Professional Motor Racing legend and AMSL Diabetes All-Star, Jack Perkins, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) when he was 19 years old, just before his debut at the Bathurst 1000. Initially he was told this meant no more racing, however after much research and persistence, he figured out how to make his diabetes work for him, so he could keep competing.
Keep reading to find out more about Jack’s experiences living with type 1 diabetes, from prioritising his wellbeing to staying motivated with his diabetes care and more!
Q: Hi Jack! For our readers who may not know you were diagnosed with T1D at age 19. As a young adult living with diabetes, did you feel you had to immediately ‘do it all’?
Being diagnosed at 19, I was definitely the one who had to take charge. I had to learn everything about the condition and understand how it would impact my everyday life, and what I needed to do to manage it. Now when I speak to parents of kids who are diagnosed at a younger age, the parents go through the same education process as the kids. That didn’t happen as much for me because I was already living out of home. Today, I believe this would be a little easier based on the technology that is available, especially for parents and carers. I’ve always had a pretty close relationship with my HCP team and some close friends but ultimately, I’m the one who is living with the condition – it’s hard to pass the responsibility on to anyone else.
Q: How do you think your perception of diabetes has changed over time?
It’s now been 16 years since my type 1 diabetes diagnosis, and it has just become a part of life. Like brushing my teeth or getting dressed each morning, checking my levels and carb counting is all part of my daily routine – and has been made so much easier with the technology that’s now available. Initially I knew very little about type 1, but I had to get my head around what it was and what it meant quite quickly in order to understand how I could best manage it.
It can be frustrating when people don’t understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes or think that I have the condition because I ate too many lollies as a kid. I just use those instances as opportunities to help create more awareness by explaining the facts about type 1.
Q: Of course – and no doubt one of those facts is the all-encompassing nature that a type 1 diabetes diagnosis involves, requiring constant monitoring and management. How do you deal with the mental toll of managing your diabetes – what is your ‘outlet’?
Managing type 1 diabetes can definitely be tricky and there are some days when it really takes it out of you. It may be no surprise, but racing really is my best outlet. When I’ve prepared myself for a race or on-track session, when I’m driving a racing car at speed, for that brief time when I’m concentrating hard on driving it’s almost as though my diabetes doesn’t even exist. 100% of my focus has to be on the race, and any lapse in concentration at speed can be very costly and dangerous. My passion for racing is also what really drove me to quickly get on top of managing my type 1, so I can really credit motorsport for helping me learn to live with type 1 and manage the mental side of it.
Q: What about when you have a ‘bad’ diabetes day mentally, how do you bounce back?
Bouncing back can be tricky. Sometimes there are no two days that are ever the same. I like to debrief myself on what happened, or what went wrong, and try to break it all down so I can come up with a logical way to make tomorrow a better day. That isn’t always as easy as it sounds though, and by the same token sometimes you can make instant gains and all is good again. When I was first diagnosed, my endocrinologist gave me some good advice. He said to make sure you have a day a year where you can treat yourself to some junk food or treat of some sort. For me, that day is Christmas Day and I look forward to eating anything I want that day!
Q: That’s great advice! And speaking of your debrief process where you ‘break it all down’, how do you judge or evaluate your diabetes management? What does a ‘good’ day look like?
Normally I am very disciplined and committed to getting my HbA1C as low as possible, however recently I haven’t been as low as usual and trying to get that down is proving to be challenging. Good days are when I have nice straight lines on my Dexcom G6 CGM, no rollercoasters and maximum time in range!
Q: And what are some of the challenging aspects about managing your T1D? How have you dealt with them?
I think learning how to adapt your usual daily routine can be tough. I often find it challenging when I’m travelling, working and racing because my body isn’t the same as when I was 10 years younger. Likewise, becoming a parent showed me how much time I was spending on managing my diabetes, because now as a father I just don’t have as much time to do it so have had to change the way I manage it. Additionally, if I’m sick or injured, that also throws a spanner in the works. I’m nursing a foot injury at the moment, and because I can’t be physically active with my training etc, my diabetes is typically all over the place. Bouncing back is what I thrive on and knowing that the short-term gain of looking after yourself will provide you with long term gains, especially as you get older.
Q: You touched on life as a parent with type 1 diabetes. How familiar are your loved ones with the in’s and out’s of your diabetes? Do you share your experience often with them?
My wife and I have lived together for over five years, so she has learned a lot about my type 1 in that time. Thankfully, I’ve never had any uncontrollable hypos or anything like that, but we have discussed what could happen and have systems in place just in case it ever does (like glucose injections in the fridge, jelly beans in the cupboard and so on). My daughter is a bit young to comprehend it all, but I can see she looks at the Dexcom G6 sensor in my stomach, or watches me take insulin injections – she’s thinking “what is daddy doing?”. When she’s old enough, I’ll definitely be educating her about it, but I do hope it’s not something she has to deal with herself.
Q: Does diabetes ever come up socially with your family, and friends? What do these discussions look like?
I must admit diabetes isn’t a common topic amongst family and friends. For me, it’s become a way of life that most people don’t even notice I have or are managing. If someone in the extended family has been exposed to it recently and wants to talk about it, we do. I’m always open to sharing my experiences especially if it helps to dispel common myths about type 1.
Q: Lastly, you do a lot of advocacy work around T1D awareness and fostering the diabetes community spirit, particularly with children living with diabetes. Why do you think this is important to do?
When I was first diagnosed, I was told I would never race cars again. I set about proving them wrong because I couldn’t understand why having type 1 diabetes meant that I couldn’t pursue my racing dreams. Once I worked out how I could manage the condition and safely continue to race, it was clear to me that I needed to tell people about my diagnosis. I also realised I had the opportunity to use that conversation to create more awareness and inspire people, who like me, had goals and dreams to make reality! This is incredibly important to me – I’m incredibly passionate about the work I do. I want to use my experience to inspire kids and their families – helping them understand that diabetes is just a lifestyle change and it doesn’t mean they have to give up on their dreams and aspirations.
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This testimonial relates to an individual’s response to treatment with our products and has been edited to ensure it is consistent with the products’ indication(s). The testimonial does not provide any indication, guide, warranty or guarantee as to the response other persons may have to the treatment. Responses to treatment with our products may differ. It is important to consider individual circumstances and consult with your healthcare professional before considering any changes to your diabetes management.
Jack Perkins is a sponsored AMSL Diabetes All-Star. Dexcom and Dexcom G6 are registered trademarks of Dexcom, Inc. in the United States and/or other countries.
“It’s now been 16 years since my type 1 diabetes diagnosis, and it has just become a part of life. Like brushing my teeth or getting dressed each morning, checking my levels and carb counting is all part of my daily routine – and has been made so much easier with the technology that’s now available.”
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