Everybody has that one person whom they look up to and inspires them.
Sometimes it’s for obvious reasons. Though sometimes, it's for reasons that others might not understand without an explanation.
Well, one person who enters this picture for me is Shane Hmiel.
He's one of the most inspirational people that I have known of and someone who a lot of us could learn from due to what he’s done.
Through his struggles and comeback, Hmiel has shown strength and the ability to not back down from a challenge.
During 2006, word spread like wildfire that he’d been suspended from NASCAR for life due to a third failed substance abuse test.
For a lot of people the story ended there, as in their minds he’d screwed up. In interviews that Hmiel has done since, he has not denied making that mistake and actually said it’s made him a better person, though I’ll get to that later.
Once he received the lifetime ban, things began to change as he took charge of the situation and started on his inspirational road back to where he is now.
Following the suspension, he checked himself into a drug rehab center and decided to fix the problem.
During his time in rehab, he learned that he had bipolar disorder and, in a sense, had been self-medicating himself since the age of 12.
Now, right there was a scapegoat he could have used and said, “Oh, it’s due to this illness I have that I have done this.” Instead, he stood up and said it was his own fault and he’d face the music.
Once he had gotten clean, Hmiel went looking for any opportunity he could get to get back behind the wheel. In his mind, it did not matter what level, as along as he was back doing what he wanted to do.
While he was trying to find a spot to race again, there were a lot of people who said he did not deserve to have that chance as he’d blown it before and those opportunities should go to someone who hadn't gotten a chance yet.
In my opinion, for him to go ahead and look for that chance while people were talking showed his inner strength. It did not matter at that moment as he was going to do what he wanted.
Hmiel got back, racing through late models and then, after finding some connections, he got the chance to drive for USAC Racing. He showed the qualities that I, personally, love about him again at that point as he stated that he’d be welcome to the opportunity, but would understand if he was turned down because of his past.
This year, Hmiel raced well, winning six races and the USAC Silver Crown Pavement Championship.
Over the years as he has run the USAC schedule, he has shown his growth as a driver, his finishes have improved and he has gained respect from fellow competitors. It helped that he took time to listen to the advice of the veterans, which I applaud him for.
I consider this entire journey it to be an inspirational one as it shows someone who fought back and did not let a hole in the road stop him. He's also admirable in not hiding what happened, always willing to face up to it.
In a recent article titled The Real Deal, Hmiel completely opens up about everything and does not back down from topics surrounding it. A quote near the end that sticks out in my mind is when the author asks him whether it matters to him what others say.
“I am sure there are a lot of people who doubt me,” he said. “But, I made my bed. I’ll lay in it. They have a right to say whatever they want. Have I been judged? Yes! Am I starting to win some of those people over? I hope. Do I care? No….I mean, I do want people to like me, but at the end of the day, I want everybody to know that I will do whatever it takes to win the race.”
He certainly has proved he’ll do whatever it takes through this journey. Plans had been set in place for him to run the full 2011 IndyCar Lights schedule for former Indy Racing League regular Tyce Carlson.
Though, right now, those plans are on hold as he once again faces a hurdle as a result of a qualifying crash. The crash left him with a broken neck and a broken back.
With the violent degree of the crash, everybody has been pulling for Hmiel to make it through, knowing that he’s lucky to be alive.
“I walked in just hoping I got here in time to see him alive,” said Steve Hmiel, Shane’s father and Competition Director for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing in an interview with Robin Miller. “We got past that hurdle and then it’s been two steps forward and two steps back, one step forward and two steps back but he’s getting better.
“On the first night the doctor prepared for the worst but now it’s looking so much better. Shane has a pulse in his legs and blood flow, and everyone is cautiously optimistic.
“They’ve been keeping him heavily sedated because ever time he sees his mother or myself the first thing he does is try to rip out his tubes so he can talk to us.”
During qualifying at Terre Haunte, the car flipped over with the top of the roll cage hitting the outside barrier.
“His spinal cord twisted but thankfully it didn’t snap,” said Hmiel. “His spinal cord is bruised in two places, his neck was stretched so far he hurt his carotid artery and they found a tiny leak in another artery."
“But the HANS Device saved him because he hit his head on the wall.”
Within 48 hours of the crash, Hmiel went through two surgeries—one for his neck and one for his back.
“I wondered why they gave Shane two major surgeries within 48 hours of the wreck and it was because they were worried about pneumonia,” Hmiel said.
Pneumonia, the latest hurdle in the battle to recover, is what postponed the third surgery (for the torn artery in his neck) that Hmiel was supposed to have last Friday.
As of x-rays this morning, things are looking a lot better than they were earlier this week and doctors have removed from the rotating capsule bed as they see he is doing well.
With regards to the surgery, it’ll happen as soon as the ICU doctor feels safe about the situation.
As far as getting back to racing, it is possible depending on how his recovery goes.
“The doctors say it’s up to him and depends on how hard he’s willing to work and I think he’ll be very determined,” said his father. “I think Shane’s drug rehab was tougher mentality but this will be tougher physically."
“I know all his friends will kick his butt and push him and he’ll respond. I mean I’m sure he’ll get depressed and this is going to be a long, tough road back but all his friends are here so that’s the best medicine he can have right now.”
In the midst of this, it has been nice to see the motorsports (and beyond that) community pull together around him, showing they care. It goes to show you that nobody ever gives up on caring for one another, no matter what they may think. Steve Hmiel has seen this himself through all the people who have called showing support or came to visit.
“I got flown here from California by a guy from Colombia (Juan Montoya), my wife and family were flown from Charlotte to Indy by a guy from Cuba (Felix Sabates) and a guy from Pittsburgh (Ganassi) owns our cars,” said Hmiel. “Jamie (McMurray) dedicated his win last Saturday to Shane and it’s an amazing family. I can’t begin to tell you how fortunate we feel to be surrounded by so many good people."
“Shane probably didn’t have six friends in NASCAR and here he’s got 6,000. He’s had visitors from IndyCar, USAC, the Colts, it’s just amazing. In the meantime, I hear from Doug Wolfgang, Bubby Jones, Tony Stewart and Tracy Hines and Levi (Jones) come to visit. They all say the same thing: ‘If you need anything, just call us.’ We don’t need anything, but prayers.”
In this whole chapter of the journey, I hope that two positives come out of it. The first being the obvious – that is that he makes a complete, full recovery. The second being that people finally read his whole story, take away what he’s done, applaud him for it and put their judgments to bed.
Update 10/22 8:30PM
Here is Lisa's latest update: shane is resting well in his regular bed again swelling is going down from being face up and 02 levels are remaining steady slight fever no biggie and looking good (like me) lol surgery for vein in neck schedule for monday so keep praying yuck needs to stay out of lungs good night to all lisa
Also, USAC Racing is raising money also to help the Hmiel family as for every person who joins the fan page on facebook, they will donate 10 cents to the family.
For continued updates on Shane Hmiel, check out the facebook page “Shane Hmiel – Road to Recovery” where the Hmiel family has been posting updates.
Through the USAC website, they’re selling the “Racing to Recovery” decals at $5.00 each, complete sales going to the Hmiel family to help pay for medical expenses.
Hmiel’s team, RWB Racing, is also selling the 2010 t-shirts at $25.00 each on their site, with that money also going to the family.