Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Diabetes is "just along for the ride."

Living with Diabetes can be crazy enough.

But try being a racecar driver living with diabetes, and you've got the makings of what should be dubbed a D-Life in the Fast Lane.

That's the world Charlie Kimball lives in, but he's behind the steering wheel on this one. The 25-year old, European-born professional racecar driver was diagnosed in 2007 with Type 1. He currently holds the distinction of being the only licensed driver with diabetes in the history of the Indy Racing League, which is pretty much something in the racing world.

Beginning with go-kart racing at age 9, Charlie sidestepped his admission into Stanford to follow a dream of professional racecar driving. He started racing in Europe in 2002 and built up an impressive racing resume, before his Type 1 diagnosis derailed his racing program in the middle of the 2007 season. But he didn't let that stop him, and he returned in 2008 to compete in some of the most competitive racing categories in the world and proving that life with diabetes won't restrict him from traveling at more than 150 miles an hour or prevent him from reaching his dream.

Charlie has said publicly that he returned to raising not only to reach his own personal dreams, but to also help raise awareness for Type 1 and diabetes in general. He's a spokesman for DexCom and equipment provider American Diabetes Wholesale, and has partnered with Novo Nordisk to help raise awareness.

As it's Indy 500 time here in the Crossroads of America, Kimball came to the city earlier this week and stopped off at Methodist Hospital where he participated in a lunchtime event dubbed Racing With Insulin (a play off his Twitter account (@racewithinsulin) and his blog http://www.charliekimball.blogspot.com/).

I was one of the first to arrive, and even though I wasn't an employee they let me stick around and chat briefly with Methodist staffers and those with Novo and the American Diabetes Association. When Charlie arrived, he wasn't wearing his track suit but disappeared to go put it on. He emerged a few minutes later, sporting the outfit proclaiming his Novo partnership and his own use of Levemir Flex pens. His helmet had a cool little Novo FlexPen graphic, and he had pictures showing his car that also displays the company name.

He's on Multiple Daily Injections and doesn't pump because it's easier at this point to toss a couple pens or syringes in his bag while traveling worldwide for racing. He does use a Continuous Glucose Monitor, though - actually, his CGM is velcroed to his steering wheel right under the car data input so he can see it at all times. "It's just another part of the dashboard I have to watch," he says, admitting that his Endo came up with the idea. He also has packs of orange juice hooked up into his helmet so he can respond quickly to a dropping BG by sipping through a straw. However, he hasn't had to use it yet.

"It's between 35 minutes and one hour. It's really physical. It's really hot; there is a lot of exertion and the mental focus needed to control the car at nearly 200 miles per hour burns blood sugar off, so I typically try to get in the car a little higher than I would on a normal day and I will get out after it is burned off," he said, noting that he tries to keep his levels at 180-200 at the start of a race, and that they usually drop to 100-130 by the end. If it came down to using the orange juice through a straw tool and he couldn't boost his BG in time, Kimball says he wouldn't hesitate to park his car.

He was quite interested in hearing about some of my own experiences in Living With Diabetes for 26 years, and said he was so impressed with any of us "longtime" Type 1s since he was only a newbie himself. He mentioned that he hears from many parents of Kids With Diabetes worldwide who point to him as a hero. Some say their child has just started getting into go-carts, and they look to his experiences as guidance. That's an honor and what inspired him to push the D-Awareness, he said, but he said the true inspiration comes from us longtime People With Diabetes.

We exchanged stories about others who serve as vocal celebrity voices on the topic - Brett Michaels, Gary Hall, Will Cross, Crystal B, Kris Freeman, Nick Jonas, Nicole Johnson, and even a local college girl from Indiana who is a current Indianapolis 500 Princess despite her childhood-diagnosed Type 1. So many people to look up to, and we agreed that we're all sharing in the role of being advocates to some degree.

Despite living in Indianapolis now for six years, I'm not much of a racing fan... But I didn't disclose that, and promised that I'd tune in this week to watch Charlie race in the Firestone Freedom 100 - the biggest 40-lap race on the Indy Lights Series that's held on the Friday before the Indy 500 and offers a glimpse of what the Indy Racing League and probably the Indy 500 will look like. This is his second year in a row racing at Indy, and now he's in Race 4 set to start Friday at 12:30 p.m. (EST) (shown live at 12:15 ET on VersusTV, as part of the Carb Day coverage Roll on Indy) Charlie notes also for follows who might be diabetic but not racing fans: "Carb Day" means Carburetor Day, not Carbohydrate!

Anyhow, as the hour progressed we posed for some pictures and he autographed a cool photo souvenir before we parted ways. I headed inside to walk back to my car, but decided to hang around and see what trouble I could find. Wandering the hospital, I observed a group of four hospital staffers trying to figure out what the race-themed event was outside in the courtyeard. One lady in blue scrubs, with a big red RN badge, asked if there was any "diabetic food" at the event outside. Another one of them repled, "No. It's just health, regular-person food that we can eat for lunch, too." One of the men started moving toward the cafeteria, telling his colleagues proudly that he wasn't going for that "healthy food," but instead was heading to White Castle. I smiled at all of this, as this was just very funny to me, and continue wandering the hospital.

Of course, my own eavesdropping on the medical community in its own little building took too long and I felt myself getting Low, pretty quickly. A 42 mh/dL laughed at me and I made my way to the cafeteria for a cookie and banana, before.heading to the parking garage. Eventually, I got my BG back into the 80s before getting behind my own steering wheel for the drive back to work.

Overall, this was a great experience and it was an honor to meet Charlie Kimball, especially in the same week he's going to competing at the Indy Motor Speedway. Now, all I have to do is get a CGM and velcro it to my steering wheel and hook up a cool OJ-straw device in my SUV... Then I'll be all set! But regardless of my own D-Driving, I'm confident that Charlie is set and am looking forward to his success in this year's race and his overall career!

He wants to be the first driver with diabetes on the grid at the Indy 500, Kimball says, and he's confident that it's a question of When, Not If. Then, he wants to win that race. But as far as as his D-Life goes, his goal is to prove that he's in the driver'se seat and diabetes "is just along for the ride."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you checked out "Team Type 1" the professional cycling team comprised of Type 1 diabetics? Love them! Great blog.