I must confess that I don’t know a thing about racecar driving. That is, I didn’t until I interviewed racecar driver and type one diabetic Charlie Kimball.
At the beginning of our conversation, Kimball, INDYCAR Series driver of the No. 83 NovoLog® FlexPen® Honda, explained his perspective on diabetes by saying how one should “treat it like an injury…never be afraid to talk about it.” From there, we both were able to share our stories with each other and I learned about the notable innovations he and his team have made in the world of racing.
Kimball’s passion for racing developed at the age of nine when he started racing go-karts. Once he received his driver’s license, he got into entry level racing and worked his way up the ladder. By the time he graduated high school, Kimball decided he “either wanted to design racecars” or “drive them for a career.” Kimball got the opportunity to go to Europe to develop his career as a racecar driver. While overseas, Kimball was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of 22.
In 2007, a simple visit to the doctor turned into something of much greater magnitude when Kimball learned he lost 25 pounds in a matter of five days. “As an athlete, I didn’t have 25 pounds to lose,” Kimball explained. “Because my blood glucose was so high, I didn’t even realize that I lost that weight.”
After some more tests were conducted, Kimball discovered that he was a type one diabetic. He admits that he had “a very limited knowledge of what diabetes was…what it meant for me as a person, what it meant for me as an athlete…more importantly, what it meant for my career as a racing driver.” However, once he visited the Diabetes Specialty Center in Oxford, his fears were alleviated when the doctor told him “there are incredible people doing amazing things all over the world with diabetes. You may have to make some adjustments, but it shouldn’t get in the way of what you want to do in life.”
At this point, Kimball had to figure out how he could be “competitive at the level [he] wanted to” as a newly diagnosed diabetic. In 2009, he moved back to the United States to focus on managing both his diabetes and his racing.
Kimball worked with his doctor and team to develop solutions that allow him to manage diabetes on- and off-the-track. He describes that much of his diabetes management occurs before he steps into the racecar. Kimball says that “on race day, just like any day, I regularly check my blood sugar.” He added that preparing “means that when I get into the racecar, if things go to plan, I don’t have to think about or worry about my diabetes management.” Furthermore, diabetes-related concerns are alleviated due to the interior of Kimball’s racecar that makes it unique compared to other cars. The cockpit has monitoring technology so Kimball can keep track of blood sugar during a race, as well as lap time and oil pressure. The combination of careful management and technological advancements make the racing experience optimal for Kimball.
These amazing additions in Kimball’s car add to the remarkable accomplishments he has made in his career. When asked about memorable moments in his career so far, Kimball talks about how “being able to break down the barrier and be the first licensed driver with diabetes to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and to make that history was incredible”. He hopes to “make a positive impact in the diabetes community” and how “having a partner like Novo Nordisk to tell that story is invaluable. If you’ll pardon the pun here, being on my own, I don’t have the horsepower to get as big a reach as I would like. With their help, I’ve been able to reach a bigger audience and make a bigger impact.” Kimball says that as a diabetes ambassador, “it’s important to remind people living with diabetes that with the right tools, you don’t have to let diabetes slow you down.”
As a result of Kimball’s hard work and dedication, he made history this past August by being the first diabetic racecar driver to win an IndyCar race. Kimball says that this great accomplishment “was additional validation to me that you can truly live your dream with diabetes.”
When asked if he had any advice to share with diabetic individuals trying to turn their dreams into a reality, Kimball says “if you have a goal and an incentive for good management, then it’s much easier to integrate your management into everyday life because you’re motivated to do it well so you can be successful at your chosen endeavor.” With this in mind, diabetic individuals can make any dream come true, whether it is big or small.
Kimball shares his ventures with the diabetic community via Twitter (@racewithinsulin) and his personal website, www.charliekimball.com. These outlets keep him connected to the diabetic community that he feels fortunate “to be a part of…it’s one of the strongest and best communities in the world.”
Kimball is an example of an individual who has made an impact in the diabetic community by successfully pursuing his dreams without diabetes slowing him down. My conversation with him was truly inspiring, and I can’t wait to see him accomplish more as his career progresses.
*Photo by LAT USA