Chelsea Herbert recovering after TRS injury
"Breaking my back was only a hurdle, not a road block" - With the world on hold, Kiwi talent Chelsea Herbert spent the last months recovering from her scary crash in the Toyota Racing Series, and is now fully focused on her racing comeback.
The Toyota Racing Series is always one of the most anticipated junior formulae motorsport championships, able to attract the attention of the whole industry during the European winter break. Throughout recent years, drivers like Mitch Evans, Nick Cassidy, Lance Stroll, Lando Norris, Robert Schwartzman were crowned champions before moving up to some of the most prestigious series in the world.
The 2020 edition of the TRS - one of the few championships that managed to complete their full schedules before the coronavirus outbreak - caught our interest for the presence of Kiwi upcoming talent Chelsea Herbert.
It wasn't the first time that New Zealand's premier single-seater championship featured a woman on the grid - both Michela Cerruti and Tatiana Calderon entered the winter series in the last decade - but we were particularly eager to see Herbert on track after her appearance in the W Series assessment test of Almeria, where she made her formula car debut.
After some impressive results in highly competitive national touring cars categories such as the V8s Championship, Chelsea transitioned to single-seaters with the aim of expanding her racing resumé and collecting valuable international experience, despite her main target remained the world-renowned Australian Supercars championship.
"I’m going up against world class acts and I don’t even need to leave my home shores, which is an opportunity that is too good to pass up." - she told us in an exclusive interview before her debut weekend at Cromwell.
After a solid debut, the series moved to Teretonga for its second round. During qualifying though, Herbert had a scary crash on the main straight that resulted in the compression and fracture of her T11 and T12 vertebrae.
"The accident was unfortunate but it has had an overall positive impact on me as a driver," - she explained." I am even more driven to prove to myself that I can do better and that I can come back stronger. Breaking my back was only a hurdle, not a road block."
Now, less than six months from her back injury, Chelsea Herbert is more determined than ever to be back in a race car. A world-stopping pandemic meant that she could fully focus on her recovery without missing any racing and, after an intense five-days a week training program and extended physiotherapy, Herbert says she's fought back to near full fitness.
"The lockdown actually came as a blessing to my recovery as it allowed me to train at my own pace and not pressure myself to train as hard as the crew at the gym. I had lots of physio exercises which were based around strengthening up my core to help take care of my back."
"I’m still working away with rehab and building my training up at a safe and consistent pace. I currently feel as though I’m sitting at 95% and it’s only been five months since the injury including two wearing the back brace."
As she sees the end of the road to recovery, the 21-year old from Auckland is now looking forward to a 2021 full of new motorsport challenges. But Chelsea Herbert is also a wise young woman, and she will surely build on this experience to come back stronger, both physically and mentally.
"2020 for me, has been a year that has cemented the idea of ‘everything happens for a reason’ in my head, that’s been the biggest thing," she added. "Although it’s definitely a year that we can all reflect on and learn lots from, it’s also a period that has reminded me to not take even the smallest things for granted."
"I'm totally focused on being on the TRS grid when it forms up again, hopefully in early 2021 as normal. I am also unsure on how we will get on with funding through sponsorship but hopefully the NZ economy will continue to pick up and we will be able to approach companies which are able to get behind and support NZ drivers again."
"It’s very important for me to publicly thank all of those who have helped me through this," - she concluded, spending kind words for everyone that helped her during the tough times of the recovery.
"My family and friends, my physical coach Al and my mental skills coach Kate from KFitness NZ. When it came to the less desirable moments, my dad and particularly my mum and my partner Matt were there with me every step of the way. Overall I want to say thanks to everyone who in some big or small way has helped me over the past few months including my MTF Finance family for continuing to support me, they have been a huge part of my motorsport journey to date. And all at Toyota NZ, they truly went out of their way to help myself and my family after the crash."
"Right now, I just want to get out and race."