Friday, May 25, 2018
Sports

After health scare, Vickers goes full throttle

Late last year NASCAR driver Brian Vickers was having an ultrasound done on his right leg.

There was a bruise on his calf and it wasn't going away. Vickers couldn't help but think the worst.

He knew it might be another blood clot, just like the ones that interrupted his 2010 season and landed him on an operating table with delicate heart surgery. Just like the ones that nearly ended his driving career. Just like the ones that could have possibly ended his life.

"I sat there and thought, 'Please no, please no,' '' Vickers said. "I just stared at the girl who was doing the ultrasound. Then I saw the look on her face. And then I just knew.

"I could only think: 'Oh no, not again.' ''

The clots had returned.

"At that point,'' Vickers said, "I realized that I might be done.''

He was done. But only temporarily.

Because of early detection this time and medication, Vickers is — fingers crossed — healthy once again and will drive the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing this Sunday at the Daytona 500.

Consider it one of the few highs in a four-year soap opera full of lows.

"Up and down, for sure,'' Vickers, 30, said. "It hasn't always been easy.''

After winning the 2003 Busch series championship at the tender age of 20, Vickers was a third of the way through the 2010 season when he began developing blood clots. He took medication, changed his diet and eventually needed surgery. He ended up missing the final 25 races of the season.

Problem solved.

Or so he thought.

Vickers returned in 2011, but was left without a ride a year later when Red Bull Racing shut down. He cobbled together a partial Sprint Cup schedule in 2012 with Waltrip and, considering everything, drove well with five top-10 finishes.

By 2013, all seemed back to normal and he ended a 75-race drought by winning July 14 at New Hampshire.

He was getting married. He had all but locked down a full-time ride for 2014. And he had found the winner's circle.

Life was good.

Then came October and the return of the nightmare with the return of the blood clots.

"When you love to race, when it's what you've wanted to do all your life, it's so hard when it's taken away from you,'' Vickers said. "One of the worst parts is you don't know if you'll ever be able to do it again.''

For starters, he had no idea if his health would ever allow him to climb back into a car. Then, he needed to find sponsors and a team willing to put their trust in a driver who could be sidelined at the drop of a green flag with no certainty of ever returning.

But Waltrip and main sponsor Aaron's (the furniture retailer) backed Vickers with no hesitation.

Vickers still doesn't have an answer to what causes the clots. It's called deep vein thrombosis, a common, yet potentially deadly condition. He takes some precautions, such as getting up and stretching on long plane flights. When he drives for more than a couple of hours — even from, say, Miami to Daytona — he makes several stops just to walk around.

One thing he can't do while driving on the NASCAR circuit is stay on the blood thinners that help prevent clots. Imagine what would happen to him if he were involved in a crash.

"The main concern is bleeding internally,'' Vickers said. "You wouldn't know until it was too late.''

Now that the clots have disappeared, doctors have taken Vickers off the blood thinners. So far, so good.

"I'd be lying if I said I never thought about the clots returning,'' Vickers said. "But I'm a guy who looks forward, not back. I don't constantly worry about it. If you're the type of person who sits around worried about what might happen to you, you're probably not a race car driver.''

Vickers even tries to put a good spin on his health issues and firmly believes everything happens for a reason.

He met his wife, Sarah, two years ago this week.

"If everything in my career had gone the way it was supposed to, I would have been at Daytona two years ago this week,'' Vickers said. "I wouldn't have met my wife.''

The recovery from the latest clot allowed him and Sarah to honeymoon overseas last month.

Now he's back and while he didn't drive as well as he hoped in qualifying — he'll start 37th Sunday at Daytona International Speedway — he is glad just be back behind the wheel.

"I've always been appreciative of being able to drive a race car for a living,'' Vickers said. "But, yeah, I guess going through what I've gone through can't help but make you think of how lucky you are.''

Although, Vickers cracks, he didn't need a second warning.

"Yeah, when it happened again last year,'' he said, "I was like, 'Okaaaaaaay, I got it already!' ''

These days, Vickers says he's all in with everything in his life, a lesson learned from his health scares.

When he's racing, he's thinking of nothing but racing. When he's at home, he's thinking of anything other than racing.

"It's two feet in or two feet out,'' Vickers said. "Not one foot in and one foot out."

This weekend, Vickers will have his two feet exactly where he wants them to be — in a race car at Daytona.

For information about blood clots and their treatment see treatmyclot.com.

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