A Painful, Yet Heartfelt Message

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The date was Sunday, August 19, 2018. The site was Pocono Raceway for the IndyCar ABC Supply 500; one of only two 500-mile races on the IndyCar schedule. The first five laps had been run under caution due to contact between the cars of Graham Rahal and Spencer Pigot just as the green flag fell. Both cars would eventually re-enter the race with damage, but who really remembers that?

What everyone remembers about this day was what happened on Lap Six – the first green-flag lap. Heading into Turn Two, Robert Wickens dove underneath the car of Ryan Hunter-Reay, trying to gain track position early on. The two cars touched. Hunter-Reay’s car spun slowly into the wall, providing a launching ramp for Wickens into the catch fence. It was a horrifying crash that we’ve seen too many times. In a mere instant, lives were changed forever.

It was an agonizing wait for news, as we feared the worst – that Wickens had not survived the crash. After what seemed like an eternity, IndyCar Vice-President of Communications Curt Cavin finally appeared on-screen to tell us that Robert Wickens was awake and alert and was being transported to the hospital. All of us viewers gave a huge sigh of relief to learn that he had survived. But when Cavin failed to give us the next bit of necessary news – that he was moving his extremities – I think we all had new fears.

The next morning, a release from the Wickens family confirmed that Wickens had sustained a spinal cord injury among other injuries. Rightfully, no one was speculating publicly about whether or not he could move any extremities. But I think we all knew, deep down, that things didn’t sound encouraging.

By the time the series headed to Sonoma for the season finale, almost a month had passed since the crash. That was when Robert Wickens himself appeared in a video on social media, thanking the fans for their prayers and support. Since that time, there have been several social media posts, photos and videos from Wickens, his friends and his fiancé Karli Woods. In most of them, Wickens is shown making progress and appears remarkably upbeat.

I have seen almost every video. Some are downright funny, like the one a week or so ago showing Wickens and his best friend, James Hinchcliffe, racing through the rehab center in wheelchairs. They both reach out to grab the other and slow each other down. Wickens seems so eager to win, you almost forget about the situation he’s in.

Others are not so funny, but they are uplifting and inspirational as you see Wickens putting everything he has into just barely moving his legs as he stands with the aid of his therapists. As I watch them, I ask myself if I would be as upbeat and positive if I was in his position. The answer is always no.

I cannot begin to imagine what Robert Wickens and his immediate family and friends must be going through. There is hope, since his spinal cord was bruised and not severed, that Wickens will actually walk again. But there is a definite difference between hope and a guarantee. When an athlete breaks a leg, there is a defined recovery time and a concrete plan of therapy. The athlete is pretty much assured that if they follow the prescribed therapeutic regimen, there is a timeline of when they can expect to have a complete recovery.

Spinal cord injuries are different. They are unpredictable. With no explanation as to why, two patients with identical injuries can have completely different outcomes. One may completely regain the use of their legs, while the other will have negligible improvement and be confined to a wheelchair. It is way too early in the process to know Wickens’ prognosis. But he has hope.

But as I have followed Wickens through social media, I have often marveled at the attitudes of Wickens and those around him.

This past Sunday morning, it was barely daylight as I was lying in bed with my morning coffee and scrolling through Facebook – happy to not be venturing out into the cold wet miserable weekend we had been having. I saw a link to a post that caught my eye. It was a blog post by Karli Woods, the fiancé of Robert Wickens.

I will admit that I clicked on it more out of curiosity than anything else. I thought she might share a couple of more videos that we had not seen or give a cheerful update. What I did not expect was a refreshingly honest, frank and candid account of the physical and emotional struggles the couple faces every day. She openly discusses the bad times they are going through and admits to what many do on social media – only showing the blissful happy times that families go through. In this post, she opens up about how terrifying the past three months have been for them.

I read her post, and then I immediately re-read it. I felt guilty for enjoying the warmth and comfort of our bed, so I sat up for the second reading. It was just as gut-wrenching as the first, but in a good way. I came to understand that Wickens is normal, after all…or that I was. I was almost ashamed when I admitted to myself while watching his videos, that I could not possibly face what Wickens is facing with such courage. I would feel sorry for myself and probably lash out at those closest to me, most likely Susan.

Although I can’t personally relate, I understood the self-doubt that she wrote about and the emotional roller-coaster they had been on for the past three months. I am very lucky and have lived a charmed life for most of my sixty years. Susan and I are both in excellent health and we plan on being this way for the next twenty-five years or so. But Robert Wickens is only twenty-nine. He still has his entire life in front of him. If this had happened to me at that age, let’s just say I would not have handled it with the dignity that either one of these two have for the past three months.

For those of you on social media like I am, you’ve all seen those that feel the need to post about the latest drama in their lives. They change jobs at the drop of a hat and post about every financial and romantic disaster going on in their lives – all of which are self-induced. Some of them I have unfollowed on Facebook or silenced on Twitter. There are others I’m tempted to do the same to, but sometimes you just can’t force yourself to look away – just like a trainwreck. It’s exhausting.

Then when I see posts from or about Robert Wickens and read the heartfelt words from Karli Woods, I suddenly feel myself becoming resentful of these other attention seekers I just referred to, and I feel guilty for the snarky complaining I’ve posted myself.

Please read this offering from Karli Woods. This is what a blog post should always be like. If you are like me, you’ll come away with better insight as to what this young couple has been going through and what they face. You’ll also come to appreciate your own blessings and feel just a little shamed for the little things you’ve griped about in your own life.

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has come under fire recently. Some seem to think it is a meaningless and shallow phrase used by those that don’t know what else to say. After you read her blog post, you’ll realize just how much this young couple needs and appreciates the thoughts and prayers of the IndyCar fan base. As we enter this Christmas season, please keep Robert Wickens and Karli Woods in your own thoughts and prayers. They have a long and challenging road ahead, but they also have the hope of a recovery at the end of that road.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “A Painful, Yet Heartfelt Message”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Very touching. It’s comforting to know he has strong people like Karli and Sam in his corner helping him through this tough time. I hold onto hope that he will race again in some shape or form but I know it will not be soon.

  2. Thank you George for the re-direct and the read.

  3. Thanks for blogging.

  4. Where there is love there is hope. (Ecclesiastes)

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