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Racing Towards a Cure

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I have always been a huge race fan and I've always dreamt of competing in Formula 1. For my 11th birthday my parents gave me an early birthday present and signed me up for a Canadian Rookie Karting Championship. I'll be 14 soon and have started my 4th season of racing. I run in the Rotax Junior class racing at speeds of up to 140 km/hr (90 mph). I ran in the first two rounds of the FWT (Florida Winter Tour) and will be competing in the HRKC (Hamilton Regional Karting Championship), ECKC (Eastern Canadian Karting Championship) and the ASN Canada FIA Rotax Max National Championship. I am currently sponsored by Animas Canada, Dex 4 Glucose, and Diabetes Express, but it wasn't easy getting where I am today. It still isn't...


In the early summer of 2007 I wasn't feeling like myself, I had no energy, I was tired and drinking water non-stop not to mention going to the bathroom a lot. My mom told me that I should see my doctor to find out what was wrong so the next day my Dad brought me to the doctor's office. He took some tests and wanted me to go to a specialist. They ran some more tests and then he came back in and told my Dad to have a seat. I can't even remember what he looked like but I will never forget his voice or what he said. He looked at me and said, “I'm sorry, but you have Type 1 Diabetes”. He went on to start to explain something to my Dad but I don't remember much of that. I heard the word Diabetes before but didn't know anything about it. All I knew is that it sounded like something pretty bad. I was scared. Right away he told us that we needed to go to the hospital later that afternoon. That was when I realized it was something really bad. When my Mom got home we went to the hospital. None of us really knew what to expect since my parents didn't know much about Diabetes either. I could see the fear in my Mom's face when they said that I was going to be admitted to the hospital for at least 3 days. Both of my parents were very upset since they just thought we were there to learn about Diabetes and what it meant. Apparently very few kids end up in the hospital with Diabetes without being very sick. I was lucky because my Mom noticed the symptoms very early. A lot was going on and all I kept wondering is would I still be able to race? Different people from the hospital started to come and explain what had happened to me. I learned that Diabetes is a disease that can happen to anyone. You get Diabetes when your body thinks that your pancreas is something else, something harmful, so your body basically attacks it like as if it is an infection or something and basically kills it's ability to create insulin. What a normal working pancreas is supposed to do is to create insulin when your body detects you ate something with sugar or carbohydrates. The insulin acts like a key unlocking little doors to allow glucose into your muscles and other cells in your body from your blood. Since Type 1 Diabetics can't produce their own insulin, we need to take artificial insulin through needles for the rest of our lives. It took me a long time to understand what happened to me and what I have to do to manage it. More on that later. At the time all I knew is that I didn't like needles and I was being told I had to take them 3 times everyday and stab my finger to test my blood even more than that.


When I got out of the hospital it was only one day before my 11th birthday. No birthday cake for me that year. It was also only a week before only my 4th race of the the season. It was a very hard race because I was so new to Diabetes and trying to race while dealing with it was really difficult. On race days I have to be especially careful testing my blood very often, usually 12 times or more to be certain I am safe when I go on track. It's important to test very frequently especially when being active or doing any sport because it could be very dangerous if you have a low blood sugar. You can pass out or even end up in a coma. If it gets way out of control it could even cause death. If your blood glucose goes too high too often, it will cause major health problems later in life like blindness, strokes, heart disease, kidney failure, amputations and many other terrible health problems. Type 1 Diabetes cuts off 15 years from the average person's life, but I also know that with good Diabetes management, none of that will happen. I am very lucky that my Dad teaches me a lot about Diabetes. He never tried to hide anything from me. It is better that I understand what has happened to me and that I know how to make sure that the bad things don't happen. I can still chase my dream of racing in Formula 1 one day. But it isn't easy. I hate it so much some days. No matter how much I try to keep my BG where it should be, sometimes it just doesn't work and I feel like crap. I get bad days for no reason or just because I am growing and my body needs more insulin than it did the day before but most days I am fine. I can do almost anything I like now and, most importantly, I can still race.


I finished the 2007 season very strong. We managed to sort out managing my Diabetes pretty well on race days and I ended up winning the championship. For 2008 we stepped up my racing program big time. Because of my results in the 2007 season, I qualified for a scholarship program to move up to a more competitive series. The first problem was I had to get a letter from my Doctor so that I could get my race license. It was a good thing that we worked so hard to manage my Diabetes. I got my license and moved up to a 60cc F-1K Cadet kart racing in the HRKC (Hamilton Regional Karting Championship) and the ORKC (Ontario Regional Karting Championship). The rookie karts would do about 50 km/hr (30 mph) but this kart would hit speeds up to 90 km/hr (50 mph). My Dad and I also created a racing team for me called High Velocity Motorsports. We had three major reasons for starting HVM. First, racing competitively is very expensive so we needed to build a foundation to support my racing career. Second, my Dad wanted to tie my passion for racing into doing something positive about my Diabetes. High Velocity Motorsports became an official third party supporter of JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). We give a large part of our sponsorship money for HVM to JDRF to help them find a cure for Diabetes. Third, we use my racing as a platform to show other kids with Diabetes that it can't stop them from doing anything as long as they are determined to manage it properly. Racing is my passion and curing Diabetes is my mission. That is why it is more important than ever for us to keep looking for sponsorship to push my racing career ahead to someday reach my goal of racing in Formula 1 and to cure Diabetes. Early in the season we got our first big break. My Dad was researching insulin pumps almost since I was diagnosed but my Doctor wanted me to stay with multiple daily injections for a year before making the change. He really liked what he learned about the Animas insulin pump so we gave them a call. Once Animas heard about what we were trying to do to help other Diabetics, they agreed to become our first sponsor. That year in June I started on my Animas insulin pump. It made a huge difference with my Diabetes and it gave me my life back too. When I was on MDI (multiple daily injections) it was really hard because I had to eat a certain amount of carbs at certain times, no more, no less. One of the main things that I didn't like about being on MDI was that I had to have a bedtime snack. Lots of times I wasn't hungry and hated having to eat before going to bed. I also had to miss out sometimes when my sister had fun snacks like ice cream that might mess up my BG levels. With the pump I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, within reason, because I just tell it how many grams of carbs I am going to eat, test for my blood sugar level and it will do all the math and tell me how much insulin I need. Learning to count carbs in everything took a bit of getting used to but I got pretty good at it. Later that year we got another sponsor for HVM. AMG Medical is a company that distributes Dex 4 Glucose in Canada. They sponsored us to help promote that product. Dex 4 Glucose makes tablets, liquid and gel that you take when you are having a low BG. It is the fastest way to treat a low blood sugar and there are a bunch of flavours that taste great! 2008 was a terrific year. My Diabetes still gave me some tough days but it got a lot better with my Animas pump. High Velocity Motorsports was starting to build some momentum and I finished fifth overall in the HRKC and fourth in the ORKC. In September I had my first interview and article published in a daily paper called “24 Toronto” about my racing and what I was working to do to help out other kids with Diabetes.


With the 2009 season coming up fast there was a lot going on with HVM. With my Dad as my tuner I was moving up to the extremely competitive and challenging Rotax Junior class. Now I was in a full size chassis with a 125cc liquid cooled Rotax engine that can get up to speeds of 140 km/hr (90 mph). My race schedule that year consisted of four different championships, HRKC (Hamilton Regional karting Championship), BSRKC (Brian Stewart Racing Karting Championship), Coupe De Montreal, and the ASN Canada FIA Rotax Max Karting Championship. It was a big year for me because it is a huge step from Cadet to Junior. The focus was to get experience at this level by running races in a number of high level racing series. I finished the year with some excellent experience from the BSRKC, one of the Coupe De Montreal races and the Canadian National Karting Championship. It was also a year we got very busy in the Diabetes community as well. In March, I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Children With Diabetes international conference in Toronto. In May, I was a guest speaker at an Animas event for about 40 families of Type 1s held at the Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls. With the racing season over, November was the busiest month for us helping out others with Diabetes. My Dad and I put together a work shop for the 2009 Trillium Health Science Centre's annual Diabetes Update. My racing also started to get attention when a company called Autosports Media wrote a story featuring me that was circulated through internet publications including ekartingnews.com and .ca, flagworld.com, nkn.com, and whowon.com. High Velocity Motorsports also brought another sponsor on board with Diabetes Express. Diabetes Express is an online store that carries anything that you could think of that a person with Diabetes would need and delivers it right to your door for a great price. The year was the best yet overall even though I didn't get to finish the biggest race of my life. In the Canadian National Karting Championship I was taken out in a crash where I got launched two to three feet in the air and landed on one side of the kart bending the chassis. In the HRKC, things went much better. I finished 3rd in the championship in my first year at Rotax Junior. Just as important, I started to feel like I was making a difference for other kids with Diabetes and helped get a bit closer to a cure by helping out JDRF.


During the off season we were busy again. We wanted to do something to help families that have just had a child diagnosed with Diabetes so my Dad designed our own workshop that we hope to bring to Hospitals and Diabetes Clinics. It is designed to help out the Clinics as well as help families of recently diagnosed Type 1s. Our idea is to give them some inspiration and share some tips that have helped me with my Diabetes management. I even bring along my karts so the kids can check them out and have their picture taken in them. We have one Clinic booked and are talking to two others so far. We have even gone to kids' homes a couple times to help out if they are having trouble with their Diabetes like a young 5 year old boy named Adam. He was having trouble switching to an Insulin Pump and I was able to help him make that step. It's not hard to give a few hours of my time every month to help others and the feeling that I get by knowing that I have helped someone is priceless. I have also been interviewed by National Karting News, Listen Magazine and Racing World Magazine recently as well. Those articles will be out soon.

That brings us back to today. Diabetes still sucks. I hate it. But my Dad is right. I can be a victim or I can step up and take control of what happened to me. I will be speaking at a JDRF event in Owen Sound, Ontario for Animas later this month and in Mississauga, Ontario in May. In June we are going to put together a whole team to raise money in the JDRF Walk. We will keep working hard to find new sponsors so I can keep going after my dream. Like I said, it isn't easy but I won't stop Racing Towards a Cure! We need to beat this disease.





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lynneng said...
Jun. 9, 2010 at 6:57 pm
Congratulations to you and your family for keeping a positive attitude and being proactive. This article is enlightening and heartwarming. Keep Racing!!
 
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