PIQUA — “Attitude, a hard head and a little bit of faith” have helped David Ashburn through a laundry list of health issues including diabetes and numerous surgeries, and put him back on track — the NASCAR track, that is.
The 51-year-old Piqua resident won’t be speeding around the racing circuit, but he will be represented at the NASCAR XFINITY Series this month.
As a winner of the My Diabetes Pit Crew Sweepstakes, Ashburn was deemed an honorary pit crew member; as such, he’ll have his name featured on an actual pit crew member’s fire suit and his photo displayed on a mosaic banner that will decorate the pit wall of driver Ryan Reed — a diabetic himself— during the series races.
Reed, along with Lilly Diabetes, are the sponsors of the sweepstakes, which was created to emphasize the importance of a support system in diabetes management.
The essential need for support from family and friends during a health crisis is something Ashburn knows all too well. “It’s not a battle you can fight by yourself,” he said.
“It all started Labor Day weekend 2011. I hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of days. What I thought were back spasms were actually heart attacks,” Ashburn recalled.
Tests revealed a 97 percent blockage in the main artery of Ashburn’s heart — colloquially known as “the widowmaker” — requiring him to have quintuple bypass surgery. While in intensive care, he developed pneumonia with high fevers that couldn’t be brought down, so he was put int a medically induced coma.
“I woke up on my own about three weeks later,” Ashburn said. “When you wake up and find out what has happened to you, you go through an initial state of shock and you lay there and try to process what’s going on. You go through the ‘Why me?’ and ‘What am I going to do?’ and ‘Am I ever going to be the same again?’”
As if these health woes weren’t frightening and traumatic enough, Ashburn was then diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
“I just kind of laid there and let it process, and turned to a little bit of faith, then I decided the only thing that was going to make me better was to just get up and do something about it,” he said.
Less than a year later, Ashburn participated in the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure cycling fundraiser and started the AshburnProject for Diabetes Awareness, through which he bought and delivered to victims of Hurricane Sandy more than $1,000 worth of diabetic supplies including glucose testers, strips, alcohol wipes, lancets and glucose tablets.
“(The Ashburn Project) is something I came up with within not too many hours after coming to. It was just a way of being philanthropic so people wouldn’t have to go through what I went through,” said Ashburn, a former golf pro who now works as assistant service manager at Joseph Airport Toyota in Vandalia.
Winning the NASCAR/Lilly sweepstakes was the result of a spur-of-the-moment decision made while browsing Twitter, Ashburn said.
“The funny part about this whole thing is that I was never a NASCAR fan, though my wife (Sonja) is and thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I saw (the contest) because I followed Ryan Reed because he’s a diabetic and because some of the medicine I use is from Eli Lilly.
“I never win anything, but I thought I’d click on it just to see what happened. It was just on a whim that I entered the sweepstakes. I do pay more attention to NASCAR now,” he said with a chuckle.
In addition to being represented at the XFINITY Series, Ashburn received a phone call from the 22-year-old Reed.
“It was nice to talk to this young man. He was very polite and sounded like he’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Ashburn said.
Other perks of his victory included educational materials about diabetes from Lilly, and following the November races, Ashburn will receive his personalized fire suit patch signed by Reed.
“It’s a nice way to show support for those of us who are kind of in the same boat together,” Ashburn said.
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at (937) 451-3341 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall.