May 22, 2012
The death of Dan Wheldon has justifiably become the overriding memory of last fall's tragic Indycar race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
But lost in the shuffle were several other serious injuries that left both physical and emotional scars on the drivers. While the media quite naturally focuses on the loss of Dan Wheldon, other drivers who suffered serious injuries are unintentionally passed over.
One of those injured parties was Pippa Mann.
Rather than re-hash an accident that few of us want to recall, suffice to say that Pippa escaped with her life but her extremities were in lousy condition. Her legs were beaten to a pulp, her right arm was black and blue from the shoulder down, and the outside of her right hand was badly burned.
She nearly lost the small finger on her right hand entirely. After multiple surgeries and skin grafts, she now finds herself on the outside looking in at Indycar's game of musical chairs, in which there are more available drivers than there are open seats. She is tenaciously pursuing a comeback even while she continues to rehabilitate her hand and get back into driving shape.
"They took a tendon out of my forearm and skin from my forearm to rebuild the little finger and part of my hand," Pippa told me in a recent phone conversation. "I wasn't allowed to do anything for a long time because there was so much trauma."
Without any current news on Pippa's injuries, many Indycar fans failed to realize the extent of her suffering. The gash in her right hand and subsequent surgeries left an open wound that had to heal itself over several months. "I hate to say it because it’s kind of disgusting. The wound was slightly open and 'weeping' for a long time. So you can't do anything because the risk of infection is too high. For a long time I couldn't even sit on [an exercise] bike with my arm in the air because if I started sweating, it could be a risk."
Pippa's biggest challenge during her rehabilitation and physical conditioning was the loss of the tendon in her right forearm, which was used to surgically rebuild her pinkie finger. "When it comes to pushing away from you, like a shoulder press or anything involving a pushing motion, I'm as good as before. But a pulling motion, like a row or lat pull down – that was the area where I really felt the loss of the tendon. I still wear compression socks on two fingers."
Amazingly, her physical recovery is now almost complete. She trains every morning for about an hour on everything from biking to cardio equipment to "flipping a tractor tire ten times this morning!" Her spirits are high and she remains a chronic Twitter fan (https://twitter.com/#!/PippaMann).
Pippa lives in Indianapolis, where she says she runs into someone who works in auto racing almost daily. She gets personal training at the Pit Fit Training facility on the city's north side from specialists who work with auto racing professionals.
She is also very close to returning to the cockpit and has her sights set on the biggest race in the world. "What driver doesn't have a special place for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in their heart? I can't miss May," she told me as our phone conversation neared an end. "I've got to find a way to get my butt in a seat for May." (Unfortunately, after lining up sponsors and a car but coming up short on an engine package, it appears that it won’t happen).
Pippa's injury was understandably overlooked in the Wheldon tragedy last fall. But I thought you might enjoy a quick update on a courageous woman whose most recent message in her Twitter account ended by saying, "NEVER GIVE UP!"