March 8 (Reuters) - Sitting in a wheelchair still partially paralyzed, Canadian IndyCar driver Robert Wickens returned to pit lane on Friday vowing to get back in a race car.
Just seven months after a near fatal crash at an IndyCar race on Pocono’s high speed tri-oval, Wickens was all smiles back among his fellow drivers and fans for the opening race of 2019 NTT IndyCar season on Sunday.
It was on the same St. Petersburg street circuit a year ago that Wickens made a spectacular IndyCar debut, grabbing pole position in his first race.
Wickens has earned far greater praise and admiration for his iron willed determination not only to walk again, but to get back in an IndyCar.
“One hundred percent,” said Wickens without hesitation when asked if he thought he would race again. “The goal is to get back into an Indy car.
“We won’t know until I try it to see if it’s a reality.”
The 29-year-old has made remarkable progress recovering from leg and spinal injuries sustained when his race car was catapulted into the catch-fencing and disintegrated across the track.
He has regained some feeling in his legs and is now able to stand on his own, even if he needs assistance to move.
Wickens is now in the middle of the race of his life. Doctors have explained that when it comes to spinal injuries, there is generally a 12-month window where progress can be made.
“One step at a time,” said Wickens, who is currently undergoing treatment in Denver.
“The thing with a spinal injury is you never know when that day comes where you won’t progress any more.
“Hopefully I didn’t peak too soon. Hopefully I’m still in that prime spot.”
While Wickens refuses to give in to his injuries, he is keenly aware of the reality that hard work alone may not be enough.
“Honestly, the spinal cord injury, every single person is different,” said Wickens.
“I’m working my butt off doing everything I can because my whole philosophy in life is the harder you work, the better results you’ll get.
“Make sure you’re the hardest working guy out there and you won’t be beat.
“I don’t know if it’s right or wrong.
“There could be a person beside me with the same spinal cord injury eating fast food and sitting in their hospital bed all day, and they might walk sooner than me.”
Wickens is aware the reality is he may never again climb into an IndyCar but that same reality includes racing in some form.
“It’s all I know,” smiled Wickens. “I don’t want a nine-to-five job hustling somewhere new. I want to hustle as a racecar driver.
“There’s been so many remarkable drivers that have succeeded with hand controls in motorsports that it makes me believe that regardless of how my progression goes, I will be in a race car again.
“Just a matter of which car.” (Editing by Nick Mulvenney)