Smile Through It II: The Next Chapter

Chasing dreams, because I can

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The perils of family parties

Posted by Oli on Saturday 23rd August, 2008

Today was the wedding celebration for my cousin and his new wife after they got married in a low-key ceremony back in January and decided to wait to celebrate properly in the summer. I love my family to pieces and was so unbelievably happy to be there and celebrating with them, as well as meeting some relatives I’ve never met before and some I haven’t seen for years.

But my biggest problem was that I had people constantly moaning at me that I’ve let my blogging slip since my op. So this one is for everyone at the party who berated my lack of updates. And I would promise to update more often, but we all know it’s not going to hold any water.

Today started, rather incongruously, with a two-hour stint spent at the Rockingham Motor Speedway in Northamptonshire, just North of Corby. Way back at Christmas, bro and I had been bought a day’s introduction to single-seater oval driving, today being the first day we could synchronise our diaries to get it done.

Reading up on the event beforehand, I read this about it, which slightly deflated me. Following a pace car around a track didn’t seem like a whole lot of fun to me and 15 minutes didn’t seem like a huge amount of track time.

We got there plenty early and grabbed a cup of coffee to caffeine us up for the morning’s work, before being taken to the in-field paddock area and briefed about the cars, which were sat tantalisingly in front of the garage in the pit lane. We were a small group of just 4 drivers and 2 spectators, including video- and photographer, K. After our briefing we headed out to get kitted up and then wandered out into the pits to be assigned our cars.

Jumping into Number 13 was petrifying – not because of the number itself (I don’t hold any truck in superstitions), but simply cocooning yourself in something so small. It was quite claustrophobic to begin with, but luckily I had a few minutes to get myself settled after they’d explained the controls before we headed out.

We were split into two groups of two and I was directly behind the first pace car. Coming out of the pits and accelerating to modest-to-high speeds I may or may not have crunched the gearbox a little. It’s easy to do, what with the clutch being so heavy that I pushed myself further back into my seat every time I pressed it. Luckily, the beauty of an oval is that gear changes are non-existent save for when you’re coming in and out of the pits.

Following a professional driver, we lapped at a steady-but-fun pace until the orange lights started flashing around the track to signal an incident and we came back into the pits to collect the other two cars from the second group. It turns out that the front wing had flown off the second pace-car coming through the final turn, only just missing my bro in the process. I was quite glad it was him and not me.

On our next run, the pace gradually got quicker and quicker as the pace car brought us up to somewhere approaching race speeds. Had I not been following him, I’d have sworn it wasn’t possible to go that fast round the 4 turns of the oval, but being in prime position behind him, I got a perfect view of the lines he was taking and realised quickly that if his car did it, then my identical car would, too.

In fact, I was rather chuffed to see that the others couldn’t keep pace with us, dropping back so much that the pace car had to slow down to collect them again.

20 minutes in the car later, I was beginning to feel to exertion take its toll on my shoulders and arms from the forces involved in holding a steering wheel in a turn at over 100mph. Although the speedos were disabled in the car (to keep you focused on where you were going), we were told that the average speed of the runs would be approximately 120mph. It was unbelievably awesome and I love every minute of it. Far from my initial fears, I soon realised that I actually went faster behind the pace car than I would have gone on my own. And I certainly wouldn’t have driven that close to the wall.

Adrenaline rush done with, we jumped in the slightly-less powerful Mazda 6 we’d driven there and headed South to Shoeburyness, where we arrived at A&A’s place for the celebrations. My Mum’s brother were there as well as a cousin of hers, introducing me to my second cousin, whom I’ve never met, and her gorgeous pair of daughters.

My cousin’s brood (not A&A – that one’s still in-coming) all took a shine to K quickly and to me, too, after a while, although we have met them before – but when you’re 8 and 5 it’s hard to remember people, especially when you’re also trying to cope with the overloading of the senses brought about by an influx of people you’re never seen before. Their youngest, however, wasn’t so keen on us and would start crying as soon as she was handed over to anyone other than Mum, Grandma or Granddad. I did managed to have her for about 30 seconds at one point, before she realised that Mum had used the food-distraction method to fob her off on Uncle Oli and she cried foul.

It was such a great afternoon and evening. My family are all wonderfully close, even if we don’t see each other for long periods, we pick up where we left off. It’s always a joy to spend time with them all and catching up with those I hadn’t seen for years made me so happy. It’s wonderful to be able to properly share those family moments again.

Today was one of those days which, when you’re getting used to the idea of having new lungs and a new life, really remind you how special and wonderful a gift it really is. I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing the racing I’ve done today this time last year and the family day would have worn me out completely. Driving home from Southend tonight gave me pause to think about how little I’d have been able to do after nearly 6 hours at someone else’s house, playing and chatting and eating and drinking (nothing alcoholic, I must add, in case you were worried). I’ve never have managed it and a drive home, too, and certainly not when I’d been driving fast cars in the morning.

The gift of life is the greatest gift anyone can give or receive. It is the only gift that bears out the cliché of the gift that keeps on giving. I am blessed in so many ways and so grateful that I have so many opportunities to remember it.

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