April Welsh lives life in top gear, literally. Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) just before her fourth birthday, April became the first female to race in the Formula Vee class — open wheel, single-seater motor racing formula — with T1D. The 23-year-old is driver of No. 33 Novo Nordisk-sponsored Formula Vee in the Western Australian Championship.
She shares her story here:
Has having T1D ever hold you back from doing anything? Having T1D has never held me back from anything — actually I think it’s made me even more determined to achieve my dreams and goals.
Biggest challenges of living with diabetes as a child? After being diagnosed at such a young age, it wasn’t just my condition, it became the whole family’s priority. Our life lost spontaneity. I wasn’t able to run out the door to go to the park down the road without taking a glucometer and jelly beans. I wasn’t able to eat exactly when I wanted to. I had to wait 10-15 minutes before eating so my insulin would work effectively. Everything had to have a second layer of planning and careful consideration.
How do you manage your diabetes with an active lifestyle? It takes a lot of effort! Exercise is key to improving diabetes control and overall health. I have spent lots of time meticulously investigating how different forms of exercise affect my body. There isn’t one size fits all when it comes to diabetes management so taking the time to find out what works for you is essential. Part of an active lifestyle for me is also about maintaining good mental health. I allow myself a treat now and again because it’s important to celebrate the wins, acknowledge the hard work and reward myself for doing the best I can.
How did you get into car racing? I am a third-generation motorsport competitor. My grandfather used to race cars in the 60s and my father still competes today. I spent most of my childhood growing up in the pits of race tracks, helping dad with his car. Motorsport is a fantastic sport as it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female or how old you are, you can compete or be involved. There aren’t too many sports where you can compete alongside your dad.
How does the adrenaline affect your blood glucose levels? Do you wear a pump? Yes, I am a pumper — in fact, I was the youngest person in WA to start on insulin pump therapy. Managing blood sugar levels on race day can be an absolute nightmare as adrenaline causes my blood sugar levels to skyrocket. I have a race day routine that has been developed with the assistance of my endocrinologist including a dietician to find a plan of attack that works for me. I use a temp basal rate to increase my insulin rates to assist with preventing the spike caused by adrenaline and nerves. I often have to do the reverse post racing as my blood sugar levels tend to plummet after a whole day of physical and mental activity.
You are a diabetes advocate – what does this involve? I have been an ambassador for JDRF since I was diagnosed. I've spent many years raising awareness of T1D through public speaking and sharing my story. I have represented the T1D community on State, national and even international platforms. Meeting politicians and corporate organisations to lobby for crucial research dollars is important for advancing treatment and hope of finding a cure. My relationship with Novo Nordisk (global healthcare company) over the past four years has allowed me to continue advocating and spreading the message through my participation in motorsport. I absolutely love being visited by kids and their families at the race track who just want to say hi or chat about their own diabetes. The one thing I’ve learnt through being an ambassador is that one voice has the power to influence huge change.
Do you have a message for kids living with diabetes? My message for kids living with diabetes is to never let diabetes control you, you control it! Managing diabetes is hard work and I am the first to admit that I am not one to have a perfect Hba1c result every time, however, I’m determined to never let diabetes stop me from doing the things I love. In order to hold a competitive motorsport licence, I am required to have a full medical assessment with approval from my endocrinologist every year. I am fully aware that if I don’t maintain good control and manage my diabetes then I am not able to race. Rather than perceiving diabetes as a burden, use it as motivation. People are achieving amazing things with T1D every day, and you can too!!
What trials have you been involved in and why get involved in research? I have been involved in AdDIT study (still ongoing), effect of severe hypoglycaemia on brain development, closed loop and most recently, the effects of hyperglycaemia on driving performance and ability (UWA). Without participation in research studies, our professors, doctors and researchers would not be able to continue investigating how to manage, control and potentially cure Type 1. The hard work and dedication of researchers help to improve our lives with the benefit of knowledge, medication and advancements in technology. Without them or your support, we wouldn’t be as close as we are now to finding a cure.
The Children's Diabetes Centre is doing a lot of research into the best ways for patients with T1D to exercise safely. If you are interested in taking part in one of the exercise trials, or learning more about what we are doing, please email email@example.com or visit our research section here.