In the second installment of Parents in the Pits (you can read the first installment here) I speak to Kayleigh Hilborn, mother to 9 year old karter Caleb. While we talk about all the usual subjects like scheduling, the cost of karting and the like, Kayleigh and Caleb have to deal with an additional issue in that Caleb has ASD and is a Type 1 diabetic. While this may frighten some children and their parents from sport in general and motorsport in particular, as you will see, Caleb has other ideas.
MP: How did Caleb get interested in racing?
Kayleigh Hilborn: Not really sure. His dad and I have watched different series, so it has always been around. Caleb loved his Hot Wheels and was always yelling “faster, faster!” in the car, so it is just something that he naturally gravitated to.
The key though is when he met drivers Charlie Kimball and Chase Pelletier. They were extremely important role models to him (and still are) but that is what lit the fire. Having two positive role models in the sport made a huge difference to Caleb, especially when it came to his diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. They were instrumental in helping him to accept and own his diagnosis and as a result he has developed close relationships with them both. They gave him the courage to take care of himself which is pretty significant since he was diagnosed at 3 years old.
MP: How did you as a parent deal with the topsy turvy (to put it mildly) world of karting? Did you find it to be more expensive than you expected?
KH: This is the first year of him racing his own kart whereas last year he was doing more arrive and drive. We tried to prepare for the costs of racing, but there were a lot of unexpected expenses; but those pale compared to what he has learned. Caleb has learned important lessons about things like what it is like to lose and how you work towards an end goal. He had to learn how to fail, and he has built so many great friendships in karting that he has great friends to cheer him on and support him. This came into particular importance after he had a big crash. The comradery has been exceptional. Of course, I am under no illusions that as it gets more competitive things will change but at the same time, he is moving up with the same karters that have started with him so hopefully that will continue.
MP: Caleb has some challenges notably diabetes and ASD (mild autism). On top of everything, how does Caleb cope with this both day to day and in karting? How does it affect his racing?
KH: Caleb has always had a positive outlook, but karting is the best therapy that he could have ever had. The environment has really helped him deal with everything. He has learned how to advocate for himself to get the best care for himself while simultaneously pursuing his dream. Because he has to have a blood sugar level above 5 to get behind the wheel of his kart we have to have strategies to make sure he stays stable, especially during endurance races. This is where his relationship with Charlie and Chase made such an impact. Because racing is his dream and seeing how these drivers have coped with things, they have exchanged tips on how to deal with his diabetes which has really allowed him to take ownership of his own health. They have given him a lot of options and it has really helped him both on and off the track.
MP: Racing takes up a lot of time. How does Caleb maintain a semblance of a “normal” life compared to other non-racing kids his age?
KH: Caleb is a very active kid. Other sports never really went that well for him for whatever reason. He never really seemed into them. Before racing he would try things, get frustrated and give up but now he is able to focus more. And getting involved in other activities helps his fitness and blood sugar levels so it is important.
MP: How does he handle the challenge of school work in addition to his racing?
KH: He has definitely shown a lot of improvement at school. There are not as many issues as before racing. There is not too much homework right now, but I know that it will be a challenge going forward. We also make sure to spend time with family and friends and enjoy our down time.
MP: What are Caleb’s long-term goals? (I know, he is 9!)
KH: He is very clear on the steps he wants to take to get where he wants to be. He wants to be an epic racer and inspire other kids. He wants to race Super GTs. Specifically, he would love to race a Nissan GTR aka Godzilla.
MP: Motorsport is a very emotional sport with plenty of highs and lows. As a parent what are the kinds of things you try to do to help Caleb deal with this, especially the lows?
KH: I would say the most important thing is that racing has taught him how to lose. He sometimes needs to take a break and go sit in our car for a bit, but he doesn’t quit. We celebrate whatever the accomplishment is from the day. Did he pass someone? Did he qualify well? Did he stick with it even when it was really challenging? Was he a good sport? We celebrate all the little things just as much as we celebrate podium finishes.
MP: What would you tell other parents who are faced with obstacles such as Caleb? What advice would you give them?
KH: Breathe. It is really important to connect with other people with similar experiences in person and online as well as other racers with the same issue. You need to connect with other parents, so you don’t feel alone. It is also extremely important to let your kid have a voice, listen to him and involve him so he has some control over what is happening in his life. Listen to him as he explains how things affect him.
MP: Do people treat him differently?
KH: Sometimes people will treat him differently, but he doesn’t stand for it and he will explain what the situation is. He likes to inform the misinformed. He also likes to explain to people that he can do anything, he just has to monitor his sugar levels.
MP: How do people follow Caleb’s progress?
MP: Anything further to add?
KH: We are so grateful to Ornge, McMaster, the racing community, our home track, our family and friends and our racing family for all of the support, encouragement, help, knowledge, and all-around awesomeness that has made it possible for Caleb to be where he is today. I’m excited to see how this season unfolds.