DES MOINES, IOWA (AP) - IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball found it more than humbling to be honored with a group that included an 11-year-old Texas boy who started a city-wide recycling program and a Baltimore woman who founded a nonprofit program to help the homeless.
But Kimball earned what’s known as the “Nobel Prize of Public Service” by choosing not to be modest about his own fight against diabetes.
Kimball, along with NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and former hockey star Pat LaFontaine, was given a Jefferson Award, one of the nation’s top honors for community service and volunteerism, on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Kimball, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes nearly five years ago, was lauded because of his efforts to raise awareness about the disease.
“It was unreal to be included in a group like that. A group of people that had done so much,” said Kimball, who will run in Saturday night’s IndyCar race in Iowa. “It was almost embarrassing, in a way that I don’t see what I do as a pure dedication to service because it’s a by-product of doing what I love. But at the same time, it is very important to me to do that.”
Kimball still remembers the exact day he was diagnosed: Oct. 16, 2007.
Until then, Kimball was just another healthy young driver progressing toward a permanent ride in a major series.
Kimball, a native of California, started his career in open-wheel racing when he was just 17. In 2005, Kimball won five races in British Formula 3 racing, becoming the first American to win even one event in that circuit in 13 years, and finished second in the championship race.
Two years later, Kimball went to the doctor’s office for an unrelated skin rash. He’d also been complaining of constant thirst, and when Kimball jumped on a scale he realized he’d lost 25 pounds in just five days.
Kimball, then 22, skipped the rest of the season in the World Series of Renault after being diagnosed. But he quickly learned that diabetes wouldn’t keep him from pursuing his open-wheel aspirations as long as he took the necessary precautions.
“If he had said, `No, I don’t think you’ll ever drive again,’ I’d have found a different doctor,” Kimball said. “I spent that winter getting healthy again, regaining the weight, getting stronger and figuring out what diabetes meant.”
Kimball learned how to keep his diabetes in check by constantly checking his blood-sugar levels and managing his insulin doses. By 2009, he was back in the U.S. racing in the Indy Lights series, a feeder system for the IndyCar series.
Diabetes is what led Kimball to his current sponsor.
That eventually led to his current sponsorship in the IndyCar series, as Kimball and Novo Nordisk teamed up with Chip Ganassi Racing and the No. 83 car.