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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