‘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.

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

NBCSN

“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).