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.