Commentary: Beating the Stigma

Ryan Reed - Photo courtesy of Roush Fenway Racing
Ryan Reed – Photo courtesy of Roush Fenway Racing

Just because you have a medical condition with a stigma does not mean you cannot beat the odds.

Diabetes has a lot of stigmas attached to it. There is no cure, but living with it can be pure hell or manageable to live a healthy life. If it goes untreated, certain body functions will no longer work.

At age 17, Ryan Reed found out about this disease. He was diagnosed as Type I – Juvenile onset diabetes. He found out through symptoms that denote the disease.

However, Reed had a passion for motorsport. At the time of his diagnosis, he already was set towards a career in late model stock car racing. His goal was to make it up the NASCAR ranks. All he needed was a care team, a healthy regimen and the drive to be able to fulfill his dream.

Currently, Reed is running in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the Roush Fenway team in the number 16 Ford Mustang. While he was running at Road America, Reed jumped in the Garrett Racing Pirelli World Challenge Honda Fit, sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. Garrett Racing invites drivers with diabetes to run the little Fit in the TCB class as part of raising awareness for the disease. Reed finished second in his stint in PWC.

Now at age 21, the Bakersfield native found a regimen towards healthy living to enjoy his sport. At the time of his diagnosis, Reed found a doctor in California to start the process. One concern was whether to tell the sanctioning body about his disease. It used to be that if you disclose your diagnosis, you are discouraged from racing. Reed was told to not worry about NASCAR. In the end, they were fine with Reed racing. Since then, he showed NASCAR that he could run with the pack at the best of health.

In Reed's own words, to "be the best athlete he can be."

It was a privilege to have conducted this interview with Reed. It is not exactly my beat, but the idea of this young man fighting a disease that hits close to my heart was something to pursue. Not that I am disinterested in NASCAR – I love motorsports. However, Reed's presence brings up a lot of things about this disease and the stigma attached to everyday motorists who are dealing with it.

The message is not "if Reed can manage this disease, so can you!" Moreover, Reed's presence helps to raise the topic up and have it discussed towards understanding what people with this disease can do about it.

Diabetes hits home for me as it contributed to the death of my father in 1986. I also got my diagnosis in 1997 as Type II – adult onset diabetes. My health has been OK. Reed admits he has his bad days, as I do. However, I have survived this long facing it down with the stigmas and the burden of family history.

The stigmas, you ask? We could lose our vision. If we lose feeling in our feet, they will be amputated. We are prone to heart attacks, comas…you name it! It is a disease that I fought hard against to ensure that none of these consequences ever happen to me.

If they do, my job as an automotive writer is done.

Why would I say that? Diabetics could possibly see their driving privileges taken away or restricted in some states. Yet, the American Diabetes Association encourages those of us who drive for a living or live to drive to simply balance the two with their own care regimen. It means that insulin-dependent motorists check their blood sugar before taking the road. It also means that driver's licensing bureaus would have to take each person individually instead of making sweeping regulation preventing a majority of the 19 Million Americans with diabetes from operating a motor vehicle competently.

With proper care, you can do more. Ryan Reed has done that – with his care team and a regimen that includes better nutrition and exercise. Reed has the backing of Lilly Pharmaceuticals as emblazoned on his Mustang and his racing suit. Garrett Racing is doing their part in the Pirelli World Challenge by giving drivers with diabetes a chance to run the Honda Fit around some of the best circuits around. We also have Charlie Kimball of the Verizon IndyCar circuit on our side. He was also diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and is maintaining a strong health regimen to keep on fighting at high speed.

Reed, Kimball and the drivers for Garrett Racing has beaten the stigma. The rest of us can, too. Be healthy, be strong, take care of yourselves and you can drive forever.

NOTE: V&R wants to thank Roush Fenway Racing for the opportunity to interview Ryan Reed for this article

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