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Published Sat, Feb 09, 2013 08:00 PM
Modified Mon, Feb 11, 2013 09:57 AM

IndyCar racer discusses racing with diabetes

- newsobserver.com
Indycar racer Charlie Kimball told employees at Novo Nordisk last week that he wouldn't be alive if not for there products, which he uses to manage his diabetes, while racing at 225 mph.
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- ajames@newsobserver.com

CLAYTON -- Like other drivers, or athletes, IndyCar racer Charlie Kimball has a quirky, works-like-magic routine he goes through before any race. He puts his earpieces in, holds onto the rear wing of his car while he stretches his legs, then puts his right foot first into his race car.

Unlike other race car drivers, Kimball’s race preparation also includes making sure there is an orange juice drink he can sip through his helmet, and he wears a continuous glucose monitor.

When he was 22, Kimball was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Kimball came to Novo Nordisk in Clayton last week to speak to the employees who make the insulin and flex pens he uses to stay alive.

“Everything you’re making here allows me to compete at 225 mph,” Kimball told the audience of more than 200 employees at Novo Nordisk.

Diagnosed with diabetes in 2007, Kimball, now 27, is the first licensed driver with diabetes in the history of IndyCar. His visit to Novo Nordisk was planned around the inauguration of a new training facility on-site.

“We manufacture medicine that people’s lives are depending on,” said Preben Haaning, general manager of Novo Nordisk’s Clayton facility. “Bringing Charlie Kimball to the training center was a clear statement of why we are here so each employee can see what difference they are actually making.”

Relying on quality

When he was first diagnosed, Kimball said he was worried he wouldn’t be able to get behind the wheel anymore. The diagnosis took him by surprise because he wasn’t overweight, and didn’t see himself as susceptible to it. He decided to make necessary modifications to his racing prep to be able to accommodate his new health needs, and has learned to not only cope with diabetes, but to thrive and help others.

“Getting diagnosed was a speed bump but it wasn’t a road block,” said Kimball. He said it was difficult hearing the diagnosis at first, but he remembers a pivotal moment when he went mountain biking, to test his physical limits following his diagnosis. He was thinking of his racing career, and said to himself, “Not only can I do this, but I want to do this.”

He found an endocrinologist who helped him find out what adjustments he needed to make to race safely. Kimball, who finished 13th in the Indy 500-mile race in 2011 said he is proud that he was able to overcome diabetes, , but he says that’s also a victory for other people with diabetes who can see it’s possible to live the life you want in spite of diabetes.

“One of the best things about me grabbing my flex pen is that I don’t have to think about it because they think about it,” said Kimball, who emphasized that he trusts and relies on the quality and safety of Novo Nordisk’s products, an encouragement and also motivation to the audience of employees to keep up the good work.

Kimball has a preparation kit with flex pens and vials of insulin that he can take if his blood sugar gets too low, causing hypoglycemia. Most drivers have a helmet that is specially equipped so that they can sip water out of it without using their hands, but his also contains orange juice, which has enough sugar to help him keep his blood sugar level up.

Kimball motivated the employees at Novo Nordisk not only with his personal stories , but also with his admiration of their products.

“What you guys do is really cool,” he told the receptive crowd of employees.

Employee Ann Williams was diagnosed with diabetes 25 years ago. She joined the company 14 years ago.

“I admire him because diabetes takes a lot of work,” said Williamson, who knows first-hand what it’s like to constantly monitor her blood sugar levels. She said she was impressed with how Kimball created his own system for treatments. “With diabetes you have to have a system,”: she said. And, not only does Kimball have a system, he has one that still fits in racing 225 m.p.h., only stopping for eight seconds at a time to change a tire.

“I think it’s awesome he can be diabetic and drive a race car,” said Williamson.

The $400,000 new training facility at Novo Nordisk opened in December. Its official ribbon cutting took place last week. Kimball’s next race is in St. Petersburg March 27.

James: 919-553-7234

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  • (From left to right) Indycar Racer Charlie Kimball shows his car off at his sponsor Novo Nordisk to Preben Haaning, general manager of Novo Nordisk's Clayton facility, and Henrik Wulff, senior vice president of diabetes finished products.
    courtesy of Bruce McCarthy, Novo Nordisk - newsobserver.com
  • Charlie Kimball said he uses a helmet that's specially equipped with both water and orange juice to drink while he's racing in case he has low blood sugar, one of the adjustments he's made as a race car driver with Type 1 diabetes.
    courtesy of Bruce McCarthy, Novo Nordisk - newsobserver.com

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