An interview with: James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with today's Verizon IndyCar Series media availability. We are pleased to be joined by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Don't lie.
THE MODERATOR: It's true. It's still true, always.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Exactly right. Just adding work to the day.
THE MODERATOR: James, first of all, great to see you. Tell us a little bit about the recovery process. I know it's been quite a journey for you.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yes, thank you, Kate. It's good to be seen. The recovery process has been a lot of PlayStation, the big decision every morning between how much time do I spend in bed versus how much time do I spend on the couch.
No, in all honesty, it's been pretty smooth. I've been lucky. I've got a tremendous team of doctors and PTs (physical therapists) looking after me. They've really kind of helped the recovery process go along as smoothly as possible. We're kind of ahead of schedule on pretty much everything. Energy level gets better every day. Strength gets better every day. Mobility gets better every day.
So it's been a lot of long days, not doing much, which, unfortunately, is what I've been told to do, and the few times I've disobeyed that order I've paid for it dearly. So I've learned the doctors kind of know what they're talking about and you should probably listen to them. And that's what I've been doing.
So it's been, like I said, it feels slow for my speed, but the doctors are telling me everything's going very quickly, so no complaints.
THE MODERATOR: It seems with your presence here in Milwaukee, you've been very involved with the team. What has your role been like changing from driver to maybe a little bit on the sidelines?
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Painful but necessary. I mean, for me I'm still as much a part of this team as I was driving behind the wheel. We're obviously still learning a new aero kit and we're going to all these tracks for the first time with the new aero kit so there are still lessons to be learned. As much as I can stay involved reading the engineering reports and getting everything after the fact, being there on hand at the time and hearing the words out of the drivers’ mouth and seeing the feelings and emotions and being part of the decision-making process is still something that will serve me, I think, very well in preparations for next year when we still have to use this same car.
So it's all learning and building toward 2016 for me as well as trying to help the team and add my experience in whenever I can for the races this year.
Q: How much did the trip to Toronto (for the Honda Indy Toronto from June 12-14) kind of wear you out? I know by the end of that weekend you had to be pretty exhausted?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: The trip to Toronto was actually handled very well. We obviously took a pretty strict stance on doing as little as possible, and I really appreciate and respect everybody from the teams and the fans and the media and everybody giving me that freedom.
It's funny. I've been very active in tracking my steps. That's one of the few things I can do is track how many steps I do. I've been getting to a certain number and that was kind of my goal for the day. The doctor wanted me to get moving. Toronto, I shot under on my steps all three days by a pretty significant margin because we went from the (motorcoach) to the pit lane, from the bus to the pit lane and that was it. We kept it very low key and very low stress on me.
So honestly, I felt really good after the weekend and was very glad that I was well enough and given permission to get out there and see it in person.
Q: I think when a driver or any other athlete gets injured, fans just assume, well, you go and have surgery and then you just get back, but it's probably some difficult physical therapy at some point. Can you describe what that process was like? And do you have a time frame? Do you know that you're definitely back for the beginning of the year?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I hope so. Now that you've actually posed it, no one has actually asked me that question. But I think as far as the doctors are concerned, being ready for offâ€'season testing shouldn't be a problem. I obviously still have one surgery to go, so some of the rehab and physical therapy is going to be more heavily weighted after that surgery. The big goal for the doctors was to make sure that I recovered as well as possible from not only the surgery that I had, but from the trauma that my body experienced to prepare for the next surgery to make sure I'm as healthy as I am the next time I go under the knife, so that way I can bounce back quickly from that one. So the physical side of it will take place more so after that is done.
But mainly it's been working on mobility. Trying to keep the new blood flowing because clotting is obviously a worry and infection is a worry, so I've sort of taken care of those things. But, yeah, once we get out from the next one (surgery), that's when the real hard work starts.
Q: What are some of the things you were doing when you were disobeying the doctor's orders?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Well, I started thinking that going out and socializing with friends was a good idea. I attended a friend's house for Fourth of July. Probably shouldn't have done that, but it's all part of it. You can only spend so many days in the house on the couch.
The world still goes on without you, and there are just times when you want to be part of the things that are happening, but ultimately my goal is to get back in the car as soon as possible. So anything that I have to do and anything that I've got to suffer through for that, we can do it.
Q: You described having very long days. What are those days like? Is it frustration? Are you past the point where you're looking forward to goals now for next season?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: A little bit of both. There are definitely days where you get frustrated with how limited you feel in what you can do. I lead a very busy lifestyle normally. I'm a very active person, not only physically, but I'm very involved in my job and other elements I have going on outside of the sport. And really having to put everything on hold has been very tough, just for a busyâ€'minded person, I guess.
Days spent resting can still be exhausting. There is still some pain that creeps in from time to time and dealing with that can certainly make a day worse than the previous or the next. So it's all a process. But I've been very fortunate, like I said, that I've had a lot of good people around me.
My girlfriend has been a godsend in all of this first. I think she's going more stir crazy than I am because she's perfectly ableâ€'bodied and still stuck at home most of the time. But I've had a lot of help to get through those days.
Q: When you have defied and paid the price, what do you mean by that?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: The big thing, as I said, I feel better every day and my strength improves every day. When you wake up in the morning and you feel good, you assume that means you're going to feel good the whole day. But when you're used to spending most of the day resting, being on a couch or bed, whatever, then just standing for an entire day can take a toll on the body. Your muscles get exhausted. Basically, you just get very tired, very exhausted.
It's not as easy to just bounce back. You can't sit down for 10 minutes and feel good and get back up. So I think I woke up for the first time and said, hey, I feel pretty normal. I'm going to try to have a pretty normal day. You can't just jump back into a fully normal day. You kind of have to ease yourself into it.
Q: Just generally, how do you feel? On a given day, how do you feel today compared to a year ago or whatever? What would the day feel like?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: You know, it's funny. I was talking to somebody this morning and I said I feel 90 percent. I said, if you had asked me how I feel compared to a year ago, I probably would say 70 percent. But compared to how it's been the last couple months, I feel like I'm 90 percent. It's all relative, right?
I honestly feel great right now. Short of not being able to jog yet, I don't feel like there is much I can't do. Like I said, energy levels are improving all the time. I am trying to ease myself back into kind of a more normal daily routine and get off the couch a bit more, which I've been given permission to do. But, yeah, the big thing is just doing it progressively and not trying to rush it.
Q: (What was your) weight loss and (is the next) surgery scheduled yet?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Weight loss is significant. I started getting on the scale backward when I had to at the hospital because I didn't want to know anymore. My last known weight was somewhere around â€'â€' I'm about 15â€'ish pounds down from where I was. Unfortunately, that's not the fun weight to get back. That's the real difficult weight to get back, but that's fine. And surgery will be sometime around the end of this month.
Q: I realize you must spend a lot of time just trying to rest so your body can recover. But what about your mental creative process? I would think maybe you focus on that, and I know you've done such things as your Hinchtown videos and you've done imitations of drivers which are incredible. So have you been practicing? Is that something that you can do? An example is like how you called GoDaddy and said you should replace Danica. Very creative, outstanding comedy routines, so I'm just wondering if you've been doing any of that?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I probably should have been. I probably should have been spending my time a little more productively than I have been on that side of things. But, no, honestly not. I haven't felt super motivated to jump in front of a camera yet, if I'm totally honest. I still don't feel a hundred percent like myself, but we're getting there.
Q: They say the camera adds weight, maybe you should do that.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: That's true. The camera adds 10 pounds. That's twoâ€'thirds of what I need. So maybe I should.
Q: Because of the nature of your injuries, what kind of dietary restrictions have you had to go on?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: That's a great question. I was floored to know that I had almost none, that the doctors were very liberal when it came to that. I was kind of expecting and almost hoping for a little bit. I was like, “What's going to make me heal quicker, doc? Don't tell me I can eat anything. Tell me what I need to do to get through this faster." But I've been able to get back to a pretty normal diet, so that's been good.
It took a while for my appetite to come back to the same point, but it's pretty much back to where it was. So from that side of things, I've actually been pretty lucky.
Q: Also the â€'â€' I know that Kirsten's family (girlfriend Kirsten Dee) was coming in for the Indy 500. That had to be a pretty traumatic experience for them, too. Here's this big trip to the United States and then all of a sudden this happens. How did that all go?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I mean, they missed out on Detroit, which it just broke their hearts (laughter). Just terrible having to watch that race from the comfort of our own home on a couch from the warmth and the dry rather than just enjoying what everybody else got to enjoy in Detroit.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]But no, obviously not a super ideal situation having family who saved up all this money and taking all this time off work to come over and have some big trip planned and I kind of ruined it for everybody.
But, again, they were great. Not only having the support there for Kirsten, because obviously this is as much a traumatic experience for her as it was for myself, having that support system there for her was great.
Having a bunch of extra pairs of hands around the house the first couple days at the hospital was a huge help. They couldn't have been any better about it. It was actually in a sense a blessing that they were there.
Q: I was wondering, as part of your rehab, have you been able to do any sort of simulator training to kind of keep your mind sharp as if you were still in the car?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: That's something that we're just kind of getting to that point now. I had a lot of restrictions on how long and what way I was able to sit up, which makes sitting in a simulator a bit of an issue. Now for the next couple weeks until the next surgery, I've sort of been cleared to get back into that sort of situation a little more. So my goal is definitely to try to get on to something, even if it's all physicality turned off just for the sake of, like you say, keeping the mind sharp, keeping the reaction time sharp and things like that.
Again, PlayStation can only do so much, but I'm trying to see how valuable it is. But I think in the coming weeks I'll be in a position where I can start kind of getting back into the sim (simulator) side of things a little more.
Q: Have you been able to at least use the pool at your house?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: No, that's been the worst part. The pool got opened during practice week at Indy. New house, new pool. We moved in in the winter. Pool got opened during practice week. I'm like, “Yes, couple days off after media day, before Carb Day, go home and enjoy the pool." No. On top of that, the weather has been terrible. It's only been open a couple days. Kirsten's been in it a couple of times and had friends over once. But I have to sit and dangle my feet. I'm not allowed in it. It's been pretty devastating.
Q: Without going into too much detail, what will the next surgery entail?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: The next surgery is to correct some of the things that had to be done on the day to make sure I could get through some of my injuries.