Diabetes threatens racecar driver's career

October 3, 2010 Just as his career was taking off, he was told he may have to give it up because of his disability.

Despite some of the dangerous obstacles of being a racecar driver with Type 1 diabetes, Charlie Kimball has found a way to control it while driving at speeds of more than 150 miles an hour.

At the age of 25, Kimball is the only licensed racer with Type 1 diabetes in the history of the Indy Racing League.

"I race in the Firestone Indy Lights Championship which is the next step below the Indy car series and the Indianapolis 500," said Kimball.

His love for racing started when he was a kid.

"I started go racing when I was nine, got into cars at the age of 16, moved to Europe after high school to race over there for four years and then now I'm back racing here in the U.S.," said Kimball.

In 2007, his life changed.

"I went to the doctor with a skin rash, and he asked me if there was anything else going on in my health," Kimball said. "We talked about it, turns out I lost 25 pounds in just one week. He ran some tests and said, 'I think you have Type 1 diabetes."

Worried that his career was over, Kimball had to figure out how to manage his diabetes while driving.

"Unlike other drivers [whose] preparation may start an hour or two before the race, the moment I get up in the morning I'm preparing," said Kimball. "I'm checking my blood sugar, I'm injecting the insulin, watching what I eat, my nutrition, my hydration all the way through. So that the last thing I do before I get in the race car is check my blood sugar."

While driving, Kimball said he thinks about winning but has a few things set up in his car.

"I've got a continuous monitor that I Velcro to the steering wheel so that I can keep an eye on my blood sugar," said Kimball. "If my blood sugar gets low, I've got a drinks tube here in my helmet that plugs into a bottle of orange juice, that way I can drink the blood sugar in the orange juice, and blood sugar comes up and I don't have to stop."

"He's a very kind of aggressive driver, you know, he's very smart," said Blair Perschbacher, a member of Kimball's pit crew. "I don't think about his diabetes, like, we don't really know if effects him.

"I think Charlie has a really good future. I mean, he's done really well. We haven't quite won a race yet, but we've been there," Perschbacher said.

"My goal is to be the first driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 with diabetes," Kimball said. "Then I want to be the first driver with diabetes to win the Indianapolis 500."

Kimball is partnered with Novo Nordisk, a world leader in diabetes care.


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