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Robert Wickens for The Globe & Mail

Stills & Motion

Robert Wickens for The Globe & Mail

A life changed in an instant

On August 19, 2018 Robert Wickens, a professional racecar driver from Canada, was in the early stages of the ABC Supply 500 race at Pocono Raceway. As the 7th lap began, Robert was side by side with Ryan Hunter-Reay at over 200 miles an hour. Speeding towards turn two of this tri-oval, neither driver would give an inch.

In a fraction of a second, as their cars touched, life as Robert knew it completely changed. Hunter-Reay’s car slid in front and Robert’s car was launched into the catch fencing. In one of the most violent crashes in race history, Robert’s car was shredded by the fence that kept it from ending up in the trees beyond the track.

Although the main safety cell was intact and the car had not flipped, there was no movement from within. Robert was airlifted by helicopter to the hospital where he was diagnosed with multiple life threatening injuries.

Robert’s injuries included a thoracic spinal fracture, a neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, a fractured right forearm, a fractured elbow, four fractured ribs, a pulmonary contusion, and an indeterminate spinal injury.

He was put in an induced coma to help with the healing. Robert revealed in late October that he was paraplegic. Despite missing the last three races of the season Robert Wickens had earned enough points in his first season as an IndyCar driver to be awarded rookie of the year.

I met Robert in Denver, Colorado where he spends six days a week, eight hours a day in rehab. He’s already made remarkable progress, recovering limited movement and feeling in his legs but like Robert told me, “Every spinal injury is different. That’s why it’s called the snowflake injury.”

There is no telling how much improvement Robert will ultimately make but after spending time with him and seeing his determination to improve, I certainly would not bet against him racing again.

Robert’s family and fans from all over the world are pulling for him but it’s his fiancé, Karli Woods, who’s been by his side from the start. To be around her and to observe her with Robert is to see tremendous strength, love and respect in the flesh.

She doesn’t feel special or want anyone’s pity. Karli is simply doing what needs to be done for someone she loves because, as she told me, “That’s what you do.”

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