Of all the current NASCAR drivers, Brian Vickers might embody the theme of our "Defy The Odds" series more than anyone.
After all, Vickers could have easily died in May 2010, when he was diagnosed with blood clots which began in his leg and moved to his lungs. And things could have been just as bad in July of that year, when another blood clot was discovered in his finger and Vickers required surgery to repair a hole in his heart.
So the fact Vickers is still driving a race car – even on a part-time basis this year – is fairly incredible to think about.
But for this week's Defy The Odds post, I didn't want to focus on the details of Vickers' medical problems. Plenty has been written about that.
I was curious about how surviving the experience has shaped his life. Does something like that change a person? Does it change him as a race car driver? What's different?
"A person is a certain way for a reason, right?" Vickers said in beginning to answer those questions. "If you have a major life experience, it's going to change you to a certain extent. It doesn't mean you're going to completely turn your life upside down, but you're definitely going to view things differently, and you might make some different decisions."
Primarily, he said, how he approaches the question of "What's important in my life?" has changed. Those are different answers than he had before 2010, when he had to sit out for the remainder of the season due to blood thinner medication.
Even before the blood clots, Vickers kept himself in shape, ate well and was perfectly healthy. At 26 and in his prime, he said, "you just kind of think you're invincible."
"You just don't think about anything other than how life is just going to keep going," he said. "When you have an experience that proves to you otherwise...your perspective on life changes a little bit."
Vickers said the changes manifest themselves in smaller ways, through his work and personal life, but he's "not a completely different person." And when he's at the track to drive and compete, things have hardly changed at all.
If anything, he said, he gets even more upset after a bad race. But he also gets over it faster than before.
"It's not like I don't have emotions anymore because I had blood clots," he said. "I still get angry, I still get frustrated – all the normal emotions everyone has. If I have a bad race, I'm still upset about it."
The difference is, Vickers said, those negative emotions no longer linger until the next weekend. He might be pissed off the night after the race and maybe a little bit into the next day, but he's able to keep it in a broader perspective and move on.
"I get over really quick, because life is too short to go through life upset and carrying that emotion," he said. "But it's not a bad thing to be upset about a bad run – whether it was in your control or not. That emotion tunes you in to make sure you prevent it from happening again."
Something else has changed, too. The "bubble," which is prevalent in every top profession, is usually hard to escape. When people work hard and are passionate about what they do – as NASCAR drivers are – they can get sucked into a bubble where all other noise and distractions fade away.
"You forget there's another world out there and that life's not over after racing," he said.
Vickers is cognizant of that, and his international travels and life experiences while away from NASCAR have reminded him how important it is to disengage when possible. But it's also made him more willing to dive in when necessary.
"When I'm at the racetrack now, I actually step into it willingly," he said. "I want to be in it, because it keeps me focused. Everything else goes away. I don't worry about anything else, I don't think about anything else. It mades me a better race car driver.
"But at same time, when I go home, I try to step out of it. That's the hardest part. But if I do that, I come back much more energized and refreshed and ready to get back in."