From the outside, 25 year old April Welsh looks like your typical young, determined racer making her way through the motorsport world. But come race day, its not only the tyre pressures, fuel levels, brake temps, engine readings and everything else that needs to be checked getting looked after, April also has to get her own data checked over to see how she is doing.
April is a Type 1 Diabetic and it hasn’t held her back from competing at a national level in a motorsport she loves, Formula Vee. April has not only done these competitions, she also serves as a speaker for various events where she often talks about living life in the fast lane. April also talks with young Diabetics and provides inspiration for them to follow their dreams and not let a diagnosis get in the way.
Her love of motorsport was with her from birth. Her father and grand father both competing in motorsport meant she was exposed to it from a very young age and took to it like a duck to water. April has gained acknowledgement as a level headed driver who can return a car back to the pits without damage which along with her race craft earned her a drive in a Reynolds Racing car for the 2019 national series for Formula Vee.
At a typical race meet where some drivers would be giving off the “I’m in the zone, go away” vibes, April is always seen with a smile on her face and chatting with various people of all ages which is refreshing in motorsport. Although we can’t take up all her time!
On World Diabetes Day 2019, I couldn’t think of a more inspirational, motivational or deserving person to be getting Inside The Helmet with. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did putting it together and it helps gives you the kick up the butt to go after whatever goal you want to achieve by not letting things out of your control rule your life.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST “GET INTO” MOTORSPORT?
I was born into a motorsport family!
Grandfather (Mum’s Dad) was a multiple Formula Vee South Australian state champion. He also competed in multiple Ampol trials in a 1500 VW Beetle. Grandma was also a fan of motorsport, regularly competing in motorkhana events at Glenelg Beach.
Dad has always been interested in motorsport from a young age, attending events at Warwick Farm on weekends to watch the racing but began his career in speedway. He didn’t start circuit racing in Formula Vee until 1994 (the year I was born!).
I used to go along with Dad to the track and very much grew up in the pits at Barbagallo Raceway. I was often found with a can of Mr Sheen in hand cleaning Dads car after every race.
I guess it’s no surprise I was the next generation to sit behind the wheel.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE “GOTTEN INTO” IF IT WASN’T MOTORSPORT?
I was a competitive squad swimmer whilst in high school so if motorsport wasn’t an option then I probably would have pursued the pool.
WHEN DID YOU GET INTO COMPETITIVE MOTORSPORT?
I decided I would like to give racing a go myself when I was 16 however my very responsible parents decided that I should first concentrate on finishing high school then go for my road license and develop some driving experience – as I had never raced anything before.
My first full season of racing was in 2014 – Formula Vee.
HOW DID YOU GO ON YOUR FIRST COMPETITIVE MOTORSPORT EVENT?
At the time Formula Vee had balloted grids and so of course I managed to pull pole for my first race EVER! I finished last, was overtaken by the 1600’s however had the biggest grin from ear to ear.
HOW WAS YOUR MOST CURRENT SEASON?
The 2019 season was my first year competing in the National Formula Vee National Championship in a 1600cc. I was asked to steer the Reynolds Racing Sabre 02 with all the bells and whistles (data, new tyres every round, first year in a team and first year flying into circuits interstate – some of which I hadn’t raced at before).
Finished 8th (14 Vees in contention for winning the championship) and only female competitor
IN TERMS OF ESTABLISHED COMPETITORS, LOCALLY, NATIONALLY, INTERNATIONALLY, WHO HAS BEEN AN INSIPRATION FOR YOU TO KEEP DOING WHAT YOU DO?
Charlie Kimball (USA) – IndyCar
Charlie also has Type 1 Diabetes and is also sponsored by pharmaceutical company, Novo Nordisk.
After watching Charlie race with assistance of real time continuous glucose monitoring hooked up to his car, I was determined to not let Diabetes get in the way of wanting to race.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR SUPPORT TEAM, WHO ARE THEY?
Up until this year with the additional of Reynolds Racing, my support team has very much been my immediate family however racing with Type 1 Diabetes is incredibly complex and has required a team of its own. When I first mentioned to my specialist that I wanted to start racing, we literally started a square one in terms of knowing how to manage blood glucose levels whilst reaching 200kms an hour and surges of adrenaline.
I have since recruited a diabetes team to assist with day to day manage and specialty assistance for racing. I have an endocrinologist, an educator, a dietitian and counselor. Over the years I have called upon these people the day before, the day of and the multiple days after for assistance and advice.
It takes a team of people to compete in motorsport and a team of people to manage diabetes. I’m so thankful for the people in my life who assist me with both!
Grandma, Grandpa and Mum are regulars on race day and love being able to support both Dad and I on the track.
YOUR DAD RECENTLY HUNG UP HIS RACING BOOTS, HOW WAS YOUR FIRST OUTING AT BARBAGALLO WITHOUT HIM BEING ON THE GRID?
He did but I know it won’t be the last time him and I share some ‘daddy daughter’ moments in motorsport.
It’s not quite the same without him however I feel racing the 1600cc in the national series this year was a big step for me personally and taught me the important lesson of going after what you want. He’s taught me some incredibly important life lessons – both on and off the track and is never far away to talk about the car or debrief after a race. We will always have that bond – regardless of where he is!
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FIND WITH HAVING TYPE 1 DIABETES AND THE MANAGEMENT OF IT WHEN RACING?
The biggest challenge associated with racing and having T1D is managing blood glucose levels and adrenaline.
Adrenaline has a massive affect on blood glucose levels as the body releases extra glucose in preparation for the race – however as my body doesn’t produce the insulin needed to keep my blood glucose levels at a ‘normal’ level, I have to manage this manually.
I wear a insulin pump (which makes life easier than having to inject all the time) and more recently have also started using continuous glucose management which involves wearing a sensor inserted into tissue. The sensor sends a wireless, real time reading of what my blood glucose level is via Bluetooth to my insulin pump. The pump has algorithms built into it which either increases the amount of insulin being delivered to keep my levels within range or alternatively suspend the delivery of insulin to prevent my levels from dropping.
This technology (the official term of the process is called ‘Auto Mode’) is very advanced for diabetes management and something I have only trialled once so far this year. When I first started racing this technology wasn’t available and so the only way were we able to see what was going on with my blood glucose levels was by pricking my finger multiple times throughout race day – sometimes up to 30 finger pricks within a few hours! I would check before getting in the car, as soon as I came in after a race and then again 10-15 minutes later.
Managing my diabetes on race day is very much like analysing and adjusting the data on a race car! Whilst we check tyre pressures, fuel, check temp readings, brakes etc – I’m busy checking what my data is doing and how we could potentially prepare better for the next race.
HAS RACING WITH TYPE 1 CHANGED HOW YOU’VE HAD TO LIVE LIFE OUTSIDE OF RACING?
Racing has encouraged me to live a healthier life. Just like obtaining a drivers licence, in order to hold a motorsport licence and have Diabetes, I must ensure I look after myself, manage my Diabetes well and have no signs of any early complications. I decided when I started racing that in order to get the best result out of my racing that mean’t I put more focus on my diabetes. I found a team of private medical professionals, educators and specialists to assist me in my pursuit of racing.
Whilst the amount of time that I spend on my diabetes preparing, managing and reviewing after an event is sometimes overwhelming it is all worth it for that moment behind the wheel. Racing is the only time I feel like I don’t have Diabetes – I’m the one in total control and I’m so focused on what I’m doing that whilst I’m racing, Diabetes doesn’t come into the picture.
I’ve developed an environment where I am 100% confident in my preparation that most often than not, I’m able to compete without Diabetes getting in the way.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I hope to continue progressing in my career. I have absolutely loved the challenge this year of learning a new car, new circuits, reading data, working with a dedicated group of people which very much became family and racing against the best in the Formula Vee business. I love racing open wheelers because you feel like you are part of the car however as long as I am learning new things then I strongly believe I will love whatever I end up doing in the future!
An all Type 1 Diabetic IndyCar team would be cool though ;)
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST MOTORSPORTING MOMENT SO FAR?
First race win at Tailem Bend in 2018 – First time at the circuit and attended the event without any family or usual support crew. I invited a friend to join me and we definitely proved that two women are absolutely capable of doing it ourselves.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR WORST MOTORSPORT MOMENT?
No such thing as a worst moment! Definitely days that are more of a struggle, challenge and / or disappointment than others but that is truly the natural of the beast and why we all love motorsport. The added challenge of managing blood glucose levels whilst learning a new circuit, in a different time zone, focusing on strategies and race tactics can be tiring but when we get it right – it really makes all the hard work worth it.
WHAT IS IT YOU LOVE THE MOST ABOUT MOTORSPORT?
I love motorsport because it doesn’t discriminate! You can be male or female, have type 1 diabetes or have no health conditionals at all and still be able to get out there and be just as competitive as the person next to you on the grid. At the end of the day when that helmet is on – it’s all about who can get to the chequered flag first.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ANYONE WITH DIABETES WHO WANTS TO GET INTO MOTORSPORT?
Control your Diabetes so Diabetes doesn’t control you!
When I first told Mum and Dad I wanted to start racing, Diabetes wasn’t even a questionable factor – I wanted to race so we made it happen!
Of course there is going to speed bumps and days that are more difficult and physically exhausting than others but the day that you get to stand on the podium knowing you gave that race everything you’ve got even with a faulty pancreas and robot bits attached to you – that’s a bloody awesome feeling!!
WE WRAPPED THIS UP JUST AS APRIL WAS JUMPING ON A PLANE HEADING OFF TO GIVE A TALK AT A HEALTH CONFERENCE ABOUT LIVING IN THE FAST LANE. A VERY BUSY YOUNG LADY ON AND OFF THE TRACK!
APRIL IS CURRENTLY WORKING TOWARDS HER 2020 GOAL OF GETTING ANOTHER NATIONAL SEAT, HERE’S HOPING SHE GETS THERE!
To find out more about April’s journey and what she is up to both on and off the track, be sure to check out her Facebook page.
For more information about the team and medical innovations involved, visit Novo Nordisk’s Facebook page.