Was there a time where you wondered if you would survive the blood clots? "Anytime you have a blood clot, it can be fatal. The odds are it's not going to be, but obviously that risk is there. Once you discover it and you have it under control and you're on blood thinners that risk dramatically goes down. Moving forward, once you're aware of it and you know the symptoms then the risk goes down even further. To have a spontaneous clot that is instantly fatal with no warning whatsoever is actually not that common. It happens. Blood clots are the second highest killer in America. It's a highly under-diagnosed issue and it's a highly under talked about issue and therefore very few people realize that and think about it. Very few people know the symptoms. Most of the time if you know the symptoms, you can get there in time. It doesn't have to be as bad as it could be. That's something that actually moving forward I'm going to spend more time talking about and educating people. There's a couple websites out there -- clotconnect.org and stoptheclot.com that will educate you and give you the knowledge you need to be proactive in preventing that. I guess, as far as I'm concerned, once I got to the hospital in time, it was pretty much downhill from there. There was definitely the thought and the possibility that things could happen, but the doctors pretty much had it fairly under control. I don't want to say 100 percent because it's the medical field it's more of an art than a science and anything can happen when it comes to the human body. For me, the real risk at that point was whether or not I was going to be able to race again. The health risk was obviously there, but it was more a focus on how do we address this in such a way that I can get back in a race car."
How difficult was it to think that you might not get to race again? "It was difficult. Obviously, you spend your whole life preparing to do something and you're there and you're doing it and then all of the sudden it's taken away. Especially at such a young age. Emotionally it was difficult at times, but in the moment and in the heat of the battle, my focus was just on dealing with the issue and then as some time went by and I had some time to think about it is when emotionally it probably hit me the hardest. Realizing what was going down. That being said, I believe things happen for a reason. I've learned a lot from this experience and 100 percent believe that it happened for a reason and I feel like I came out better for it. In the moment it's difficult and it's hard to look at it that way. When you're right there in it. Especially at such a young age I never thought that I would be dealing with blood clots or having heart surgery at 26. It's just not something you think about. A lot of people go through that. I'm not special, I'm not unique. You go over to Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte and talk about a new perspective. When I would go to the hospital for visits or check-ups, I went there one time just to talk to the staff and give them a pep talk and thank them for the service they provided me while I was in the hospital. I walked through the children's hospital and talked to the kids and 26 is hard enough, imagine doing this at six. It's unbelievable what some people go through, but it's amazing to see their spirits. It's interesting, I've always wanted to and tried to stop by when I could hospitals and talk to kids and just try to do something to help them and make them smile, make them laugh, whatever. In a lot of ways I feel a little guilty trying to talk to a kid about you know, `Keep your chin up, don't give up,' when you haven't really been there and you don't really know what it's like. I think they can see that and they know that. They appreciate it and they still love to see a race car driver come by and give them a die-cast and talk to them. Ultimately it's not the same. When I went back the first time to talk to the kids and patients at the hospital after being in the hospital myself and going through everything I went through, it definitely gave me a new perspective, but I felt more comfortable there. I felt more comfortable talking to them about, `I've laid in that bed with IVs in both arms and not knowing what the future holds and not to give up.' It definitely changed that situation for me."
How did your time away change your perspective on driving? "Going through this is definitely going to change my perspective. I think what I went through changed me more personally. It changed who I am and I grew a lot as a person. I still have a lot of growing to do and I am sure there are plenty of people that would point that out. I definitely took a big step up the ladder through this experience. I've always felt that as a race car driver, as an athlete -- I say race car driver, but really anything you do. Who you are as a person is going to show in your writing. Sometimes you may not want it to, but it does. It's just who we are. Who I am and the person that I desire to be, the emotions I have show up on the race track. And, I have no doubt that going through this experience and how its changed me personally is going to show up on the race track. My opinion is that it's going to show up in a better way. I think it's going to be a benefit to how we perform on and off the race track. There may be times when it's not, but I believe that the perspective and the growth that I've had personally is going to be a positive out there on the race track."
Is there a greater sense of urgency in your career? "I would say there's no urgency. Not because there necessarily shouldn't be, if anything there should be. This is something I've always asked myself. I've always wondered why old people are so patient because I've always felt like they have the least amount of time of any of us, shouldn't they be in a hurry to get somewhere, but they're not. I guess I bring that up because through this experience I've changed a lot and grown a lot as a person. The case could easily be made that because of what I've gone through because it could happen again or because of my age -- should I be in a hurry? Yeah, the case could easily be made. Do I feel that way at all? Not at all. I look back at everything and what I went through personally and as a person. Before I decided to come back racing, I accepted and I wanted to accept this, I wanted to accept mentally and emotionally with being okay with never racing again. And I got to that point. I was okay with it, I was content, I was happy if I never came back. I wanted to come back, but I was okay with it. That was something hard to do. I think as a competitor and as an athlete you feel like you're afraid that you're going to lose your edge. If you lose that sense of urgency or fear, I don't know how you want to describe it, but the reality is that it actually increased. I feel like my edge increased not decreased. I'm okay if I don't win a championship. For the first time, I would be content and happy where I'm at in life if I don't win a championship. That being said, I probably want to win it more than I ever have in my life. I'm not racing because I don't want to lose, I'm racing because I want to win it. I don't know if that makes sense. I know it's a lot, but it makes sense to me."
What items are on your bucket list? "There are some mountains I would like to climb -- maybe K2. That's on the bucket list, but I don't have time to train for it. I don't have the time to go do it much less train for it. Someone actually proposed a rather interesting idea that sounded pretty awesome -- I was going to try to do this in the offseason with a buddy, but scheduling didn't work out. To go hunt wolves from a helicopter in Russia. That sounded pretty awesome. I love being outdoors, I love nature and all those things and I enjoy hunting. I try to be respectful about it and I don't just randomly shoot things. Usually 99 percent of the time, if I shoot something I'm going to consume it or eat it or use it in some form or fashion. There are situations where the hunting of the wolves in Russia where they are extremely overpopulated and if you don't hunt them, they have to do something to maintain a healthy population. A lot of people don't realize that. You always get the liberal left that says, `You hunt them.' But the whole species will die out if you don't maintain the population because they don't have a natural predator. Something like that would be cool. I want to skydive, I want to learn to fly. I love skydiving. I've already done that, but there are some other things I would like to do. I would like to try to go through Navy Seal training. A HALO jump would be incredible. I doubt that if I asked them to go do that with the Seals that they would drop me in warm water. One of my best friends that I grew up with ended up becoming a Seal. I think that would be pretty cool to go through the training. Not just the HALO jump, but other stuff as well. I always found that pretty fascinating."
-source: toyota motorsports