TBR: Fast & Furious

VANESSA SMEETS

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RULE 1: Have a reliable pit-crew. Punctuality and communication are key.

“I couldn’t find the sports car of my dreams, so I built it myself,” Ferdinand Porsche.

Racing cars is not just sport, it’s become integrated into South African culture ever since I can remember. My first experience of racing? Sitting around and waiting for my parents to get off medical duty at race circuits around South Africa. I was only 7 years old and had no idea that one day I would be one of those women screaming, sighing and laughing nervously in the pits. My parents often shared their worst-case-scenarios of quadriplegics, stabbed jugulars and cindered off body hair… It was normal at our family dinners.

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RULE 2: Have a reliable car. Drive it with passion!

“Everyone in life is looking for a certain rush. Racing is where I get mine,” John Troutmann.

Ironically, my boyfriend’s favourite hobby is building and racing cars. His team? Team Beer Racing (TBR). Don’t get the wrong idea… It’s so much more than just a bunch of guys drinking and talking cars, it’s a brotherhood.

You risk your life at the hands of others. While one is great at giving advice, another is great with his hands and another with the wiring. It’s intricate. It’s time-consuming. But, best of all, it’s self-made.

After weeks of late nights and hassling our neighbours with loud grinding noises as well as early morning revving, my boyfriend’s car was ready for the African Endurance Series at Kyalami, 9 May 2015. 22 years later, all those family dinners flashed back with my nerves.

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RULE 3: Have an amazing support system.

I will never forget that date, as it was etched into our daily lives: “The engine has to be rebuilt… 30 days left,” “Sh*t! The left back tyre is loose… 10 days to go.”

Ladies, I warn you – you must have the patience to share your man with his machine. He will devote most of his free time to it and then come to bed smelling like petrol. Well, it’s okay! Support him with your kindness and smiles. I tried learning some car jargon, but quickly got lost…

Gentlemen, be patient with us women who support you. We are as tired as you, waiting patiently in cold beds… But it’s okay, we love you for your ambition and dedication. True men stick to the their rims!

“A smooth race never made a skillful driver,” Anon.

Kyalami, I thank you for the most stressful, yet adrenaline-packed, two hours of my life
, watching the love of my life at high speed amongst 40 cars. I will never forget the look on his face as the engine was finally finished: surprise. As the car ran: relief and as he finished the race with his partner: ecstasy.

Endurance racing is not really about winning, it’s about finishing. It’s about showing the other guys you did a great job building your car, that the endurance of building such a sweet piece of machinery was worth it.

I thank you, my racer, for allowing me to be your pit-girl but, most importantly, for teaching me the importance of self-discipline and fraternity. I’m so proud of you.

A Racing Miracle

VANESSA SMEETS

Peter Whyte (21) was flung against a tree from his motorbike at 160km/ hour last December at the Bulawayo 3-Hour Endurance Race in Zimbabwe, breaking his 9th vertebra. The 9th vertebra is one of the lowest positioned of the thoracic 12 (T12). Breaking it could have resulted in paralysis of the lower limbs, loss of control over the bladder and bowels.

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DETERMINED: Peter Whyte’s recuperation programme was a lot of hard work. In only 6 months, he is walking and talking again. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

He was in a deep coma for six weeks, leaving doctors convinced he would be brain dead. Today, he is walking and talking just like any other person his age. What makes him different? His extreme will and determination to survive and now recover completely.

Peter remembers nothing from that day, except driving to Bulawayo. His body is dotted in scars: a tracheotomy, an hour-long lung puncture to drain all the blood that had leaked into his right lung. His uncle saved his life through CPR and chest compressions.

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BREATH OF LIFE: Peter shows off the puncture marks, where doctors had to drain his lung from blood. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Although he walks a bit like a robot, his mobility is improving daily and his speech is at 100%. A true miracle, he explains:

“I am alive to share my story, that’s for sure.”

Much to his parents’ disbelief, he is determined to get on a motorbike again. But his physiotherapist, Didier Smeets, at the Sports Injuries Clinic in Harare disagrees: “One must realise your reflexes have to be 100% to participate in races like that. Next time, he may not be so lucky.”

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HARD WORK: Peter and his physiotherapist, Didier Smeets, practised regularly for four months. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Didier helps him with stretches and exercises once a week, building up the muscles that were as strong as jelly only a few months ago. Didier has been working as a physiotherapist for over 30 years and cherishes this as one of his most special cases: “You get people who come here because they are forced by family or friends. Peter came here out of sheer will.

The recipe to success is: a good operation, good aftercare and a great support system. Much can be done daily. There is no limit to one’s will to get further.

Each case for me is a new challenge, where both the patient and I have to work on their flexibility, stability and places of attention.”

Peter’s eyes sparkle as I ask him why he keeps getting back on after every accident (in his last accident, he broke his shoulder): “There’s something incredible in driving a bike: the freedom, the glide, even the graze against your leg. Once I can, I will! This has only made me appreciate life even more.”

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FOOTWORK: Peter shows his weekly progress, getting his feet at equal length again. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Another racer walks in the surgery and gives his support:

“Peter is a hero to us all. His will to survive is incredible. His will to recuperate even stronger. For those who don’t believe in miracles, just talk to Peter about his story.” 

Peter is currently back at work and has stopped his physiotherapy for now.

Watch the video here: