A Long Winded Happy Birthday.
Every day when I wake up, I look to my left. There, I see pictures from the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix in 2004, of a young version of myself with the biggest smile on my face. Decked out in Ferrari and Michael Schumacher gear from head to toe, she doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the next 15 years.
My memories of this are some of the clearest from my childhood. I loved racing, loved watching him as my family would sit down to watch F1 on Sunday mornings, as this was the era of pure Schumi dominance. My dad and I had taken the train to Montreal for the Grand Prix. My idol had just won the race, and I remember how cool it was that both him and Ralf were on the podium (even though after, Williams would be disqualified). After the race, standing in the pit lane with my dad, I’m hoping to get a glimpse of Michael.
Suddenly, I’m spotted by the team mechanics. They had been working on Michael’s backup car (because they were allowed then) but had come out and were starting to talk to my dad in Italian. Understandably my dad and I were confused, and it was a stroke of luck that the family next to us understood the language enough to say the words that would mark the best day in my young life:
‘They want to take her into the garage’.
Maybe something got lost in translation, but I didn’t know that they ‘want to take her into the garage… TO SIT HER IN THE SPARE CAR’!!!
So obviously, I’m going to frame those pictures and keep them beside my bed forever.
Also framed on my wall, there’s one of my most prized possessions. Having just turned 6, I wrote a letter to Michael and Jean Todt telling them how excited I was to start my karting career later that year (and of course, included the pictures from the grand prix). A few weeks later in the mail, I received back a signed postcard from Michael from his home in Switzerland. I thought I’d never hear back. I was also fortunate to receive a letter back from Jean, which inspired me even more to keep pursuing my dreams as he wished me the best of luck.
Schumi’s legacy will forever mean different things to different people, but this meant everything to me. I know I would not stand where I am today without watching him every Sunday morning on the television.
As I head to Europe for the first time later this month, I get excited about the thought of being at tracks where he’s been, airports where he’s been, the little things like that. Michael Schumacher is my racing idol, not only for his immense talent and skill, but also from the kindness he extended to a small young racer with big dreams and ambitions. Like he said, ‘Once something is a passion, the motivation is there’.
Racing is not an easy sport and there are days that are grueling, to say the least. For those difficult days, I am fortunate to have an idol like Michael, and memories that allow me to relive the hope and excitement watching him race as I grew up. As I get older and learn more about how racing is not just getting into the car and driving, I also have a newfound appreciation for everything he endured and experienced from the media, other racers, sponsors, his team, as well as the tight-knit relationship he had with his mechanics and the car itself.
With today being his birthday comes an additional opportunity for reflection, and it has made me realize I have no words to express the gratitude I have for Michael and the role he has played in my life.
Happy 50th Birthday Michael! Keep fighting the good fight and thank you for being you.