A Different Kind of Drive: Ryan Reed’s Marathon Journey
The long haul
Ryan Reed recently touched base with Beyond Type 1 from his current mainstay: Charlotte, North Carolina. As a marathon captain for this year’s Beyond Type Run team, he’s already started prepping—which isn’t easy in North Carolina with the recent heat waves they’ve been experiencing: “I’ve been here for seven years and this is the hottest May I can remember.” For a NASCAR driver who grew up in Bakersfield, the East Coast climate might seem like a big change, but it’s certainly not his biggest one to date.
That would have been in 2011, when Ryan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At just 17 years old, he was incredibly invested in racing, and in the midst of making the permanent move to North Carolina to put down roots in NASCAR’s hub. He was essentially racing at the equivalent of the high school to college level and says, “I spent most of my life doing it and towards the end of 2010, I was up and down the West Coast racing full size stock cars but lower division. It was very competitive and I had put a lot of time and effort into it.”
Like so many newly-diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D), Ryan wondered if this life-change would negatively impact the life he was already leading. He says, “I just remember my first question being, ‘How would it affect my racing?’ I didn’t know anything about diabetes at all, so I didn’t understand what management would look like and really what my lifestyle would look like.”
Ryan was devastated by the first advice he was given upon being diagnosed: “They told me that I would never race again and that I had to focus on living a ‘normal life,’ and I had no idea what that meant. A normal life for me was racing every weekend and pursuing my dreams—it just really rocked my foundation. There were a few months there where that’s just kind of what I believed was the case. And I tried to understand diabetes research, looked up a lot of different athletes, and found a little bit of inspiration there but was no NASCAR driver that I could find that was racing and living with type 1.”
It was a hard couple of months before Ryan found the found the support he needed on the healthcare side, but his confidence grew when he solidified his team. Coming into contact with Anne Peters, MD a few months after his diagnosis was the momentum change he desperately needed. He reflects, “There was a lot of soul searching, and my parents are awesome, we have a great relationship, and they’re behind me 100 percent, but they didn’t know anything about diabetes. They couldn’t offer anything that helped me feel like I could get back into a race car.”
Ryan felt he had yet to get the answers he wanted. Healthcare professionals in California didn’t seem to know the first thing about NASCAR as it related to diabetes. For Ryan, the lack of knowledge was staggering: “I don’t hold back very often, but I remember going [into Dr. Peter’s office] and I was almost a shell of myself, just kind of torn to pieces a little bit—I felt like having a disease control my life really took the wind out of my sails in a lot of different ways.”
Thankfully, seeing Dr. Peters proved different—she told Ryan that if he listened wholeheartedly to her, she would get him back behind the wheel. He feels that, “All it took was one person to tell me I can, to tell me that we’re going to make this right, and all of a sudden, everything as far as diabetes changed in my mind… It was just something that I had to do, just another hurdle or piece of adversity. Anytime you want to be a professional athlete, you know the odds are stacked against you, and so I just looked at it as another one of those that I wasn’t going to let hold me back.”
When Ryan’s racing career took off, he knew for certain his diabetes wasn’t going to hold him back. He grew more and more successful, achieving things he had been dreaming about since he was a kid. That was when it became obvious that he was doing what he was meant to do.
“In my mind, I was born to be a race car driver and that was what I was destined to do, and that’s my passion, that’s my calling in life.” Ryan also believes that telling the story of his diabetes is something he has been called to do. He enjoys spending time speaking at events, conferences and summer camps, inspiring others with T1D to not let it get in the way of their hopes and dreams.
Making things happen
Ryan’s diagnosis inspired him in a number of ways, especially motivating him to get more hands-on with the training and nutrition side of things. He became friends with other drivers, many of whom had the same desire to get in better shape and help improve overall racing performance. Over the years, he started going to the gym and lifting weights. Running and road biking soon followed, leading to spending a year training to complete a triathlon in 2016.
Ryan’s longest run to date is a 14-miler, in preparation for the triathlon. He emphasizes that marathon training differs from triathlon training, as his tactics for that race were to run further than what he would be competing at. But with marathon training, “it’s definitely a different mindset. I’ve talked to a lot of different people that have run marathons and it’s like you have your first 20 miles and then you have the last six, and they’re almost two separate things. You’re going to go through a lot of different stuff over the course of the first 20 miles, but then the last six miles are going to be all you got pretty much.”
Keeping workouts varied is the key, he says. His favorite workouts still involve running, cycling and swimming. Recently, Ryan completed the Murph Challenge, which consists of a mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and another mile run (his trainer threw in 200 sit-ups to keep things interesting!). Mixing it up while continuing to build strength and endurance are what he feels will make him the most ready come race day in November.
Call to captain
Ryan joins Beyond Type Run as this year’s team co-captain and feels the added pressure of the title, but he’s excited to compete alongside others with T1D, defying stigmas of the disease and raising awareness. He feels his teammates are “extremely great examples of what you can do with diabetes,” and is eager to help motivate in his role as captain. He knows too well how hard training can be, but feels it can be equally rewarding.
“I kind of want to share that journey. Not just the moments where I had a great run and feel good, but the days where I’m like, ‘I did not feel like getting out of bed, but you know what? I’m going to wake up and I’m going to go do my morning run.’ Sometimes it’s going to suck, but then there’s going to be days where it’s awesome and you have all the motivation in the world.”
Ryan Reed is raising money for Beyond Type 1 through Beyond Type Run—his fundraising will make a real difference in the lives of those living with T1D.