NASCAR’s Miguel Paludo Races With Diabetes
At a Glance
|Latest A1C: 6.4%
Medication: Paludo injects long-acting insulin in the morning and again at 7 p.m. He uses rapid-acting insulin as needed to cover meals and high blood glucose. When he runs, he sometimes drops his long-acting dose to once a day and reduces the number of rapid-acting insulin shots he takes.
Tests: He checks his blood glucose up to eight times per day.
Meals: Paludo sticks to a mostly healthy diet of salads or steak with veggies and rice. Both he and his wife are big sushi fans, which he might eat for lunch or dinner. He tends to avoid pasta and bagels yet indulges in ice cream on occasion.
For a guy who makes a living from a volatile sport—namely, racing a truck at close to 200 miles per hour—Miguel Paludo is surprisingly chill. Case in point: When his truck slammed into a wall at the Daytona International Speedway in 2012, sending him spinning and airborne before the engine caught fire, Paludo took the collision and loss of what was shaping up to be a second-place finish in stride. “It was one of the biggest hits of NASCAR, but I walked away and I was fine,” he says in a lilting Brazilian accent. “In my mind, it never affected my performance from then on. There’s nothing I could do different.”
It’s the same attitude he’s had toward his type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with when he was 21. “It was never something I was pissed [about] or thought of like a bad thing because you can manage it,” says Paludo, now 29. And aside from a fleeting thought to his racing career when he got the news, Paludo didn’t worry that diabetes would destroy his dreams. He’d set his mind on becoming a racecar driver as a kid, after all.
Miguel Paludo’s career began on a go-cart track in Brazil in 1997, back before he was old enough to grow facial hair. He nabbed the regional championship, and after a seven-year hiatus, Paludo, then 21, returned to racing, winning a regional touring-car series with his brother, finding success on a national level, and landing in the 2008 Porsche GT3 Championship Series. He was diagnosed with type 1 in midseason. The Porsche series catapulted him into the next stage of his career and personal life.
It was the last corner of the last lap of the last race. Paludo was a few points behind the leader when the driver got stuck. Paludo made the turn and got the win—and the girl. “I had told my [then girlfriend Patricia], if I win the championship, I’m going to marry you,” he says. “At the media interview, I asked her to marry me.”
|Wake-up: Checks blood glucose.
Breakfast: Paludo starts his day with coffee and a breakfast that combines protein, carbs, and fat, such as a sandwich with meat and light cream cheese.
Noon: Checks blood glucose.
Lunch: “I’m not really hungry on race day,” he says. While he’ll eat lunch during practice, Paludo skips the meal the day of a race because a full meal combined with a stifling racecar makes his stomach ache. Instead, Paludo keeps his blood glucose stable by drinking a lot of Gatorade.
Late afternoon: Checks blood glucose.
Dinner: He often doesn’t eat before races, many of which take place around 8 p.m. Again, Gatorade comes in handy.
Before the race: Paludo makes sure his glucose levels are in a safe range before he jumps into his truck. He tries to keep his level higher than normal to reduce the risk of going too low. If he’s low, Paludo will drink more Gatorade or soda, or snack on a cereal bar.
Race: When he’s in racecar-driver mode, Paludo doesn’t worry about his diabetes. “I don’t like to think about diabetes when I’m racing,” he says. “I need to be focused 100 percent.”
After the race: He checks his blood glucose again to make sure he didn’t go too low while he was driving. On a typical race day, Paludo’s blood glucose is between 120 and 220 mg/dl once he’s crossed the finish line.
Before bed: Checks blood glucose.
Middle of the night: Because he has a tendency to go low, Paludo sets an alarm so that he will wake up around 3 or 4 a.m. for a test. If he’s done a lot of exercise that day, he may check his levels twice during the night.
A year (and another championship win) later, Paludo made another big decision: He moved to the United States to pursue a career in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. (Though Paludo takes the medical tests required of all NASCAR drivers, he doesn’t need to provide any additional documentation because of his diabetes.) “You know, you have one chance in your life,” he says, “and you say, ‘If I don’t do it, it’ll never happen again.’ ”
Throughout 2010, Paludo got comfortable with North American racing—oval tracks instead of Brazilian road courses, longer races (between 2 and 2½ hours versus 45 minutes back home)—and his new vehicle: a heavy pickup truck that drove differently than the lighter, low-slung Porsches he was used to. The following year, he came close to winning the coveted Rookie of the Year title.
Diabetes on Board
You’d think, what with the thousands upon thousands of screaming NASCAR fans, the pressure of the competition, and the thrill of high-speed racing, Paludo’s blood glucose would be filled with as many peaks and valleys as the Sierra Nevada. It might, if Paludo weren’t so cool under pressure and able to avoid stress- and adrenaline-related glucose surges. “Racing doesn’t affect my blood sugar a lot because I’m pretty calm,” he says.
The same can’t be said of a different type of racing: running. Paludo may spend most of his time sitting behind the wheel, but much of his free time involves pounding the pavement. He runs 3 miles a day and half marathons for fun, but has to work hard to keep his blood glucose from plummeting. “If I run, sometimes I don’t need [short-acting] insulin all day long,” he says.
Paludo checks his blood glucose between six and eight times a day, cautious of any blood glucose fluctuations, especially considering he spent his first year of diabetes so plagued with lows that his A1C hovered around 4.8 percent. Eight years later, and he’s at 6.4 percent, with an average blood glucose level of about 120 mg/dl and fewer dangerous lows.
But exercise isn’t the only way Paludo keeps his blood glucose in range. “My wife and I, we’re pretty healthy. When she cooks, I need less insulin than I usually do,” he says. Brazilian staples, such as rice and veggies, make up the bulk of his meals, though he’s hardly restrictive. “I have no problem having ice cream. If I want a regular Coke, I have it and take insulin.”
That said, he’s aware that life at the track could lead him down a tasty but unwholesome road if he gives in to temptation too often. “It’s pretty hard to have healthy food at the racetrack,” he says. “Sometimes I have no choice but to eat hamburgers at the racetrack, and I love it. But if you race 25 weeks in a year, that’s like half a year, and it’s not healthy.”
Now more than ever, Paludo has a good reason to take his health more seriously. His 1½-year-old son, Oliver, was diagnosed with diabetes at 8 months. Paludo wants to prove to Oliver that diabetes doesn’t define you. He’s been sharing the message with strangers for years, raising awareness about the disease once he entered the spotlight. (He drove a blue truck in honor of World Diabetes Day in 2012, for instance.)
To prove that diabetes doesn’t have to slow you down, Paludo is going after his dream: to win the 2013 Camping World Truck Series Championship and, eventually, to make it to NASCAR’s cup series (the premier series, featuring stock cars and the best drivers in the biz). For the time being, though, he’s just grateful he’s able to live his dream—regardless of diabetes. He remembers the first time he set foot on a U.S. track. “After the national anthem, there is a moment of silence, and I’m thinking [about] how lucky I am to be doing it,” he says. “I looked at the car and I said, ‘Man, this is so cool.’ ”