Indy Lights driver Kimball not slowed by diabetes

Charlie Kimball stands alone, a trailblazer in the world of
IndyCar racing.

He’s fighting a disease.

And he wants everyone to know about it.

Kimball – strong, lean and fit, the proverbial picture of health
– was diagnosed 2 1/2 years ago with Type 1 diabetes, meaning he
doesn’t produce enough insulin, the hormone that helps the body
convert sugar and starch into energy.

It could have brought a quick end to his career as a race car
driver.

Instead, he’s starting to flourish.

With a glucose monitor strapped to his steering wheel, orange
juice instead of water constantly available to be sipped through a
tube attached to his helmet while racing and with the brand of
insulin he uses sponsoring the car he drives, Kimball is believed
to be the only diabetic ever to be licensed by the Indy Racing
League.

He’s in the Indy Lights series this year, one step below IRL’s
big leagues, and is scheduled to race this weekend in Birmingham,
Ala.

“Being the first driver with diabetes, I’m learning as much as
teaching,” Kimball said. “I’m trying to set the precedent.”

It’s not like he has a choice.

Diagnosed Oct. 16, 2007, it didn’t take long for Kimball to
wonder if he would be able to keep driving. Any lapse in a
blood-sugar level or dramatic dip in energy behind the wheel of a
car topping out around 150 mph could obviously lead to major
problems for Kimball and anyone around him on the track.

Doctors quickly assured Kimball it could be managed. Sure
enough, within six weeks, he was back in a car.

“Charlie is a realist. He knew if they couldn’t figure out how
to do it, he wouldn’t be able to do it,” said Dr. Anne Peters, a
nationally known expert in studying and treating diabetes and
someone who has worked with many diabetic athletes, including
Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Jr. “He’s a wonderful young man in his
early 20s and he suddenly gets this lifelong chronic disease and
has to get multiple shots a day. He wanted to be able to do it –
but he wanted to be sure he could do it. There wasn’t a cockiness
to him. There was realism.”

Today, there’s no doubt, either.

Kimball had a pair of top-five finishes last year in the Indy
Lights series, and opened his 2010 season with a fourth-place
finish two weekends ago in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“He monitors it very well and I think it’s a great thing, what
he’s doing,” said Michael Andretti, Kimball’s team owner. “To
show this problem that he has, that he’s making it not interfere
with his life, I think it’s great how he’s proving that you can
live a normal life. But I can tell you, he works very hard at it.
He’s on top of it. I’m not worried about that.”

Drivers always seem to work their sponsors into conversations,
sometimes getting mocked for dropping the names of the various
corporations that provide them with financial support.

When Kimball talks about Novo Nordisk, it seems different. The
company, which specializes in diabetes care, makes the insulin he
uses to live, is the primary sponsor of his car, race suit and
helmet, and employs him to make personal appearances during the
year.

Andretti said he applauded Kimball’s decision to be so public
about having diabetes.

“It’s great. I think it’s showing that there is progress being
made in that area,” Andretti said. “And he’s living proof of
it.”

Kimball knows he defies many commonly held myths about
diabetes.

About 1 in 13 Americans have the disease, and of those, about 30
percent are believed to be undiagnosed. He’s not obese, not a
minority, doesn’t fit the description of those who are thought to
be more at risk of developing diabetes.

That’s why he wants to be so open about it. Diabetes, he says,
can happen to anyone, at any time.

“He takes care of it unbelievably well,” Peters said. “He’s a
great study in how to manage diabetes. He’s a joy to work with and
I love that he’s openly promoting it, saying ‘Let’s take this
difficult thing I was handed and make it something really
positive.’ I love how he’s dealt with it. He should be an
inspiration.”

Kimball wouldn’t go that far.

At race stops, he visits hospitals and talks to kids who have
diabetes. At tracks, he will tell his story over and over and over,
for anyone who asks.

And he has a series of corny one-liners he breaks out when
telling his tale – including his favorite, that diabetes won’t slow
him down.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Kimball said. “I have it.
I’m a public figure as a professional racing driver. And doing what
I love, trying to help people while I do that, that’s the dream
come true. I can’t ask for anything more than chasing my dream and
having the opportunity to help people.”

On the Web:

Charlie Kimball Racing: http://www.charliekimball.com

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