The race for awareness

The race for awareness

Race car driver Ryan Reed doesn’t let diabetes keep him from achieving his dreams

By Mina Radman

ARCA Racing Series driver Ryan Reed visited UF to raise awareness about Type 1 diabetes for World Diabetes Day. Reed was diagnosed in 2011./Photo by Jesse S. Jones

In February 2011, Ryan Reed was preparing to move from California to North Carolina to pursue a racing career when he became ill. During an eight-day trip to North Carolina, Reed couldn’t quench his thirst and rapidly lost weight.

At age 17, Reed was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a medical condition he didn’t understand.

“Dumb 17-year-old me was like, well, I’ve got a race next weekend, so what’s the deal, what do I have to do?” said Reed, 19. “They said racing wasn’t in my future, and I said that was unacceptable.”

Refusing to give up on his dreams of becoming a professional race car driver, Reed researched athletes with diabetes and learned he could continue racing as long as he was cautious about his health.

Reed’s involvement with the University of Florida began when the UF Diabetes Center of Excellence asked Reed to participate in a research study, which he could not do because of his racing schedule. Instead, Reed brought one of his professional race cars to Gainesville in November to help promote diabetes awareness and the Center of Excellence’s diabetes research.

Michael Haller, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist and diabetes researcher in the UF College of Medicine, said public awareness is important because many people do not understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin, which is necessary to convert sugar into energy. The disease is usually diagnosed in children, teens and young adults. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or no longer produces enough of it, often because of advancing age or issues such as obesity and high blood pressure. Ninety-five percent of diabetes cases are Type 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Type 1 patients are a minority, so people tend to make misconceptions about their disease,” Haller said.

Reed said people often think he can’t eat certain foods or partake in certain activities, but that isn’t true.

“Diabetes forces your hand into a healthier lifestyle, but by no means can you not eat or drink something,” Reed said.

He began Ryan’s Mission, a nonprofit organization that builds awareness about diabetes, to tell others that diabetes does not have to slow them down.

Reed races the No. 15 Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or JDRF, car in the ARCA Racing Series. He plans to move into the NASCAR Nationwide Series next year.

“I’m showing people that they don’t have to give up,” he said.