SPARTA — In the early weeks of 2011, Ryan Reed was making his life's dream come true. The kid from Bakersfield, Calif., then 17, was moving to Charlotte to pursue his goal of becoming a NASCAR driver.
Yet as he worked to get his new apartment set up, Reed felt as fatigued as an old man.
"And I was just really thirsty," Reed said. "I'd drink two big bottles of water back-to-back, and it was like nothing. I still felt like I was in the middle of the desert and there was no water."
A teenage boy eating a diet heavy on cheeseburgers and french fries, Reed nevertheless noticed that his clothes were becoming looser and looser. Roughly 180 pounds when he left for North Carolina, Reed was on his way to 160 when he went home to California.
His alarmed parents ordered him to visit a doctor.
"I went, he listened to my symptoms, and said right away all signs point toward diabetes," Reed said Monday. The official diagnosis was Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes.
Yet it was what the doctor said after that which sank Ryan Reed's heart. "He said I would never sit inside a race car again," Reed said. "For me, that was just devastating."
How he came to be there, Reed hopes, will inspire others.
That month after his diabetes diagnosis "was pretty much the worst month of my life," Reed said.
He scoured the Internet searching for information about his disease. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. Only 5 percent of those afflicted with diabetes have Type 1.
Looking for hope, Reed did search after search for athletes who had continued their careers in spite of diabetes. NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, Olympic gold medal swimmer Gary Hall Jr. and IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball were names that came up.
Reed kept noticing another name, too. Dr. Anne Peters, a physician at the University of Southern California who specializes in treating diabetes, had worked with a number of diabetic athletes.
Over the phone, Reed's father, Mark, pleaded with a receptionist in Peters' office to tell the doctor his son's story. "The receptionist said 'I'll go and get Anne," Ryan Reed said. "Thank heavens she did."
The concern with a diabetic race car driver would be if dramatic oscillations in the blood-glucose levels led to him becoming unconscious. Peters told Reed that new treatment options meant the driver should be able to manage his condition without becoming a threat to other drivers.
"From what I'm told, NASCAR took some convincing," Reed said. "But after Dr. Peters explained to them how it could be done safely, they were very supportive."
Reed follows a strict dietary regimen designed to ensure his blood sugar level starts races at 120 grams a deciliter. He keeps a real-time glucose monitor on the dashboard of the No. 16 Ford.
If Reed's level drops too low, he consumes a sugary drink inside his car. Should his level ever rise too high, one of his crew members, engine tuner Craig Herrman, is trained to give him an insulin injection.
"We haven't had to do that," Reed said of taking a shot during a race. "Hopefully, if I continue to monitor my health, we never will."
Not only did diabetes not end Reed's career, his condition ultimately led to his gaining car sponsors.
"I just wanted to use racing to deliver a positive message," Reed said. "I never dreamed I would get a sponsor out of speaking about my diabetes."
This February, Reed's story got a Hollywood moment. On the final lap of the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway, Reed got a push from teammate Chris Buescher and made a dramatic pass of Sprint Cup star Brad Keselowski to win.
To date, that is Reed's only victory in 54 career Xfinity Series starts. Still, he comes to Kentucky Speedway eighth in season points.
So, four years after being told diabetes would prevent his sitting inside a race car, Ryan Reed is a NASCAR driver with a win at Daytona.
"I hope other kids who have what I have," Reed said, "will see that you can still achieve your dreams."