful initiative."

Waylon's 1970s guitar player, Billy Ray Reynolds, also recently joined the honorary committee.

Reynolds stated, "As a lifetime friend and fan of Waylon Jennings, I am not only honored but grateful to participate in the Waylon Fund national honorary committee. I saw what diabetes did to my friend and I urge everyone to help us help TGen beat the scourge of diabetes."

All donations to the Waylon Fund will be used to help speed up the production of new treatments by TGen researchers so they can conduct full genomic, or DNA, analysis of diabetes, using the latest technology, stated the TGen press release.

According to the TGen website www.tgen.org, TGen is a Phoenix based nonprofit organization dedicated to conducting research with life change results.

The primary goal for the diabetes, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases division of TGen is to improve prevention and treatment strategies for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders including obesity, metabolic syndrome, and endocrine diseases.

The Navajo Nation could benefit from TGen's diabetic research because, according to Ray Baldwin Louis, public information officer for the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project, there are more than 24,000 Navajos with Type 2 diabetes.

That is 11.2 percent of the Navajo Nation's population.

"The scary thing is that the age is coming down to the youth," said Louis, added that a child as young as five had Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is usually found in adults over 50 and Type 1 diabetes is typically found in youth, Louis said.

The current number of Navajo people with Type 2 diabetes has risen over the past decade. In 1998, when the Special Diabetes Project was formed, 14,000 people had Type 2 diabetes.

That number grew by the thousands in 2005 when 22,000 people were diagnosed.

"It's all due to lifestyle," Louis said.

The Navajo Nation developed the Special Diabetes Project with eight locations - Chinle, Dilkon, Shiprock, Fort Defiance, Kayenta, Tuba City, Crownpoint and Gallup.

The project's mission statement is "to provide prevention/intervention services by promoting healthy lifestyle changes to reduce and prevent diabetes."

Louis said the project encourages outdoor activities from walking and running to hiking and horseback riding.

"We try to encourage people to lower their weight and increase physical activity," he said.

The Waylon Fund will hopefully get much needed attention on the Navajo Nation because Waylon Jennings is still a popular country music icon.

Tim Murphy, lead guitarist and singer for country band The Outlaws, is considered the Navajo Waylon Jennings.

"A lot of people call me Navajo Waylon," he said.

According to his daughter Andi Murphy, "He's the best Jennings voice I know, and not just because he's my daddy. But people go crazy when he plays Waylon. We all have Waylon Jennings stickers on our vehicles. That's how much we love him."

Murphy said that he has been a fan of Waylon Jennings since he was "knee high," first being exposed to Jennings' music through his father and grandfather.

He said the first time he performed a Waylon Jennings song was in 1998 with a band known as Common People. The song he sang was "Are you Sure Hank Done it This way."

Murphy formed the The Outlaws in 2000. He said he performs at least 20 Waylon Jennings songs during a set.

He said he'll usually start off the set with older songs from Johnny Cash until the crowd starts shouting for them to play Waylon.

Murphy's favorite songs to play are "Way More Blues," "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," and "Lonesome On'ry and Mean."

"I think it's still the real country music. That is a real country music beat," Murphy said about Waylon Jennings' music.

Murphy said that Waylon Jennings is still a favorite among the Navajo people because the crowds go wild over his songs.

Information: www.thewaylonfund.org and www.tgen.org.