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A detailed look into racecar driver Robert Wickens’ spinal recovery

A detailed look into racecar driver Robert Wickens' spinal recovery

On the July 2019 cover of Road & Track, there are only two wheels, and they’re not attached to a car or a motorcycle. They are part of a wheelchair, which seats racecar driver Robert Wickens. Against a stark white backdrop, Wickens holds his arms at right angles, hands on the wheels, body leaning ahead. Unintentional or not, it looks as if he’s pushing forward as he prepares to stand up. Wickens has resolved to walk again, and Sam Smith’s cover story tells how he’s working toward that goal.

This might be the first time ever that Road & Track has put out an issue with nothing but a person on the cover. After a brief inquiry, Editor in Chief Travis Okulski determined the September 1955 Le Mans issue as the only cover devoid of a car. July 2019 has a historic design, because this is a historic story.

On Sunday, August 19, 2018, Wickens crashed into the fencing at Pocono Raceway, shredded his Dallara DW12 IndyCar, and suffered a T4 spinal injury that left him paralyzed. Since then, he has been working nonstop to regain all the functionality he had prior to the crash. On May 23, 2019, he posted an Instagram video that showed him walking up stairs into a plane completely under his own power.

Progress is an understatement, and explaining it this way makes it sound far, far simpler than it has been. As with any injury, help has been needed every step of the way, detailed in the beginning of the story:

There has been help for months. He is helped into the fabric harness that suspends him above the treadmill, helped into the van that takes him to the rehab hospital six mornings a week. Several states away, his Indianapolis home is being retrofitted for accessibility, which will let him live there with less help. His fiancée, Karli Woods, is home now, helping manage that process.

There is no specific timeline for an injury of this nature, and Wickens is well aware of this frustrating fact. But his headstrong personality is keeping him motivated.

“What’s driving me is stubbornness: I want to race as I remember racing. I want to walk in a way that no one knows there’s something wrong with me,” he said.

“Therapists keep recommending leg braces and ankle braces to make my walking smoother. I keep saying no. If I put a brace on that helps my foot take a better step, that foot’s not learning how to do it. It’s an aid, like an engineer saying, ‘You’re too dumb, and you keep getting wheelspin. Here’s traction control.'”

With recent technological advances, Wickens also knows he could easily get into a car and race using hand and arm controls. To him, however, that’s not good enough.

To learn more about Wickens, his recovery process, and his outlook on the future, head to Road & Track for the lengthy full story (it’s worth it). And for more, check out the Q&A.


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