For NASCAR rising star Ryan Reed, the race is on to prove that nothing can stop him from crossing the finish line, especially not type 1 diabetes. And he wants to drive that message home to all of his young fans: As part of a campaign to bring awareness and education to racing spectators across the country, Reed drives the No. 16 American Diabetes Association Drive to Stop DiabetesSM presented by Lilly Diabetes Ford Mustang. We spoke with Reed to find out how type 1 almost detoured his NASCAR aspirations and what he did to keep his dreams on track.
Q: You’re in the ultimate fast-paced profession—how did you get into racing?
A: It’s really a family sport for us. My dad [NASCAR driver Mark Reed] raced, so I got into racing and fell in love with it at a very early age … when I was only 4! I actually don’t remember much of what I did before racing, but I do know that I have never wanted to do anything else. Racing is my true passion.
Q: What was it like for you when you were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?
A: I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2011 when I was 17. It was hard news to hear, and I went through a pretty rough transition. People told me things like, “It’s not your fault, there’s nothing you did to get this.” But I still felt like I had done something wrong. I know better now, but that was my first reaction. The hardest part was when the doctor who diagnosed me told me I couldn’t race anymore. It was like all my dreams came crashing down at once.
Q: What made you try to find a way to keep racing?
A: Because racing meant too much to me, I made a decision to do anything and everything I could to race again. I also made a deal with myself that if it ended up that I couldn’t race, then at least I knew I gave it 100 percent, and I could live with that. I researched other athletes who battled diabetes and went on to become standouts in their sports. I found out just how many amazing athletes with diabetes are out there, doing the same things we’re all doing—checking blood sugar, counting carbs, taking insulin. I looked at them and thought, “If they’re doing all these things, I can too.” Finding that encouragement was my first step back to racing. I found a great support team for my diabetes. And before I knew it, I was back in the driver’s seat.
Q: What kind of steps do you take during races to control your blood sugar?
A: I have a continuous blood glucose monitor (CGM) mounted to the dashboard that allows me to know if my blood sugar is too high or low. If I’m too low I have a glucose drink built into my helmet that I can sip. If I am high, I have a target on my suit so I can stop and my team can quickly give me an insulin injection. Most of all, I have found that paying close attention to my diet, exercise, and diabetes routines when I’m off the track helps me on race day.
Q: How has having type 1 changed your life?
A: Having diabetes has given me a different perspective on what it means to be involved in a sport like racing. I am humbled by how fortunate I am to be doing what I love doing. Still being able to go after my dreams, even with type 1, has really made me want to help other people living with diabetes. I go to a lot of children’s hospitals and diabetes camps, because I love working with kids. I talk to them about the struggles and the successes of living with diabetes, because I know that when you have to take shots and monitor your blood sugar, you feel different than your friends. I know how encouraging it is to talk to someone who really gets what having diabetes is like. I want kids to know they are not alone in this.
Q: What would you like other people with diabetes to know about achieving their own dreams?
A: Having type 1 is something you can’t change, but if you can find a positive mindset about diabetes and not let the daily struggles bring you down, then type 1 doesn’t have to hold you back. No matter what, you can become a stronger person and live your life to the very fullest.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.
Drive to Stop Diabetes is a service mark of the American Diabetes Association. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.