‘I’m going to come back’: Robert Wickens discusses his recovery

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Sidelined from racing since a spinal cord injury suffered in an Aug. 18, 2018 crash at Pocono Raceway, Robert Wickens was back at his first IndyCar race this weekend.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver drew a warm welcome while making his way through the paddock at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Though he remains in a wheelchair, Wickens intends to race again because it’s all he ever has wanted and knows how to do.

“I’m too young to give that up,” Wickens told Kelli Stavast in a recent interview that will air during the prerace for Sunday’s NBCSN broadcast from St. Petersburg (which will begin at 12:30 p.m.). “I don’t care what I have to do. I don’t care how hard I have to work. I’m going to come back.”

The 2018 IndyCar rookie of the year said he didn’t fully grasp the extent of his recovery when he began the long and arduous rehabilitation. Doctors told his family he likely would have no movement or sensations in his legs for the first six months after the crash.

“Once I came to my senses and started investigating this injury on what recovery looks like, I really had a hard time finding it,” he said. “And I just had no idea what the recovery looked like. When I entered rehab, I was convinced it was just to get me walking and get back home. I had no idea that walking is like months, months, months down the road and you have to learn how to take care of yourself again.”

Wickens said he and fiancée, Karli Woods, cried when he experienced his first muscle flicker five weeks after the crash.

“That was the happiest day of our lives,” he said. “It was a little muscle twitch. And then from there, it went further and further. Everyone is being so supportive and so positive, and I’m only posting the positive (on social media), so sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh man, am I giving them a false indication on actually how my recovery is going?’

“It’s such an emotional roller coaster. Physically, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but mentally and emotionally, it’s like tenfold the hardest thing I’ve ever done. To try to find positives every day when there’s days when you’re just so angry, it’s really hard to do.”

You can watch Stavast’s interview with Wickens by clicking above or by watching the prerace show for Sunday’s St. Petserburg Grand Prix. Coverage of the event begins at 12:30 p.m.

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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