Up Close Interview With Indy Lights Race Car Driver/T1 Diabetic Charlie KimballMonday, May 24, 2010
Attention Race Fans: Register To Become A Member of DiabetesCare.net and Possibly Win a Charlie Kimball Autographed Race Card!
Indy Lights Series championship contending driver/type 1 diabetic Charlie Kimball is racing this July 4th weekend in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix and to celebrate DiabetesCare.net is giving away Charlie Kimball autographed race cards to 25 randomly selected visitors who sign-up to become NEW members of our website from July 2-5, 2010. Register for free now and enter the word "Charlie" in the "Promo Code" box during the registration process. Winners will be notified by mail no later than July 31.
Update - Sunday, July 4, 5:30 p.m. ET: Kimball, who was second in the Firestone Indy Lights series standings entering the race Watkins Glen race on July 4, finished 11th. Unfortunately, the No. 26 Levemir FlexPen car for AFS Racing Andretti Autosport experienced a broken fuel relay switch on the pace laps. It was replaced and he joined the race on Lap 4. With his unfortunate 4th of July run, Kimball moves to 5th in the standings. He will next compete in the "Streets of Toronto" race on July 18. Good luck, Charlie, we`re pulling for you!
Up Close With Indy Lights Race Car Driver/T1 Diabetic Charlie Kimball
By Mike Boyle
Twenty-five year-old Indy Lights Series race car driver Charlie Kimball was just minding his own business during the 2007 race season while racing in Europe when he discovered he had diabetes. Oh, he has his good days and his bad days now, but Kimball has not allowed that diagnosis to slow him down, or even end his career. As a matter of fact, his biggest message to those struggling with a diabetes diagnosis "is to understand that having diabetes doesn`t mean you have to slow down. I`m living proof that you can do almost anything that you want to; even be a race car driver."
Kimball spoke with DiabetesCare.net back in May about getting the racing bug at a young age, his diabetes diagnosis and how he copes, and what his bigger plans are in the world of racing.
How was your love of motorsports cultivated?
I grew up watching it. I grew up in England, even though I`m a California kid; both of my parents are from Southern California. My dad is a mechanical engineer and he worked in motorsports. He helped to design the Chaparral 2K and the Wildcat back in the early `80s. He was working for McLaren in Formula 1 racing when I was born in England.
At Christmas, when I was eight-years-old, my dad gave me an old go-cart that he had when he was a kid. He used to drive it around his family`s ranch; his family was in farming for generations. After my dad went to college, his younger brother trashed it, so when my dad gave it to me we rebuilt it together. As part of that process, we went down to the go-cart shop in Los Angeles to pick out a seat. While in the store, I saw my first racing go-cart and instantly wanted it. It took me six or eight months to convince my parents to let me buy it and that it was not just a passing fancy.
When I turned 16, my parents gave me a two-day test in a Formula 4 race car, the most junior of the open-wheeled race cars. It was the most fun I`d had in my life. My dad, kiddingly, calls it "the beginning of the end." I just called it the beginning of the rest of my life.
Talk about the physical training and the nutritional program that you have to follow to keep in shape to be a world-class race car driver…
I spend a lot of time working with a trainer; I train with Jim Leo at PitFit Training in Indianapolis. He also trains Scott Dixon, Will Power, J.R. Hildebrand and Wade Cunningham. A lot of the drivers that I compete against, we also train together. And it`s great because when you put competitive drivers in an environment like a gym, it pushes everybody a little bit harder.
When I`m in Indianapolis I spend about two-three hours in the gym each day, and then I work with my nutritionist - who is in my endocrinologist`s office - as far as developing a nutrition map for days in the gym, days when I`m traveling and then days when I`m in the race car.
Take us through your being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2007…
I got out of my race car after an hour practice while in the Czech Republic prepping for a race and I remember feeling exhausted and making a mental note to hit the gym more. However, as the weekend progressed I felt dehydrated, cold, and my lips were chapped. I didn`t realize it at the time, but they were classic signs of high blood sugar.
As it turned out, I returned home a few days later and I had an appointment with my doctor anyway for another issue, a rash I had developed. The doctor gave me some cream for it and then while writing some notes asked me if there was anything else going on with my health that I would like to ask him about. Well, I almost didn`t say anything, but I decided to mention to him that I had been a little thirsty lately. He stopped writing and his head popped up and he asked me, "How thirsty is a little thirsty?" I told him I`d been consuming 5-7 bottles of water overnight. I told him I was going to the bathroom all the time. My first question to him was, "Is there enough salt in my diet, or maybe too much?" He then asked me if I had lost any weight. So I jumped on the scale and he asked me what I thought I should weigh. I was thinking about 160-165 pounds because I was weighed only a week before. Well, when I hopped off the scale the doctor told me I had lost 25 pounds. My body fat percentage went from about 10 or 11 down to six…I was just skin and bones unhealthy. That was one of the reasons I was so cold; my body had lost a lot of insulation.
The doctor drew some blood and then sent me over to the diabetes office at the endocrinology center in England, where I was living at the time and racing. It was the Oxford Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Churchill Hospital of Oxford where I was diagnosed. The doctors immediately ordered me on insulin and the nurse practitioner came into the room and handed me an insulin pen. I feel like a jerk now saying it, but at the time I was dealing with a lot. I said to the nurse, "I don`t need a pen, I need insulin, right? Obviously, she explained that this is how insulin will be injected for me. She showed me how to use it and had me practice on an orange. She then told me that I would be doing this for the rest of my life and that I needed to start doing this now, so I injected insulin for the first time and have been using it since.
How have you learned to manage your diabetes with the traveling and hectic schedule you keep?
The greatest thing is that I`ve got some really good consultants. My doctor, diabetes educator and nutritionist are always accessible by email, phone and appointment. They have given me tools to help me modify my treatment regime based on my schedule. I have different programs and different treatment protocols depending on what I am doing that day or that week. If I`m sitting in the office answering emails and phone calls all day, it`s different than if I am in the gym, and that`s different than when I`m in the race car. It`s even different when I`m on an oval track versus a street or road course because they affect me differently physically. It`s taken a little trial and error and being pro-active, but a system is in place. I have been able to bring the same discipline I use on the race track to my diabetes care and that has helped me to excel.
What went through your mind when you were diagnosed with diabetes? Did you know anything about the disease?
When I was told I had diabetes, I said to the doctor, "OK, cool…There`s a pill for that, right? [Laughs]. Having no family history of diabetes, and further proving my ignorance, my next question was, "Don`t older people get that?" So, my education began from the moment my doctor gave me my diagnosis. I should add that I`ve never stopped learning and I hopefully never will because then I`ll fall behind.
After it all sunk in, my next thought was, "What does this mean for me as a person, and as a race car driver?" At least I understood what was making me feel the way I did to that point and it could also be tied to my performance on the race track that year (which to that point was not good). My doctor thinks I was experiencing high blood sugar for several months before my diagnosis.
I will tell you that I was very relieved to hear my doctor tell me that I would still be able to get behind the wheel of a professional race car after getting my diabetes diagnosis. I remember he said, "There are amazing people doing incredible things - athletes, actors, TV stars – that also have diabetes. I don`t see why you driving a race car should be any different." He was also straight and told me that it wouldn`t be easy and that I would have to work hard at managing my diabetes and overcome it, thanks in part to the technology that is available today with monitors, test strips, etc.
Do you have any advice for someone reading this interview that may have recently diagnosed with diabetes?
The biggest thing people need to understand is that having diabetes doesn`t mean you have to slow down. I`m living proof that you can do almost anything that you want to; even be a race car driver. I have my good days and my bad days, but overall the opportunities to excel with diabetes today - compared to 10-20 years ago - are a lot more available; you can do a lot more with your life with diabetes than you`ve ever been able to do before. I`m a big proponent of trying to figure out how to make diabetes work in your life rather than changing your life because of diabetes.
Talk about your relationship with Novo Nordisk and some of the things you are doing to raise awareness about diabetes…
The partnership I have with Novo Nordisk is fantastic. It was actually my doctor, Dr. Anne Peters from USC Medical Center, who opened the door for my relationship with the company.
A lot of the partnership takes place at the race track as far as branding goes. This year`s car is the Novo Nordisk-sponsored No. 26 Levemir FlexPen car. I even have the FlexPen logo with the needle on the forehead of my helmet. I`m showing people that I inject insulin. I`m not ashamed or embarrassed by it. In fact, I am big fan of good healthcare.
However, a large part of the relationship with Novo Nordisk happens away from the race track. I was recently at the Long Beach American Diabetes Association Expo with a show car and signing autographs and telling people my story and encouraging them, especially if their diabetes management has slipped a little bit.
So, working with Novo Nordisk allows me to reach people more people. I truly believe in their products, not only because I use them every day to stay healthy, but I also believe in their motto of wanting to be a true healthcare company.
As we do this interview it is one week before your Firestone Indy Light Series race on May 28 ahead of the Indy 500 weekend in Indianapolis and you are No. 2 in the points after the third race of the season last month in Long Beach. It`s obvious you are concentrating on this year`s Indy Light Series championship as part of the AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport team, but what is down the line for you? Do you have an interest in moving on to IndyCar or the Formula 1 series down the road?
As a race car driver you are always planning ten steps ahead. As someone once said about me, I like to be playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. So, I`m definitely looking to the next race at Indianapolis; we`ve had really great test sessions so far.
Racing is something special at Indianapolis; even if it`s in an Indy Lights car. Winning the Freedom 100 would make my mark. From there I want to continue to fight for the championship. We haven`t finished outside of the top 5 so far this year as a team. In working with a guy like Michael Andretti with his history has been invaluable this season. He`s always there with a quiet word of advice, or just a calming glance at the race track.
After this year I`m hoping to move up to the Izod IndyCar series; the premiere race series here in the U.S. I want to be the first driver with diabetes to be on the grid for the Indianapolis 500 and then be the first driver with diabetes to win the Indianapolis 500. That`s where I`m going as a race car driver.
Editor`s note: At the end of our interview, Charlie wanted us to tell DiabetesCare.net visitors that he and Novo Nordisk are offering his fans the opportunity to win a trip for two to meet Charlie at his last race this season in Miami in early October. Get all the details here. No purchase is necessary.
Follow Charlie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/racewithinsulin, on his blog, www.CharlieKimball.blogspot.com, on YouTube, at www.youtube.com/charliekimball, and via the Charlie Kimball Fan Club on Facebook or his personal website: www.charliekimball.com.
Originally posted May 24, 2010.