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 legit 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.

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. There is not a single day where 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.

On Schumi Dreams, Vettel, Mick, And The (Racing) Ties That Bind.

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I’ve always been a vivid dreamer.

A few days ago, I had a dream about Michael Schumacher. I was outside a sunny race paddock when all of a sudden, there he was, in his signature Ferrari racing overalls and cap, riding his scooter. I remember calling him and asking for a photo with him, a request he happily granted. As I wrapped my arm around his waist while the photo was being taken, I remember thinking, “This is fantastic! But too perfect. I wish this was really happening.”

See, even in my dream I had a semblance of awareness that what I was experiencing at that moment wasn’t real. Even in my dream I “knew” that Schumi couldn’t possibly be a Ferrari driver anymore and that he is currently in no condition to ride a scooter. Even so, in that moment I was happy. So very happy I almost wished that dream wouldn’t end. But of course I had to wake up some time and accept the fact it was all in my subconscious.

After Schumi’s life-altering accident, watching F1 has never been quite the same for me. Of course I still immensely enjoy it, but there is now more than a scintilla of sadness when I watch the races. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, Sebastian Vettel’s move to Ferrari this season has, in a way, helped me to deal with the sadness, although conversely, his presence in the team and his similarities with Michael also become a glaring reminder of just how much I miss Schumi.

The day after the dream, I saw on Twitter that Vettel has become a patron of the ADAC Formula 4, the motorsport series he competed in as a youngster and the same series that Michael’s son Mick will be participating in this season. Quite fitting. While it may be a practical decision on his part, the sentimental fool in me found it quite a sweet gesture from the German. Michael Schumacher used to be the benchmark for Vettel and his fellow racers back then, and now that he has achieved a big part of his F1 dreams, Vettel is now the one who is giving back to the youngsters who want to follow in his and Schumi’s racing footsteps (or should that be tyre marks?).

Vettel himself has admitted that he is missing his mentor Schumacher’s advice when it comes to F1 and beyond. Spare a thought (or two) for young Mick Schumacher who will start a new chapter in his motorsport career finally bearing that surname, but without his father cheering from the sidelines. We can only surmise on how much pressure he is under—if any at all—but sometimes when I look at the Schumacher children I feel an overwhelming sense of protectiveness and I just want to give them both a big hug and tell them to stay strong and that everything will be alright.

I hope that Seb extends his help to Mick in whichever way he can, just like what Michael has so unselfishly done with him throughout the years.

This weekend, Mick formally started his ADAC Formula 4 adventure and promptly registered his 1st win in the series’ 3rd race. Words just weren’t enough to describe the happiness and pride I felt when I saw the words, “P1 M SCHUMACHER” and Mick standing on the top step of the podium while the German anthem played. This is the start of something amazing. I just know it.

To say I’m immeasurably excited for what the future holds for Mick would be an understatement. If we only had live coverage of the F4 races then I’d gladly watch, but for now I can only offer my unequivocal support from this side of the pond.

As for my dream, well, I firmly believe that dreams can be a sign of things to come. He may not be able to become a Ferrari driver once more but in my heart, there is still hope that we will see Schumi happily riding his scooter yet again.

Image via f1-memes.tumblr.com

Image via f1-memes.tumblr.com

You Gotta Have Faith.

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To be perfectly honest, this piece wasn’t particularly easy for me to write. However, I felt that I should at least make a decent attempt at it, for the sake of having my convoluted thoughts put on record for whatever purpose it may serve.

It’s been nearly eight months since that fateful day in Switzerland, and apart from some musings on Twitter, I’ve deliberately avoided writing about Michael Schumacher’s accident here on my blog for quite a number of reasons. It was a blow of epic proportions to my heart. I still literally feel physical pain at the mere thought of that accident. I didn’t want to write about him in uncertain terms. Reading tributes and heartfelt get-well messages have been helpful but they were but a temporary salve to my shattered heart that was desperately struggling to fight fear. I swore to myself that I would only open up about it once something positive came up. Amidst the sea of panic and instability, I chose not to read the damning articles prophesizing the worst, and the influx of negativity that came with them. Schumacher fans have subsequently been called ignorant, in denial, naive, and other worse things, but I simply did not care. Wallowing in alarm and speculation won’t do any good. I needed to step back and prioritize.

To quote one of my favourite shows, The X Files: I want to believe. So, why do we choose to believe? Why do I choose to believe? Faith, while it may come as easy as breathing, is also something that is difficult to explain. Faith is laying your heart on the line and trusting that you will become a far stronger person no matter what the outcome may be. Faith, at times, defies logic. Faith is that valuable, intangible something that you hold on to. Where there is love and hope, there is faith. Call it The Secret, positive affirmation, claiming it, or whatever, but as a true-blue, ride-or-die Michael Schumacher fan, I simply refuse to roll over and give up when the going gets tough. As one of his most famous quotes go, “I’ve always believed you should never give up. You should always keep fighting even when there’s only a small chance.” Amen, Schumi. We all have different coping mechanisms in times of trouble. Mine is to meditate and to pray. I talked and begged and badgered God and all the saints that would listen. I want him to get better. I need him to get better. Please. If I could somehow transport all of my positive energy towards him just to make him wake up and recover, I would’ve done so in a blink of an eye. Believe me, I’ve tried. This wasn’t just for my own selfish agenda, I am just one of the millions of fans who want nothing more than to hear something positive about a man who, in his own way, has inspired, influenced, and changed their lives. Finally, it happened. A few days after my birthday, I found out through Twitter that Schumi has come out of his coma and has been discharged from the Grenoble hospital. Call it dramatic or even cheesy, but I couldn’t help but shed tears at that moment. I was too overwhelmed by joy and gratitude, and I thought that it was the best birthday gift that I got this year, full stop. I wish I could put this more eloquently, but that moment was proof that the world is full of miracles, and we need to celebrate them as much as possible. While a part of me is eager to know more about his current state and progress, a bigger part of me is content to let Michael and his family have the privacy that they’ve valued and wanted for so long. If no news implies good news, then so be it. And without an iota of doubt in my heart, I believe that Michael Schumacher—the legendary racer, the son, the brother, the husband, the father, the friend, the man—has already won the fight. Everything else will just be a bonus.

That, is the power of faith.

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Forza Schumi.