Ryan Reed is not your average 20-year old – in addition to being a NASCAR driver, Ryan is one of two national racecar drivers with type 1 diabetes. While some people may doubt the feasibility of managing type 1 diabetes while racing, Ryan’s success may just prove these skeptics wrong.
“I think in a lot of ways diabetes has made me a better athlete and a better racecar driver,” explained Ryan. “[My diagnosis] certainly humbled me quite a bit, and there may be some challenges that I’ve had to work through, but each challenge has made me come out a little better each time.”
Like many people with diabetes, Ryan experienced extreme fatigue, thirst, weight loss and frequent urination, which prompted him to visit his doctor.
“The doctor diagnosed me with type 1 diabetes on the spot,” recalled Ryan. “My first question was, ‘I’m a race car driver so how is this going to affect my racing?’ and [the doctor] told me you’re never going to race again, just focus on living a normal life.”
Although Ryan describes this diagnosis as “devastating,” he did not waste much time before he began researching diabetes to better understand the disease.
His research led him to Ann Peters, M.D., Director of the USC Clinical Diabetes Program, who also treats IndyCar driver, Charlie Kimball. Ryan started working with Dr. Peters, which was a “turning point” and showed Ryan that there were endless possibilities if he was willing to work hard.
After seeing Dr. Peters, Ryan altered his diet and exercise regimen in addition to implementing several safety precautions into his racing routine.
The first change was mounting a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor to the dashboard of his car that helps Ryan regulate his blood glucose levels while driving. Due to the high temperature inside a racecar – it can get as warm as 150 degrees – Ryan does not use an insulin pump.
Attached to Ryan’s helmet there is a hose with an endurance drink that includes carbohydrates, proteins and sugar, which Ryan can drink during a race if his blood sugar drops too low. Lastly, a member on the pit crew is trained to reach into Ryan’s car and give him an insulin injection through his fire suit if needed. Ryan notes that while he is always prepared with these safety measures, he has never had to use any of them.
All of these changes enabled Ryan to have a successful return to racing following his diagnosis.
“My proudest racing moment is my first NASCAR race,” said Ryan. “I had already been diagnosed with diabetes, and to get the opportunity to compete at the highest level was huge for me and this showed me that all the hard work was worth it.”
Ryan feels lucky to have the support of his family, Dr. Peters and his Roush Fenway Racing team that helped him to continue racing, but he knows that not all kids with diabetes are as fortunate. This idea inspired Ryan and his family to start Ryan’s Mission, a non-profit organization dedicated to building awareness and positively touching the lives of people who have been affected by diabetes.
Ryan’s Mission grew and eventually joined forces with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and Lilly Diabetes to create the Drive to Stop Diabetes campaign, which uses Ryan’s voice to spread their message. This campaign focuses on raising awareness and educational efforts at select NASCAR Nationwide and at several off track health and wellness initiatives throughout 2014.
“It’s cool to see where [Ryan’s Mission] started and where we are now with [Drive to Stop Diabetes], and this work probably makes me more proud than anything I’ve ever done in racing,” commented Ryan.
As part of his work with Drive to Stop Diabetes, Ryan takes time out of his schedule to visit with other kids and athletes with diabetes.
“My advice to other athletes with diabetes is just don’t give up – it’s basic advice, but there is going to be challenges from across the board and if you can persevere, it will pay off,” said Ryan.
“People with diabetes are pretty strong people to begin with, and if you recognize that, you will be able to accomplish a lot more,” he added.
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