Michael Schumacher: Meeting The Man and What He Means To Me.

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You have no idea how exasperating it is when I talk to someone about Formula One (sometimes at length, with mostly me talking) and they reduce the whole conversation to, “So you have a crush on Michael Schumacher?”

The short of the long answer is: NO, I do not have, and never had, a “crush” on Michael Schumacher. And I mean that in the best, most respectful way possible.

But in order to better explain my point, let me retrace my F1 history.

I began liking F1 as a prepubescent tomboy, when boys were still gross/annoying and I only wore skirts because they were part of my Catholic school uniform.

I chanced upon his name on a scaled model of his Benetton F1 car. I was a full-fledged Benetton kid/snob, so I immediately fell in love with that colorful car. And then I saw the name by the side.

Michael Schumacher. That sounds like a badass name, my preteen self thought. Surely someone who has a name as badass as that and who also gets to race an equally badass car, should be legitimately badass in real life, right?

And so my F1 story progressed. I scoured the newspapers, went to the library to peruse the magazines, watched the international sports news for snippets, until I finally managed to watch the races on TV. My memory is hazy on when I put a face to his name, but by that time, what he looked like mattered little to me; I’ve already claimed him as my Racing Icon.

Years went by and I fell even more in love with the sport. It was my awesome little secret, growing up in a basketball-crazy nation. I officially defected from the Enstone team the moment Schumi moved to Ferrari, a little bit sad to leave Benetton but secretly delighted that his new main color is my favorite: Red.

Even during his “barren years”, I was never really worried; I knew in my heart that he’s destined for more championships and that he would end up as the Greatest Racing Driver ever.

As a racer, Schumacher was everything I wanted: He was blindingly fast, he was ruthless, hardworking, and insanely focused. Self-contained but surrounded by ride or dies. His hunger to win was insatiable. He toed the fine line between Hero and Villain unapologetically. You either loved him or loathed him. There is no in-between.

I did not support him because he won so much to the point of domination. Something inside me chose him. And the rest is, history.

It never really occurred to me that it’s possible for me to meet him. During the time when budget airlines were still scarce and I was restrained by the duties of finishing my schooling, attending an F1 race was nothing but a pipe dream.

However, everything changed when my mother met Michael Schumacher. Yes, my own mother actually met Schumi a decade ahead of me.

Fate has a quirky sense of humor, at times.

It was during a work trip that coincided with the Malaysian GP. Everything was spur-of-the-moment and a bit of a blur. She didn’t get to have a photo with him but she did get to shake his hand and chat with him a bit. My mother had nothing but good words about him. Most notably, she said he’s really humble and you wouldn’t think you’d be talking to a sporting superstar by the way he put her at ease. “He’s very kind”, she’d repeat over and over again.

I knew he wasn’t the cold, ruthless, heartless, arrogant bastard/machine that the media proclaimed him to be, I thought with a mixture of relief and smugness. I chose my Racing Icon correctly! Ever since then, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I stand a chance to meet him, too. Imagine my disappointment when he announced his retirement from F1 in 2006. My dream was shattered into tiny pieces.

Three years later, as I sat alone in the office, I found out that he’s returning to Formula 1, this time as a driver for Mercedes GP. I’m not ashamed to say I let out a whoop and danced like a lunatic. The dream is alive again!

I finally watched Michael Schumacher race an F1 car in person when I attended my 2nd GP: The 2010 F1 Night Race in Singapore. I remember standing there on the viewing platform by Turn 14 as he drove past, my mouth unabashedly open and my eyes might as well have had cartoon hearts on it. To say it was a joy to see him race again would be an understatement. I felt like I was on some sort of pilgrimage, paying respects to my racing god.

However, It wasn’t until the 2012 F1 Night Race when finally, FINALLY, the dream of meeting him came to fruition. With the help of a fellow F1 (and Kimi) fan, we waited patiently outside the Paddock Entrance/Exit to try to catch the drivers after Qualifying. To be honest, I didn’t really expect to meet Schumi that night (or day, as it was already past midnight in Singapore then); I mean, why would he choose to exit the paddock by feet when he could easily leave via a chaffeured Mercedes car? Also, I was exhausted, hungry, sleepless–I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. Numerous drivers came and went and I even managed a few autographs. There was a lull for several minutes so I stepped back from the throng of fans to drink some water and hopefully catch a breeze, but then there was this gasp from another fan that my ears miraculously picked up.

I was still rooted to my spot when I saw my fellow fans stir. I couldn’t understand why there was a sudden…reverential silence outside the paddock. “Who’s that?” I asked out loud. My friend had no idea and moved towards the crowd. All of a sudden, someone went, “Michael!” which sent my brain into overdrive.

“Holy shit! Michael? THE Michael Schumacher?! No. What? Seriously? NO WAY!!”, my brain screamed.

I surged forward and true enough, there he was, just starting to sign for the small(ish) group of fans gathered behind the barrier. Hilarious but most of them had this “Oh my gosh, it really IS Michael Schumacher” look on their faces, and I bet that not all of them are even fans of his. I wish I had taken a pic of that moment but at that point, I was so awestruck that my motor skills were close to zilch. I managed to take a pic of him, and then proceeded to internally freak out just as he was slowly inching towards my side of the barrier:

There he is! It really is him!

“Shit. What do I do? What do I say to him?”
“Stay calm, FFS. Whatever you do, don’t scream ‘I LOVE YOU, SCHUMI!’ and scare him off.”
“You can do this. Just breathe. Be polite and look him in the eyes, okay?!”

Schumi is getting closer!

A picture of me taking a picture of Schumi. As you can see, I’m already having trouble controlling my camera’s zoom function out of nerves. Ha!

At last, he was right in front of me. The Man Who Was Responsible For My Formula One Love Affair. The world may as well have stopped spinning. The concept of time disappeared.

I meekly held out the orange collapsible fan I had the other F1 drivers sign to him. “Michael, please?”, I managed to say in a prim voice that sounded completely alien to my ears.

“Sure!” He replied cheerfully.
He held a part of the fan while signing, and paused in the middle of it to look at me, probably because my hand was shaking out of nerves and multitudinal feelings. He gave me such a reassuring, “It’s okay, don’t be nervous”-smile and I will never forget the kindness in his eyes. I wish I could have talked to him and told him how important this moment was to me, but I was so overwhelmed that I could only manage a, “Thank you, Michael. Good luck!” along with an “I’m trying my best not to spontaneously combust right in front of you, please forgive my lack of eloquence” smile.

Schumi looked me in the eyes once again, smiled and replied, “No problem at all. Bye!” gave me a farewell wave, and moved on to a group of Japanese girls who immediately and happily encircled him.

I finally got my Schumi autograph!

I couldn’t believe that just really happened. I just had a legit face-to-face interaction with him. And breathe.

I vaguely remember sending out a text blast to my friends screaming in all caps that I’ve met Schumi. I bet they weren’t amused to receive a text at such an ungodly hour but hey ho, no regrets.

In all seriousness, the thing about Michael Schumacher is that he really had that aura of being “somebody” without being arrogant or self-aware about it. He was kind, he was patient, he had time for everyone who was there, he was polite, he was grounded. “He wore his greatness with grace” was how I described him to my friends and anyone who would care to listen to me tell the tale of how I met him.

Before, I wished I’d have done more: I wish I talked to him, asked him stuff, begged him not to retire yet, shook his hand, took photos with him, asked for a hug, gave him a gift or a letter, the list goes on and on. But then, I’ve realized that I shouldn’t devalue the moment by dwelling on regrets. That moment was how it should have been and that is the beauty and uniqueness of it.

Not every racing fan got the opportunity to meet him while he was still a part of the F1 world, and I shall forever hold that memory and experience dear in my heart.

We all know by now what happened to him after he left F1 again, this time for good. Every single day, I wish and pray for his wellness and recovery, as I’m sure thousands (maybe even millions) of his other supporters also do.

He’s a man who shared his passion with thousands of others and became an inspiration to so much more. Mine is one of those lives he had changed and affected in some way; I will always defend him and wish him well, no matter what.

It was a pleasure and an honor to have been in his presence and whoever said never to meet your heroes is absolutely wrong because they’ve obviously never met Michael Schumacher.

He’s more than a racer. He’s a kind, charitable man, a great friend to many and a once-in-a-lifetime type of person.

While there is still a fighting chance, I will never give up. We will never give up.

Keep Fighting, Michael.

An Open Letter of (Non-) Farewell to Michael Schumacher.

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Quo vadis, Michael? image from tumblr

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Dear Michael,

How do you say goodbye to someone you don’t want to let go of?

I’ve put off writing this for as long as I could—in fact, I’ve considered not writing this at all, but there are those rare moments when I allow my heart to rule my head, and this is one of them, for sure.

The simple fact is that I am a fan of yours—but no, I shan’t be as assumptive nor as bold to declare that I am your “biggest fan” as I am sure there are countless supporters of yours out there who are far worthier of that title than I am—and I just want to tell you that the 19 years that I’ve supported you have been nothing short of incredible. In every sense of the word possible.

People ask me all the time if I support you because you won so much, and while a part of me initially gets annoyed at the thought of being categorized as a mere “bandwagoner”, I get that for so many out there, it’s not an easy task to fully comprehend from as little as a few sentences why one becomes a true-blue, ride-or-die Michael Schumacher fan.

See, I support you because you have this spark, this grand passion, this steely determination and ruthlessness that just won’t quit. You are intelligent, cunning, and controversial. There is no middle ground when it comes to you—you are either loved or despised. You have an unbelievable talent that you pushed to the extreme limit. Your genius lies in never seeking mere adoration or recognition, but the continued hunt for personal challenge and fulfillment. You’re a vanguard. A game-changer.

You gave me a priceless love for Formula One that will remain in my very core forever. You were a part of the myths of my childhood and the reality of my adulthood.

You taught me that self-belief and mental strength is half the battle. You were never perfect; you committed errors, trespasses, and pre-meditated moves that shall live in infamy, but that made you all the more human to me. You taught me that in order to experience true triumph, one must taste the bitterness of defeat first.

You were an outlet for my emotions—from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, I’ve experienced it vicariously through you.

You never pretended to be fearless nor flawless, but you always dared. And for that, I shall always wear the Schumacher Supporter badge proudly.

When you first left the sport in 2006, I was crushed—I thought the opportunity to see you in person on a race weekend was gone. But still, the flicker of hope in my heart that you will return was never extinguished; and you did come back, and it was one of those days I remember very clearly in my head.

It has always been a dream of mine to meet you in person, but I never thought that moment would arrive in a rather unexpected way.

By the way, how dare you veer away from the scenario of our first meeting in my head? The moment you sauntered out of the Paddock Entrance in Singapore, I was well prepared to be ignored, I was ready to rationalize your aloof behaviour and to simply accept the fact that an icon like you doesn’t always have time for us mere mortals. But there you stood, in front of me, and you were completely nice and sweet and smiling and grounded and accommodating and…normal. You had that aura of being somebody, and yet you were approachable and relatable. Interacting with you up close was so surreal that I almost lost the power of speech. You’ve just effectively raised the bar in meeting celebrities in person, because if the Michael Schumacher is that amazingly kind in person, then I don’t care whoever the hell they are, they have no excuse to be rude or unkind to fans. Ever.

Perhaps someday I can see you again, and maybe then I can finally string together more than a few words and get to talk to you without being so darn starstruck. Forgive me.

But you know what they say, what goes up must come down. I shall not recount anymore the numerous circles of hell I went through once I found out you have formally announced your final retirement from Formula One several days after that, but to say that I was heartbroken would be the understatement of the century. It was 2006 all over again, but this time, the finality of it all made it infinitely worse.

And yes, I will accept your decision…in time. You know those stages people go through during trials and tribulations: Denial > Anger > Grief > Acceptance? I never went through anger because honestly, how can I be angry at someone who has given me, and millions of other racing fans, so much? I may be oscillating between denial and grief, still. Allow me to just wallow in sadness for a little while longer, and then I will get my chin up (no pun intended!) and soldier on. But it shan’t be easy, because there is only one you and you are such a special talent that may not be equaled nor surpassed in Formula 1 ever. The fact that the current World Champion took up racing because you have inspired him speaks volumes, doesn’t it? This term is grossly overused in recent times but only a very select few truly deserves it, and you are one of them: Legend.

So go on, Michael, and leave.

Leave us all in wonderment of how one man can create such an indelible and lasting legacy on a sport and in the hearts of millions.

LEAVE.

Leave us wanting for more.

I have decided not say goodbye–not yet, because in the grander scheme of things, this is not the end.

I am not certain if you will even get to read my letter, but if you can take away just one thing from all this heartbroken rambling, let it be this:

Thank you, Michael.

THANK YOU.

Sincerely. From the absolute bottom of my heart and soul.

You are and will always be one of my heroes.

Good Luck and Godspeed.

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Love,

Bouncebackabilitrix

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Speeding off into the sunset, but never to leave our hearts…