Charlie Kimball is the first to admit he’s much more comfortable wearing a firesuit going 200 mph in an Indy car than he is donning a suit and tie sitting still on Capitol Hill in Washington.
But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is just as proud of the advocacy work he performs for sponsor Novo Nordisk as one of more than a million Americans with Type 1 diabetes. It’s why Kimball was in the nation’s capital prior to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio race weekend, participating in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Children’s Congress and joining JDRF delegates in meeting with members of both houses of Congress to encourage continued funding for research and support to fight the autoimmune disease.
“Being able to teach and educate is so inspirational for me,” said Kimball, who joined other athletes and celebrities in a town hall meeting during the JDRF Children’s Congress and then mostly watched in support as the young delegates made their case to the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging and in individual meetings with House of Representatives members.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables the body to draw energy from consumed food. Type 1 diabetics must manage the disease with a balanced diet combined with taking doses of insulin.
Some diabetics, like Kimball, wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to alert them when the level is out of range and action must be taken. Kimball, who also has a special drink mixture he can access through his drink tube in the No. 83 Tresiba Honda when needed on a Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend, said he’s much more comfortable in the race car than speaking in front of large crowds such as the JDRF town hall.
In those latter situations, he said, the adrenalin really starts cranking. The JDRF town hall was a perfect example.
“It’s more nerve-racking by far and I pulled my CGM out and showed where the adrenalin started and my blood sugar going up,” he said.
It was well worth it, he added. During the JDRF congress, he and the other celebrities shared their diabetes stories and met many of the delegates from all 50 states and five international affiliates. Delegates are selected based on an applicant’s JDRF fundraising, community outreach, advocacy work within the community and submission of a video on why they want to advocate to Congress.
Kimball beamed with pride as he watched the youths confidently make their case under the Washington spotlight.
“A lot of times in those meetings, when I’ve advocated in the past, they want to talk to me about how I race and stuff,” Kimball said. “But being a part of Children’s Congress, I was there as background.
“Where the delegates are telling their stories about managing diabetes, in high school and in sports and the technologies and why funding for research and support through health care bills for pre-existing conditions is so critical. Coverage for that pre-existing condition within the diabetes community is extremely front and center for us.”
He was especially touched by the message from a delegate from Maine who spoke to the Senate committee on aging. She said she had been told when first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes that a cure was five years away.
“She said, ‘I was diagnosed eight years ago when I first heard that. I’m no mathematician, but I think we’re behind schedule,’” Kimball reported, emphasizing the need to continue Congressional funding of research to discover that cure.
The dedication and resolve of the JDRF delegates serves as an inspiration for Kimball, a 32-year-old Californian competing in his seventh Verizon IndyCar Series season, to keep advocating and setting the best example he can of living the life you dream of – even as a diabetic.
“You don’t ever think that wearing a helmet to work would ever lead to you wearing a suit and tie on Capitol Hill,” he said. “Honestly, my love for racing and being able to grow into an advocate through the Race with Insulin program, through the work with Novo Nordisk – they’ve been such a good partner.
“Being able to share (my story) like that,” Kimball added, “it’s a part that I never expected but I really appreciate now.”