I Was Told I'd Never Race Again. Last Week I Came Third At The Gold Coast 600
The earliest memories I have are begging my parents to get me a go-kart.
Wanting to follow in the footsteps of your parents isn’t uncommon and, for me, all I ever wanted to do was race cars.
Both my dad and my grandfather were successful professional race car drivers and it was always my dream to follow in their footsteps.
I was hooked before I even started racing and, after many years of pleading, my parents finally got me a go-kart when I was 11.
I raced go-karts around Australia for six years before moving up to Formula Ford, and then, in 2006 at age 19, I got my first break in Supercars, racing in the Development Series.
I was living the dream -- legally I wasn’t even allowed to drive a V8 car on the roads but I was racing one on the weekends. My first season was going well, a couple of podium finishes and good pace earned me my first start in the Championship Series, for the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000 Endurance Events.
It was between Sandown and Bathurst when the symptoms first started. I had a bad cold and following that I became incredibly thirsty, lots of bathroom trips, dramatic weight loss and finally, exaggerated short-sightedness. I decided to visit my eye doctor of 13 years as I felt I needed new glasses and quickly, as I was racing that weekend.
After I explained to him the symptoms I had, he knew straight away glasses weren’t going to fix my problem, and that it was very likely I had diabetes. So that night I was in hospital.
It was at the hospital that I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and dealt one of the biggest blows of my life. The doctors had recognised my surname, and my father, and had shown us a letter from the governing body, Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS), suggesting that people with Type 1 Diabetes weren’t allowed to race cars.
I’d gone from the highest of highs, racing Supercars as a 19-year-old, announcing my first start at the famed Bathurst 1000 -- then just a few weeks out I was hit with the lowest of lows -- being told by a doctor that I would never race cars again.
At first I was upset and, for a while, I felt sorry for myself but giving up wasn’t going to be an option. I thought, ‘what if Craig Lowndes or another driver had the same condition and didn’t tell anyone?’
So, I set about learning as much about the condition as I could. I would check my blood glucose level every 10-15 minutes, write the numbers down, started working out how to inject myself, what I could and couldn’t eat.
I decided not to tell many people about my condition, checked myself out of hospital and went racing.
I managed to get on the grid for my first Bathurst in 2006 but unfortunately it didn’t last long, crashing with race favourite Mark Skaife on the opening lap after his car suffered a clutch failure.
From there I set about working hard to get my head around the condition and living with diabetes: my diet, exercise, education and medication, and continue racing, but I was always disciplined to make sure my health was the priority as well as the safety of the other cars, drivers and spectators.
In 2007 I got my first opportunity to be a full-time driver in the Main Supercars Championship Series. While it was a dream come true it was a challenging season. Results weren’t forthcoming and privately, living with Type 1 Diabetes was getting to be too much for me -- I decided to stand down with two events remaining and go public with my condition.
When registration for the next season came around I ticked all the correct boxes that said I was a Type 1 Diabetic. Initially my licence renewals were met with a degree of negativity but over the previous 12-18 months I had built a very strong case that racing with Type 1 Diabetes was possible. In the end, it took an extensive amount of pleading my case and a long deliberation from CAMS but I was granted my International Racing Licence.
I’ve been racing as a Type 1 for the majority of my career and am really proud of what I’ve been able to achieve. I don’t remember anymore what life was like without diabetes; I’m on five injections per day and on race days I make sure I’m not at risk of blood glucose levels dropping into that hypo range.
I don’t jump in the car inside two hours of short-acting insulin injections. It takes a lot of planning around racing schedules but in my 12 years behind the wheel, I am proud to say that I’ve never had an incident caused by my diabetes. I would never want to put those around me at risk, whether they be drivers or spectators.
I want to fight the stigma that people diagnosed with diabetes live with. One third of diabetic Australians prefer not to talk about their condition because they’re embarrassed. (Amcal Pharmacy’s 2018 Diabetes Care Review). This condition is actually stopping young people from chasing their dreams.
I realised I have an awesome opportunity here: I can share my journey and show people that diabetes doesn’t slow you down. You can still chase your dreams and live life to the fullest, I will not let diabetes slow me down and nor should anyone!