Ryan Reed, who will be racing Sunday, was diagnosed with diabetes in 2011.
First, the doctors told Ryan Reed he had type 1 diabetes. Then, they told him he would never be able to be a competitive race car driver.
Ryan Reed didn't listen to the diagnosis. He told himself that there had to be another way to pursue his dream.
"I started doing research on what I could do," said Reed, who is from Bakersfield, Calif. "I didn't understand the disease, but to give up altogether would be ridiculous. I needed to understand what was holding me back from driving."
But Reed, 18, sought out doctors who answered his questions and offered him guidelines -- not just on how to compete safely and how to maintain his insulin and glucose levels, but how to live with a disease that, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, afflicts more than 18.8 million Americans, including at least 215,000 under the age of 20.
In his first year of driving on the ARCA circuit, Reed drives for Venturini Motorsports and enters Sunday's Menards 200 at Toledo Speedway tied for fourth with Chris Buescher in the standings.
Diagnosed in February, 2011, Reed acknowledges he's still in the "honeymoon" phase of the disease, as he hasn't had any of the adverse effects of diabetes.
The first time Reed knew something was wrong was when he was behind the wheel, leading the bulk of a 200-lap late-model race.
"I remember that race," Reed said. "I dominated."
His memory of that race disappears after the 180th lap. He doesn't remember when the race took place or crossing the finish line. His disorientation most likely came as a result of his blood sugar being too low. But he remembers the physical changes he was going through at the time of the race. He'd lost weight and gained a constant thirst, but he never felt fully hydrated.
"To think about it now, it's scary what could have happened had I not been diagnosed," Reed said.
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin, a hormone that allows sugar to enter cells to produce energy.
People living with diabetes are more susceptible to illnesses, and if not treated properly, diabetes can cause kidney failure, lower-limb amputations, and blindness. Diabetes is also a cause of heart disease and stroke, and it is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.
For an athlete, maintenance is critical.
"An athlete has to be much more knowing of when events are," said Sharon Gutman, the supervisor for ProMedica Health System's Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center. "It's doing things like having carbohydrates before an event or an exercise, but not right away. It's checking blood sugar, and it's making adjustments in what they're consuming."
Sitting in a hot car for more than 200 laps can bring about risks of extreme dehydration and concerns for maintaining proper glucose levels during those 200 laps or more, given caution flags or red flags that can extend the length and time of a race. If a driver's blood sugar gets too high during a race, it could cause disorientation. Too low, and it affects a driver's reaction time.
Reed has taken extensive measures to continue his pursuit of racing. Reed works with doctors, nurses, a personal trainer, and a nutritionist on a daily basis in order to manage and regulate the disease. He has modified his race car so that he has a glucose monitor affixed to the steering wheel of his Toyota. During races, he sips through a tube a sports drink made up of electrolytes, carbohydrates, proteins, and sugar to keep his blood sugar stable. His crew keeps insulin shots in the pit area for emergencies, and he cuts down on his insulin on race days.
Reed has used the start of his professional auto racing career as a platform to raise awareness for juvenile diabetes. He formed "Ryan's Mission," a nonprofit organization that raises funds for type 1 diabetes research and builds awareness of the disease.
"I was frustrated, I was angry, and I didn't understand it," Reed said of the diagnosis. "I remember the day I was diagnosed. I drove around for a long time and I thought about it, and I thought, I can be [ticked] off about this, or I can take a step back, look at the entire situation, and spin it into a positive. That's what I did."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.