Charlie Kimball

As he scanned the room of some 30 middle and high school students, Charlie Kimball could relate.

Like him, each had Type 1 diabetes, meaning their bodies don’t produce insulin. The first certified Type 1 diabetic to race in the Indianapolis 500 and win an Indy car race, Kimball’s message was simple: Don’t let diabetes get in the way of reaching your dreams.

Today is World Diabetes Day. Kimball, driver of the No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams entry sponsored by diabetes pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, spends the month of November – American Diabetes Month – crossing the nation meeting with a variety of groups to tell his story. It included a stop last week at Fishers High School in suburban Indianapolis, where he told students about being diagnosed a diabetic in October 2007 and how it hasn’t stopped him.

“I feel very lucky to have diabetes,” Kimball said. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s times when it’s miserable. But I’ve been able to meet so many cool people and it’s added a lot of balance to my life.”

Charlie KimballThat balance was exemplified in how easily Kimball, a 31-year-old son of a race car designer who turned down admission to Stanford University so he could pursue a driving career, related to the students in attendance. They chatted about issues to which all could relate: whether they preferred pens or pumps to administer their insulin (Kimball uses the pen), if they’ve ever forgotten to pack the right supplies that a diabetic needs for a trip, hearing horror stories from uninformed people who “knew someone” who was diabetic and more.

Famous race car driver, maybe, but on this day Charlie Kimball was another diabetic who shared the same highs and lows of these students.

“It’s so easy having diabetes to feel like you’re alone,” Kimball said afterward. “In schools, all you want to do is fit in. From the clothes you wear to the stuff you eat to the things you do when you’re not at school, to not wanting to raise your hand in class, because you want to fit in and be like everyone else who doesn’t know the answer.

“It’s easy to be reminded that you’re not like everyone else when you have to go to the nurse in the middle of class to check your blood sugar,” he continued. “You end up thinking you’re on an island. I think this whole school district should be commended for fostering a support group like that.”

The Hamilton Southeastern school district has some 87 Type 1 diabetics throughout the school district this year, according to Ann O’Haver, a registered nurse at Fishers High School who helped start the district’s diabetic support group three years ago. O’Haver was overjoyed with Kimball’s message to the students.

“This was wonderful that he came and talked about simple things, just his daily life routine,” she said. “Because that’s what they go through every single day: how many sticks they have to have, make sure they have their supplies and watch that balanced diet.”

Daryn Smith was among the students attending. The Fishers High junior said she hopes to become a doctor and Kimball’s example of achieving his dream in spite of being diabetic rang true with her.

“It was interesting to learn how he managed it compared to how I do things,” Smith said. “It was completely different because I’m on the pump. I’ve never heard a lot about doing it that way (using the pen).

“Right now I want to be a doctor, which I know is a lot of hours. Knowing that you’re able to manage it and can do what you want like he does is nice.”