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Charlie Kimball with his daughter
Photo: Chris Bucher

IndyCar Series driver Charlie Kimball was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on October 16, 2007 at the age of 22.  Getting back on- track with racing and diabetes has been a priority.  Today Charlie lives in Indianapolis with his wife Kathleen and their five-month old daughter.  We had a chance to talk to Charlie about life after diagnosis, getting back on the racetrack, relationships and finally, fatherhood.

Congratulations on the arrival of your first born!  How does it feel to be a father?  How has parenting impacted your type 1 diabetes?

Honestly, before we started a family, Kathleen and I had some very frank conversations regarding the odds of our child developing type 1 diabetes because of me. For a long time, I thought I didn’t want to have kids.  I didn’t want to have a child that grows up and then gets diagnosed with type 1. We know what a big challenge it can be.  Eventually our perspectives changed.  We know that while the odds are still there, and the odds are shorter with me having type 1, we also felt that the medications and tools are getting better and even more so, it’s the community that matters so much.  It’s a very special group. We feel fortunate to be a part of it. Now that we have a daughter, I’m just very aware of the warning signs of diabetes and watch for them. In terms of the impact, sleep deprivation is real. The physical elements of that mean that I’ve had to be more proactive in managing my blood glucose since she was born 5 months ago.

What will you tell your daughter (when she is older) about your diabetes? 

It’s framed around the individuality of people because everybody is different—everyone has different traits and elements. People are from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. For me having diabetes, is one part of that. It doesn’t define me. I’m not Charlie diabetic Kimball. I’m Charlie Kimball who is an Indy car race winner and has qualified for the Indianapolis 500.  I also have diabetes. It’s just part of who I am. It means that on a daily basis my routine is different than somebody who doesn’t have diabetes.

How did type 1 diabetes impact your relationship? When did you get married?

Kathleen and I went to high school together. We reconnected after I moved back to the US with my new diabetes diagnosis.  It was around the same time I began speaking out about my diabetes.  During this time, I was becoming more comfortable being open about diabetes. We got married in 2014 and through our relationship, Kathleen has become and continues to be part of my diabetes team. Diabetes is a lot like racing which people might construe as a very individual sport, but it’s not.  You need the team effort to succeed.  So, I recruited Kathleen to be a part of my diabetes team along with my medical team! Kathleen gets my diabetes and is very understanding. She knows that if my blood sugar isn’t in range, I’m not really myself.  She cuts me that little bit of extra slack when I to when I need it because I’m struggling.  Sometimes she hears my CGM alarm beeping before I do in the middle of the night and wakes me up!

Everyone has their story to tell. Can you talk about your type 1 diabetes diagnosis?

I had been traveling all over Europe driving different race cars and visited the doctor because I had a skin rash on my arm.  After he wrote a prescription, he asked me if there was anything else I wanted to discuss. I told him I’d been kind of thirsty like drinking 8-10 bottles of water and going to the bathroom all the time. He had me get on the scales and I told him what I was expected to weigh. I’d been weighed the week before at the racetrack.  In just five days, I’d lost 25 pounds. When he saw the discrepancy in my weight, he said “I think you have diabetes.”

Wow, that’s a lot of weight. You didn’t notice?

I wasn’t particularly aware because I was so mentally foggy with elevated blood glucose levels around the 600s (mg/dL). I wasn’t even conscious of what I looked like in the mirror or what my body was doing.

I’ve been very successful being very upfront about my condition and the challenges associated with it.

When did you start racing? 

I grew up watching racing because my dad is a mechanical engineer for race cars, so I was exposed to it. I started racing after I got my driver’s license at the age of 16 and after I graduated high school, I was accepted to Stanford University for mechanical engineering. A lot of people were surprised, butI turned Stanford down and moved to Europe to race cars over there. I spent a few years racing – then I was diagnosed. After my recovery, I stayed in Europe to race one more year and a half. In 2009, I came back to North America and I’ve been racing here in the US for the last ten seasons. This is my 11th season with Race With Insulin, a motorsports initiative sponsored by Novo Nordisk.

Type 1 diabetes didn’t stop you from racing?  

When I was diagnosed a friend, who is in the business of racing motorcycles said, “Treat this diagnosis like an injury.” People who work with motorcycle racers deal with injuries quite often because people are always falling off.  This really helped me. He also told me that while I’ll have to manage my diabetes for life, getting recovered from the diagnosis—getting healthy again and getting back in the race car was important. I took his advice and I never shied away from talking about diabetes. I’ve been very successful being very upfront about my condition and challenges associated with it.

As a sponsored partner with Novo Nordisk (who manufactures insulin), what do you think about the insulin affordability crisis in the USA?  

I believe in the ethos of Novo Nordisk as a company. I have partnered with them to raise awareness and empower the community. I believe what the company is built on – helping people. Today the healthcare landscape is very complex and a very dynamic place. The affordability issue is real and it’s complex. I believe that it’s going to take industry leaders from all sides: from legislators, non-profits like the JDRF and the American Diabetes Association and stakeholders in the private sector. We need to have real conversations about how to make adjustments that work for everybody.

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