Summary: Charlie Kimball is an IndyCar racer who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 22. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about racing and diabetes. Read about his diagnosis, what he does when he goes low during a race, and what it’s like to be an Indy driver with diabetes.
My Interview with Charlie Kimball
D-Kid: How were you diagnosed?
CK: While racing in Europe in 2007, I went to the doctor for a routine exam for an unrelated skin rash. During the examination, I mentioned I had been very dehydrated, drinking 7 to 8 bottles of water every night. The doctor put me on the scale, and it turns out I had lost 25 pounds in the week leading up to the doctor’s visit. After a few tests, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At first I was overwhelmed as I had little understanding of the disease. I decided to put my racing career on hold. After working closely with my doctor to find a treatment plan that kept my diabetes under control on and off the track, I was back in my race car 6 weeks later and even earned a podium finish. Fast forward to late 2010, after a few years in a development series, Novo Nordisk announced that they were sponsoring me as a new entry in the 2011 IZOD INDYCAR® Series, now called the Verizon IndyCar Series. This made me the first licensed driver with type 1 diabetes in the history of IndyCar. Through my partnership with Novo Nordisk, I’m fortunate to travel to events such as CWD Friends For Live to encourage others to manage their diabetes while also pursuing their goals.
D-Kid: What is a day in your life with diabetes like?
CK: Having type 1 diabetes is a full time, 24/7 job. From the moment I wake up, I am aware that I need to make adjustments throughout my day to make sure I am healthy and safe. At the same time, today there are so many great tools and resources available to help me live a normal life—even if it’s a life at 200 miles per hour!
D-Kid: Do you like using a continuous glucose monitor?
CK: The continuous glucose monitor is a great tool for my needs, particularly when I’m in the race car to make sure my body stays on track. I wear a sensor on my body that transmits to a receiver plugged into the car’s data system, so right there on my steering wheel I have speed, lap time, oil pressure, blood sugar and water temperature – my car and body data right there together.
D-Kid: What is being an IndyCar driver like with diabetes?
CK: I honestly think I’m a better athlete because of diabetes rather than despite it because I’m more conscientious about my nutrition, my physical training and my health. I do a better job at managing my health than I ever have before.
D-Kid: How do you keep from going low or high during a race?
CK: On race day, my diabetes management begins first thing in the morning. From the second I get up, I’m checking my blood sugar, and then I take Tresiba, a once-daily, long-acting basal insulin that is approved for blood sugar control in adults and children one-year and older with diabetes. Tresiba has a long duration of action that allows people to take it once a day at any time. This is perfect for my racing travel schedule and active lifestyle.
I make sure to manage my food intake all day to stay healthy, which includes monitoring my carbohydrates, proteins, fats and hydration. The last thing I do before I get behind the wheel is check my blood sugar. If all goes as planned, when I’m in the car, all I have to do is focus on driving.
To be on the safe side, I have worked with my team on precautionary measures for managing my diabetes while driving to ensure that I am safe every lap of the race. My pit crew is trained to know what to look out for, but I also monitor my blood sugar continuously through the CGM. I have a specialized helmet system with two drink tubes, one for orange juice if my blood sugar gets too low and one for water to keep me hydrated. I can do all of this without even taking my hands off the steering wheel – which is critical because there are no time-outs in racing. The inside front tire changer on my pit crew has also been trained to give me an insulin injection through my racing suit, if needed.
About Charlie Kimball
(From Novo Nordisk:)
Charlie Kimball was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 22 when he was already established in his professional motorsports career. Since his diagnosis 10 years ago, he has continued to race at higher levels while working to increase diabetes awareness and education.
Charlie currently races in the Verizon IndyCar Series, recently competing in his seventh Indianapolis 500. He wears a wireless blood glucose monitor during races which can be monitored by the pit crew, and carries sugar water in case his levels dip. Born in England and raised in California, he and his wife Kathleen currently live in Indianapolis.