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Indy 500 pole winner Hinchcliffe rebuilt himself, better than before accident

Source: WTHR INDIANAPOLIS – Earlier this month of May, IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe lay on his back on a mat at PitFit Training on the northwest side of Indianapolis. His body is surrounded by eight lights. When one of the lights turns green, Hinchcliffe quickly sits up and waves his hand in front of the light to turn it off. He returns to his back before another light turns on in random order every few seconds. The green light signals go for Hinchcliffe in this reaction and core-building exercise. A year after he nearly died in a crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the light is green on the Indianapolis 500 pole winner’s health, IndyCar career and life. “I’ve pushed myself mentally harder than I ever have,” said Hinchcliffe after that early May workout, “which has led me to push myself physically harder than I ever have. I sit here almost a year on from the accident a better person in almost every way.” Hinchcliffe crashed in turn three at the Speedway during Indy 500 practice last May. A front suspension rod punctured the cockpit and ran completely through his backside, entering on the right upper thigh and exiting his left side just below the waistline. “It wasn’t until they pulled me out of the car when they heard this thud and they looked in the car and realized that a piece of suspension had clearly just come out of me and landed back in the seat,” said Hinchcliffe. That’s what the IndyCar Holmatro Safety Team that rescued Hinchcliffe last May 18th told him. Hinchcliffe has heavily concussed in the crash. He was semi-conscious after the accident, but has no recollection of it now. The entry scar is too private to reveal, but Hinchcliffe pulled his shorts down a couple inches on his left side to reveal a purple exit scar, now just about an inch long and about half an inch wide. “On the day of the injury, that was big enough to fit a fist in,” said Hinchcliffe. “My doctor had to have his whole hand in there trying to stop the bleeding.” Hinchcliffe’s T-shirt hides another seven-inch abdominal scar from surgery to repair an artery. Doctors saved his life, but cut his core muscles. He also suffered glut muscle damage, a concussion and a painful neck injury. He couldn’t even sit up in bed without help. A month after the accident, Hinchcliffe started working out again with Jim Leo, the founder and president of PitFit. Leo specializes in race driver and pit crew performance training. “He was in pretty bad shape,” said Leo. “He couldn’t do a whole lot of anything. We couldn’t do any kind of core work whatsoever. We had to limit the range of motion from doctor’s orders. It started off at a basic level I’ve never even had to work at.” “Jim hands me two two-and-a-half pound weights and said, ‘Alright, let’s get started,’” said Hinchcliffe. “I kind of laughed at him. After 10 reps, I was gassed. It’s incredible how quickly your fitness level can drop when you’re really not using anything. I remember that first day thinking this is going to be a long haul.” Fast forward to this May and a kettle bell move called the Turkish get-up, an example of how far Hinchcliffe’s recovery has come. Lying on his back, Hinchcliffe picked up a 35-pound kettle bell and raised it across his body and over his head, while lifting his body up on his other hand – then one knee – then standing up with the kettle bell still overhead. “This is a huge complex exercise, massive load on the core,” explained Leo as Hinchcliffe performed several repetitions. “It just highlights how resilient the body is and what people are capable of,” said Hinchcliffe. “It all comes down to the mindset that you have and the amount of effort and determination you put in to reaching a goal.” “To see him come back to where he is now has got to be one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever been a part of,” said Leo. “His dedication is what made it happen.” Hinchcliffe sat out the rest of the 2015 IndyCar season after his accident. He returned at the start of 2016, with three top 10 finishes and still running at the end of all five races this season. He finished 3rd in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis earlier this month, his best result this year. The 29-year-old Canadian from Toronto, who now lives in Indy, starts on the pole for the 100th running of the Indy 500 Sunday. “A year ago I nearly lost all of this,” said Hinchcliffe. “So to not only be able to get back behind the wheel and try to race the Indy 500 again, but my fitness level is better than it’s ever been.” A stronger James Hinchcliffe sees nothing but positives after lifting a heavy weight of adversity.

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