Wickens Determined To Race Again

During a press conference, Robert Wickens exuded confidence about his road to recovery from spinal cord injuries sustained in August, 2018. [Joe Jennings Photo]

During a press conference, Robert Wickens exuded confidence about his road to recovery from spinal cord injuries sustained in August, 2018. [Joe Jennings Photo]

By Joe Jennings

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – NTT IndyCar Series driver Robert Wickens, who sustained severe injuries in a high-speed crash at Pocono Raceway in August, 2018, returned to the environment he loves the most–the race track–for the first time since his accident. The likable Canadian joined his Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the race he came so close to winning a year ago.

During a lull in the action, Wickens visited the media center to discuss his recovery and respond to questions posed by reporters. “It is nice to be back in an environment I am familiar with,” he said with a smile. “Being back at a race track makes me feel a lot better and I want everyone to know I am doing well. I am getting some stuff back and getting better each day but it is a long road. You feel like you are on a long 100-mile road trip which is a straight line all the time. We are making progress one step at a time but with spinal injuries, you never know when a day comes that you won’t progress any more. I just want to get as healthy as I can.”

Commenting on the outpouring of support, he added, “I expected a lot but it has gone way out of what I expected. Entering pit road, the fans were cheering my name, which was very cool, plus the team personnel all welcomed me. It has been fantastic and helped motivate me. There are days when you don’t want to put it all the hours (of therapy), you think about the long-term goal of getting back into an Indy car.”

Wickens has display remarkable spirit and determination, which has impressed his doctors and therapists. “I am working my butt off doing everything I can. My whole philosophy in life is the harder you work, the better the results you will get. If you are the hardest worker out there, you won’t get beat. And that’s the way my parents brought me up. The doctors tell me to take it easy at times, so I am trying to find a balance – working 4 to 6 hours a day 6 days a week.”

Wickens has been assured by his team that a seat will be available to him when he’s ready. He knows about the odds but his grit propels him forward. He has taken a few steps and getting a muscle flick was a big motivator for him. “They have told me that the most progression will be made in the six to 12 months, and I am at the beginning of it. I hope I didn’t progress too soon.”

He heaped huge praise on his fiancé, Karli (Woods), and his goal is to be able to walk down the aisle with her on their wedding day. He knows he won’t be dancing but he acknowledged his dancing talents were always non-existent.

Another motivational force has been team co-owner Sam Schmidt, who has had to deal with adversity ever since his accident years ago. Schmidt has arranged for and provided guidance throughout the ordeal of his driver.

Asked why he is so motivated to get back into racing, he answered quickly, “That’s all I know. From a young age, I knew what I wanted to do (race), which is what I told my parents. My parents laughed at me and thought it was like wanting me to go to Mars. I didn’t want a 9 to 5 drive; I wanted to hustle race cars.”

He looks up to Alex Zanardi, who has made a remarkable comeback after losing both legs in a grueling crash. “Anything is possible and I want to get back into racing at the same level I left off from. I don’t just want to be another driver in the field.”

Wickens knows the road ahead will have rough patches but he firmly believes he is up for the challenge. “I want to finish this journey, not just for myself but for the whole motorsport community. And I don’t want it to fall short in any way.”

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