I am Charlie’s number two fan (right behind Kerri). He’s a good guy, and so down to earth. When I heard about all of the things he had planned to mark the 4th anniversary of his type 1 diabetes diagnosis, I was impressed and excited.
Charlie had a great first year in the INDYCAR series. When he found that the championship race was to fall on the exact date he was diagnosed four years ago (October 16th), he knew he wanted to do something a little special.
Charlie made a special race helmet, just for this race, showing his diagnosis date, the championship race date, and the words “Four Years, One Dream“. And that was to be just one of the ways he wanted to mark this special day.
I was able to talk with him on the phone about a week before the big race and hear about everything he had planned and what it all meant to him.
Driving race cars since he was 16 years old, the first worry when he was diagnosed in his early twenties was whether or not he could keep racing. The message he received from his doctor at diagnosis? It made all the difference in the world.
“You can do this.” (remind you of one of our favorite projects?)
That set the tone for how Charlie coped with his diagnosis. Since then, he’s not only kept racing, but made the jump to INDYCAR, the premier open wheel racing series in North America.
The main message that came through in our talk was Practice & Preparation. Charlie is constantly practicing, not only with his racing skills, but also with his blood sugar management. He says it is an art and a science, and he’s always collecting information and fine-tuning things. He openly admits that he has his share of bad days, but he tries his best to create management strategies out of the information that was gathered – often making his best breakthroughs on days where his performance was the worst (I love the paradox of that).
Charlie works hard all of the time, in the car or not. During the off-season he’s doing crazy training sessions with his coach Jim Leo at Pit Fit Training (I’ve heard about some of these workouts), and during the season he’s racing and working to win races, maintain his fitness, and fine tune his diabetes management.
He also serves year round as a diabetes ambassador, often sacrificing much to serve as many as possible. Last I heard from him, he had done twelve events in seven different cities in less than two weeks. Wow…
Before the championship race, Charlie gave away 100 tickets to members of the local Nevada JDRF and the Nevada Diabetes Association. It was a lot of fun watching him do some of the giveaways through twitter!
As many know, race day didn’t go as planned. There was a tragic accident during an early lap that took out many drivers, Charlie included, and killed Dan Weldon. In a show of respect and support, the race was stopped, and Charlie and his team postponed any additional announcements.
Half a month later, to mark the start of National Diabetes Awareness month and announce the culmination of the inaugural Drive the Switch campaign, Charlie, with sponsor Novo Nordisk, presented at $50,000 donation to the Diabetes Hands Foundation. Diabetes Hands Foundation is the group behind some great things in our diabetes online community (such as TuDiabetes.org and The Big Blue Test).
Just a couple weeks after that announcement was made, Novo Nordisk and Chip Ganassi Racing announced a three year sponsorship extension for Charlie. I listened to the conference call where the announcement was made, and heard a lot of really positive things.
When asked why they were sponsoring a race team in the INDYCAR series, Camille Lee from Novo answered that it is really all about Charlie and they are very happy with everything he is doing to spread positive messages about diabetes. She said
“historically it has been difficult for people who have driving as a profession and have diabetes to pursue that profession (truck drivers, etc). Charlie is proving that, with well managed diabetes, these people should be able to pursue their chosen profession.”
I am a big fan of Charlie, and will continue to be a big fan of Charlie (sponsorship or not). He’s a good guy, living with diabetes, and doing all he can to help others living with diabetes.