Never Slowing Down: Race Car Driver Charlie Kimball

IndyCar race car driver Charlie Kimball reaches speeds of 220 mph, wears fire-resistant shoes, and pricks his finger 6-8 times a day. Diagnosed at age 22 with type 1, Charlie is paving the way for people with diabetes as the first licensed driver with diabetes in IndyCar history.
  • Never Slowing Down

    Charlie Kimball lives life in the fast lane. As the driver of the No. 83 car for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Kimball took 12th place at the Indianapolis 500 in 2011. Although moving up into the big leagues means Charlie's schedule is a bit crazier, he still makes diabetes a priority.

    The Diabetic Living team caught up with Charlie at the Iowa Speedway in Newton the day before the Iowa Corn Indy 250.

  • How do you stay motivated to take care of your diabetes?

    "Still being able to race professionally is important to me," Charlie says. "It [diabetes] is a fight, day in and day out, but if you have nothing to show except a healthy person, then you've won."

  • Testing blood sugar on the go.

    On race days, Charlie wears a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to more tightly control his blood glucose levels, but he still tests regularly to calibrate his CGM to ensure it is working properly.

  • What works best for you to manage diabetes on and off the track?

    "I write everything down. My blood sugar, what I eat, exercise, everything," Charlie says. "It helps my doctor know exactly what's going on so we can make changes. Managing diabetes is like training for a race: You have to learn from mistakes, learn from successes, and learn how to piece it all together."

  • Novo Nordisk & Charlie create a partnership for diabetes research and support.

    For Charlie, having a sponsor such as Novo Nordisk is a great partnership. "Novo's culture as a company is, if they get put out of a job because they found a cure, then no big deal, they did their job right. They truly care," Charlie says as he jets around the track on his personal scooter.

  • One more test before hitting the race track.

    Before Charlie jumps in his car to begin a race, he tests his blood glucose one last time to make sure the number is in the same range as his CGM. His customized car is outfitted with a CGM that attaches to his steering wheel for easy access and visibility. "It's the last thing I do before getting on the track," Charlie says.

  • Charlie's team takes care of his car and his health needs.

    Charlie and his team watch for signs that his blood sugar might be too high or too low on the track, just like they watch for signs that the car might need a pit stop.

    "Just like I have my health care team, I have my pit team," Charlie says. "They keep a meter down there with them in case I want to test again before a race or right after, and my front-tire changer knows how to give me a shot in case my blood sugar does get too high during a race."

    Although he has never run into this problem, Charlie says the insulin pen is equipped with a special needle so the tire changer can administer the shot right through his fire-resistant suit.

  • His state-of-the-art helmet helps ensure his blood sugar doesn't get too low.

    In case of his blood sugar going too low, Charlie's helmet is specially equipped with a hydration system that has two straws and two bottles with a switch to flip when a carbohydrate-containing concoction is needed rather than plain water. While he and the team call it his sugar-water, it's really a mix of more things.

    "My doctor wanted it to have little more nutritional oomph in it than a typical sports drink. It's kind of a combination of a sports drink, water, sugar, and protein. As soon as I drink it, my [blood] sugar starts coming back up -- usually within three to four laps," Charlie says.

  • Charlie has target goals on and off the track.

    Charlie has goals for his diabetes and racing, but he says it's a concept more than a specific target. "I'd like to get my A1C down to 6.5 or lower and keep it there, but it's always a learning process for both racing and managing my diabetes."

  • Making a difference in the diabetes community.

    Advocacy plays a huge role in Charlie's life. "It's easy to make racing your whole life, and if you do, then you have no balance. Being able to race and then also advocate makes it that much better. Couple it back with racing, and it's a dream come true," Charlie says. "The coolest thing about the diabetes community is that you are now part of this tight-knit community that inspires, shares, and helps one another. If you can help someone with their diabetes, then you help them with their whole life."

  • Can you share any advice for someone who is newly diagnosed?

    "My best tip for someone newly diagnosed: It gets easier and it gets better. And now you are part of a great community that is there for you," Charlie says. "Figure out how to fit diabetes into your life instead of making your life revolve around diabetes. If you can make it work with what you want to do, you will be much more successful in managing your diabetes."

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