Diabetes can't slow Indy racer Kimball

  • This photo made March 27, 2010, shows Indy Lights driver Charlie Kimball getting ready to practice for the Firestone Indy Lights auto race in St. Petersburg, Fla. Kimball is young, fit, strong and in the prime of his life. And he has diabetes. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)


The tube is there in Charlie Kimball's race car, the tube that is literally his lifeline, the one that can fill at a moment's notice with orange juice, for Kimball to gulp, to raise his blood sugar, so that he keeps alert and doesn't crash his Indy Lights car at 200 miles an hour.

Yes, there is living with diabetes and then there is racing with diabetes and Kimball is living, breathing, healthy proof one can do both. Diabetic athletes have competed and have competed well, Kimball reciting the names of Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Jr., NFL quarterback Jake Cutler and former NBA star Dominique Wilkins as high-profile examples.

"What makes my situation different," said Kimball, who will race on Sunday in the Indy Light event at Infineon Raceway, "is that I can't call a timeout for a snack. I can't ask everyone to slow down while I adjust my blood sugar."

Kimball can't drive by pit row, stick out his arm and let a crew member inject him with insulin. And a momentary loss of focus — which may result in a dropped football, a missed dunk or slogging through the water for the three previously named athletes — holds the potential for catastrophic injuries in a sport that already pushes that envelope.

"When people first hear that I have diabetes," said Kimball, 25, the only licensed IRL driver with the disease, "they say, &‘Oh, I am sorry to hear that.' I reply: &‘No, I am not. I'm a better athlete as the result of diabetes. I am more aware that I ever have been of training, of fitness, of taking care of myself. It forced me to stop and look at myself. My endocrinologist has this great phrase: &‘The key to a successful life is a chronic condition.'"

Kimball began living that phrase in 2007. He was in Czech Republic, practicing at a track, when he emerged from his open-wheel vehicle spent, like he just ran a marathon straight uphill.

"I was exhausted and told myself I got to get the gym more often" Kimball said. "I went back to my home at the time in England and went to my doctor to clear up a rash. After he gave me some ointment for it, he asked if I had any health problems. I said ... no ... not really. He asked what.

"I told him I had been a little thirsty lately. I told him I was drinking six to seven bottles of water during the night and going to the bathroom a lot. I told my doctor maybe I had too much salt in my diet."

Kimball's blood sugar was tested. The meter read 550. Normal blood sugar readings fall with 80-120. In the Czech Republic his weight was 160 pounds. By the time he returned to Britain, it was 135.

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