ThatsRacin

Diabetes tries to tell NASCAR driver Ryan Reed, fan they can’t, but they don’t listen

NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Reed, left, talks with a crew member before practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday. Reed, who lives with Type 1 diabetes, is 10th in the Xfinity series standings.
NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Reed, left, talks with a crew member before practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday. Reed, who lives with Type 1 diabetes, is 10th in the Xfinity series standings. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

It’s 2011, and Ryan Reed is back home in Bakersfield, Calif., collecting the last of his things.

He is about to cram his belongings into his truck, then drive 36 hours to Charlotte. He’s only 17, but he wants to be a racecar driver, and North Carolina is where he plans to make his dream come true.

“To a lot of people growing up, racing go-karts is, ‘Oh, this is a cool hobby,’ ” he says. “But for me, it was always what I wanted to do for a career.”

But he almost doesn’t make it.

Before his journey, Reed visits his doctor. He’s been losing weight, experiencing irregular fatigue and extreme thirst. He wants to make sure he’s OK.

“They diagnosed me with Type 1 diabetes,” he says. “Told me I’d never race again.”

It’s Christmas Day 1981, and Stephanie Bradshaw is on her way to the hospital.

It’s not for her, but for her dad, Steve. He has been diagnosed with diabetes, and he and Stephanie’s mom have to learn how to inject insulin.

“I remember them piling me and my brother in the car and going,” she says now. “And I know he hated it. He just didn’t care. He was in denial.”

Diabetes can be hereditary, so Stephanie’s parents have her and her brother checked for the disease, too.

They don’t have it. At least not yet.

Stephanie is 6.

Three weeks after Reed is diagnosed, his future as a racecar driver remains uncertain.

“When a doctor tells you something, who else do you turn to?” Reed says. “There was definitely a time where I thought, man, this could be it.”

But Reed isn’t giving up.

He considers abandoning his lifelong ambitions and going to college. Instead, he starts researching.

He finds Dr. Anne Peters, an expert at the University of Southern California’s Westside Center for Diabetes. She helps Type 1 diabetics Charlie Kimball, an IndyCar driver, and Gary Hall Jr., an Olympic gold medal swimmer, compete while managing the disease.

Maybe, he thinks, there is a chance.

“He sought me out,” Peters says. “He was determined to figure out how to keep racing, because he realized that having Type 1 diabetes could be problematic to his career. He was one of the most determined humans I have ever met.”

Racing with diabetes can be dangerous in case the driver's blood sugar drops too low. Peters says if that happens, drivers like Reed risk a loss of fine motor skills and coordination -- the last thing you want behind the wheel of a race car.

Peters tells Reed he can continue racing, but it will require extreme insulin management. If Reed isn’t willing, this won’t work.

Reed says he is. He wants to be a racecar driver.

January 30, 2004. Remember the date, because Bradshaw does.

Now an adult living in Garner, near Raleigh, Bradshaw waits at the doctor’s office.

They confirm her and her father’s worst nightmare. She, too, has diabetes.

Bradshaw calls to give her father the news.

“We both cried. He was so devastated,” she says. “I can still feel the hurt in my heart that he felt. I’ll never forget it, just like I’ll never forget the date.”

With Dr. Peters supporting him, Reed makes the move to North Carolina.

By 2012, he’s racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck series. The next year he joins Roush Fenway Racing and moves up to the Xfinity series, driving the No. 16 Ford Mustang. He’ll drive in Saturday’s Hisense 300, an Xfinity event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

His sponsors? The American Diabetes Association and Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company that produces, among other things, insulin.

Bradshaw’s path is not as smooth.

She progresses to needing an insulin pump. Her brother is diagnosed with the disease. And her father, Steve, is declared legally blind.

By October 2015, she reaches a peak weight of 283 pounds.

That’s when an email from the American Diabetes Association inspires her. The association sponsors events across the country, and Bradshaw wants to join the Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes near Raleigh.

But it’s only a month away.

“I needed to practice,” she says. “I need to be able to walk in the walk and not just be out of breath.”

The next morning she walks. She puts in her earbuds, pulls up her walking playlist – the songs have to upbeat, she says – and hits the sidewalk. She walks in the dark, in the cold, in whatever.

“I don’t wanna be like my dad, who just sat at home because he couldn’t do anything because he had diabetes,” she says. “I don’t wanna be that person.

“Do I like getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning? No. But do I wanna be better? Do I wanna live longer?

“Absolutely.”

By the start of the event, Bradshaw has raised over $2,000, the second-most of anyone. And her team, with just a month to prepare, has collected the most money in the family and friends division.

It rains the day of the walk, which spoils some of the festivities, but Bradshaw is out there anyway.

She has waited a while for this.

The NASCAR Xfinity series races twice every year at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The first of those events this year is Saturday afternoon. Reed’s team, looking to honor someone living with diabetes who has an inspiring story, emails the American Diabetes Association weeks in advance.

Ashley Lamprecht, who helps coordinate the Step Out walk in the Triangle, immediately thinks of Bradshaw.

In April, she is selected. She will have her name on the side of Reed’s car in Saturday’s race, and will be at the track to meet him after it’s over.

Reed and Bradshaw are from different places, with different lives and backgrounds, but their love for racing has brought them together, and given them a platform.

Bradshaw, now 41, still works out every morning. She’s down to 188 pounds and trying to tone up, as she calls it.

She rides four wheelers with her husband, and goes camping in the woods. And if she wants to eat some sweets, you can bet she’ll eat them.

“I don’t deny myself. That’s not my attitude,” she says. “That doesn’t mean my life has changed, that doesn’t mean I’ve gained the hundred pounds back. It just means that for today, I might want to have a little baby piece of chocolate, and it will be OK.”

Ryan is 22, and 10th in the Xfinity series points standings. He wants his #IDriveMyHealth campaign to encourage people to take a more active role in their health.

That’s what Bradshaw has done.

“When there’s somebody out there going, ‘I can’t do this or I can’t do that,’ it frustrates me because that’s not the attitude you should have,” she says. “I have diabetes. Diabetes does not have me. It does not dictate Stephanie Bradshaw at all.

“I go on with my life. I do everything I want to do.”

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5337, @brendanrmarks

Want to know more?

For more information from the American Diabetes Association, visit their website at diabetes.org.

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