NASCAR driver races to stop diabetes

Posted at 3:16 PM, Oct 09, 2013

Editor’s note: Each week in the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle — injury, illness or other hardship — they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week we introduce you to Ryan Reed, a 20-year-old NASCAR driver. 

(CNN) — When I was 17, I thought I was invincible like every other teenage boy.

I was moving to North Carolina from Bakersfield, California, to pursue my dream of being a professional race car driver. Nothing could stop me.

But something did stop me. During the move to North Carolina, I started losing weight and feeling dehydrated, despite drinking massive amounts of fluids. We had to make many unscheduled stops because of my unquenchable thirst and frequent urination.

My mood fluctuated, and I wasn’t really fun to be around. I went back out to Bakersfield, and my parents immediately took me to our local physician who diagnosed me as having type 1 diabetes. The doctor told me I would never drive a race car again.

I was in shock, depressed and didn’t accept that fact. I thought, “Give me some medicine, and I’ll be back at the racetrack next week.” But this wasn’t the case. Type 1 diabetes can’t be fixed easily with medication.

This diagnosis was unacceptable to me, and I wanted to know more about it and what I could do to overcome it.

With the help of the Internet, I found a California doctor who specializes in diabetes and had another race car driver, Charlie Kimball, under her care. My father called Dr. Anne Peters’ office and spoke with her assistant, explaining my situation. One week later I was in her Los Angeles office.

Peters was the person who gave me hope that with hard work I could continue to chase my dream of being a professional race car driver. She put me on a strict diet and exercise regiment, which has allowed me to achieve the success I have had to date.

I went back to North Carolina and realized something — if I have this many questions and failed to understand all of this diabetes terminology, then what about other people living with diabetes? So my family and I started a foundation called Ryan’s Mission to help educate and create awareness about living with diabetes.

I continued the twice-daily workout regiment and the strict lifestyle change to allow me to drive a successful 2012 season in the ARCA Racing Series, as well as participate in select NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events.

In 2013, my dream came to fruition; I was signed with Roush Fenway Racing as a development driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Then, through Ryan’s Mission, we announced our collaboration with the American Diabetes Association to launch the Drive to Stop Diabetes awareness campaign.

I have had three NASCAR Nationwide Series starts to date, posting my first top-10 finish in the No. 16 Drive to Stop Diabetes Ford Mustang at Richmond on September 6. I will continue to drive two to three more Nationwide Series races with Roush Fenway this year with the Drive to Stop Diabetes paint scheme.

Ryan’s Mission’s unique collaboration with the ADA uses my story as the voice. The Drive to Stop Diabetes campaign includes awareness and educational efforts at NASCAR Nationwide races this year, as well as at several off track health and wellness initiatives throughout 2013.

I see this as an opportunity to show my ability. Obviously my goal is to follow in the progression of many drivers who have started inside the Nationwide Series ranks and worked their way up to contend for the Sprint Cup. It will be a great opportunity, and I intend to make the most of it.

I’m fortunate to have the chance to not only be able to drive as a development driver, but also to educate others. I want to let them know that even when living with diabetes, life has no limits.

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