The concept of guardian angels -- protective spirits that watch over and protect us – can be traced to ancient Judaism, but the modern take on the concept stretches across and beyond religion. The thought that something or someone is watching over us and protecting us is comforting and reassuring.
On Sunday, 5-year-old Ryden Hunter-Reay found a guardian angel. It was in his pocket. Shortly after Ryden’s dad, Ryan, narrowly missed being hit by Robert Wickens’ flying car, Ryden showed his mom, Beccy, a medallion imprinted with a guardian angel.
“She asked him where he got it, and every time he said, ‘I don’t know,” Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “I even asked him after I got home. He said, ‘I don’t know, Daddy, it was just in my pocket.’ It sends chills down my back just thinking about it. For sure, guardian angels were looking out for Robbie and myself, and we still need that guardian angel looking out for Robbie.”
What Ryden found represents hundreds of human angels among us. They were here before, during and after the crash. They’re with Wickens now as he recovers. They’ll be with his teammate and fellow competitors as they prepare to race without him this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Angels were found among the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team, which was at Wickens’ side immediately and carefully extracted him from his car. They train for this situation. They make a point to know the drivers. They study and plan for such rescues. They saved a badly injured racer Sunday, just as we’ve come to expect.
“The safety team and medical staff are our absolute guardian angels at every track we go to,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’re so fortunate to have them at each and every event. The consistency and professionalism involved is something I can’t (properly) express my appreciation for. I’ve known a lot of these people for a long time, and all of them really care about us and our well-being. This is a very special group that works with a very dangerous sport. At any moment, the tide can turn, but we know they’ll be there for us.”
Angels also were found in the engineers and designers who crafted a tub capable of withstanding such a violent impact. Wickens’ crash has been called maybe the most violent survived crash on record. The design and construction of the Dallara tub saved Wickens’ life.
Angels were found among his fellow drivers, who were shaken to the core by what they saw, then strapped back in and finished the race not knowing any details about their colleague. They race tenaciously against one another, but they also care about one another. They were shaken Sunday. They still are.
They also tried to explain what they do to people who often don’t understand. The day after the crash, Tony Kanaan posted a link to a story he wrote for The Players’ Tribune after Justin Wilson was killed at Pocono Raceway in 2015.
“I cried when Ayrton Senna died,” Kanaan wrote of his Formula One hero, who was killed in 1994, “but not once did I ever think about not racing. It never affected me in that way.”
On Tuesday, Will Power spoke for all drivers when he tweeted this:
Angels were found in the spouses and partners and family of racers. Ninety-nine percent of the adventure is exhilarating for the people close to racers. One percent of it can be painful, even tragic. They accept the fact that the sport can be dangerous, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult when it proves to be so.
Angels were found in the surgeons, nurses, EMTs and others at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest, in the fans who were troubled by the crash and concerned about Wickens, and in the people behind the scenes at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Angels were found in the crew members – the people who work with Wickens daily, who’ve come to respect and admire him in a short period of time. They stoically carry on, but, like Power, they find sleep difficult.
“The focus is and always has been on Robbie and his recovery,” Hunter-Reay said. “I haven’t been sleeping. I’m on edge, pacing, waiting for every bit of information and detail. It’s a tough time for him and his family. Since my car came to a stop, the only thing that has consumed me is his well-being. I wish there was more that we could all do. We’re just waiting. It’s in the hand of those guardian angels now.”
You didn’t just find one guardian angel, Ryden. You found them all.