At his lowest point during the recovery process from the devastating crash he suffered at the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona, Memo Gidley pondered a sobering question.
Wracked with unending pain for months as damaged nerves in his back set fire to his senses, the bubbly Californian contemplated his end.
“It’s definitely something that I thought about,” he said. “Afterwards, it was like, was I going to take one last sail? Hop on my boat and go somewhere… It was tough. It was definitely tough.”
Five years after the life-changing crash, Gidley has yet to piece all of the events that took place exiting the first horseshoe in Daytona’s infield. He’s seen the unpleasant footage of the impact where the front of his Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP smashed into the back of a Risi Competizione Ferrari GT car that had slowed to a crawl, and remembers some of the efforts to cut away the bent chassis tubing that mangled his feet and ankles, but the rest, thankfully, remains lost in a haze.
“I vaguely remember the crash, but I was just coming out of the horseshoe — I was going to pass, actually, I think it was a GT car and I went to the right just like you’d normally do, just past the exit because you’re going a lot more speed,” he recalled. “Right at the last minute he darted right. And I had no idea why he darted right. Thought maybe he didn’t see me. So then I just started left and that’s when I saw the car that I hit. So, it definitely all happened pretty quick.
In addition to the trauma visited upon his lower extremities, Gidley’s back was broken in the crash.
“There was definitely a long, long road to sort of recovering, but I was kind of out of it for about a week,” he continued. “I had three surgeries right away. I think one of them on my back took eight hours. So they were pretty big surgeries and a lot of medication and I was just sort of floating around, not knowing what was going on. I remember some people coming in and having conversations with people while I was still at the Halifax hospital near Daytona. But I think it really started kicking in and during that time people would come and see me, at least from what I was told and I’d be like, ‘OK, yeah, I’m going to see you in Daytona a month or two.’ ‘Cause I wasn’t thinking clearly, so I was thinking it was just something very minor.”
Gidley recalls the healing involved with his broken bones was the easiest part of the process. Unable to sit or stand for any length of time without inviting debilitating pain, the broken back left him laying face down on a massage table for months on end; it’s where he ate, slept, and hoped healing would start to inch forward.
“You go in stages; you think, 10 or 11 broken bones, that’s a lot of broken bones, but the broken bone stuff pretty heals pretty quickly, within a couple months,” he said. “We all recover (differently), some slower, some faster, some not, you know? But for me it was like, not only that I couldn’t drive a street car around for months, but I couldn’t even dress myself.
“As soon as I was able, it’s like you’ve got to let your body know that you plan to use it again. You can’t be crazy, which means I couldn’t jump in my go-kart two months after the accident or, jump on my mountain bike. But I couldn’t get to the therapeutic pool. I could have someone drive me there and I could have someone dress and undress me, then I could sort of hobble into the pool. I could just sit there and float for an hour and try to move my arms.”
As Gidley, and many others in similar positions have found, it took reaching the depths of misery before an eventual, and extremely gradual march back to health and physical restoration became possible.
“I had my wife Mari who was driving me places, physical therapies, my mom also, and you know, if they ran over one of those normal reflectors in a road, I was lashing out to them,” he said. “You know, it wasn’t a happy experience if they hit the brakes too hard; I’m not embarrassed to say that. It happened. I lashed out a couple times and made them cry, and then I had to apologize after. But it’s just like when you’re driven by this pain inside that’s definitely influencing what you do.
“I was not a happy camper at times, especially when that pain jumped out at me. But they both stuck with me, they both kept driving me places — the gym, to physical therapy, this, that, whatever. And then lots of people just stepped in and tried to help. But it was brutal. The first five or six months, it was, like I said: ‘Am I going to take the last sail out? Is this as good as it’s going to get?’ I wasn’t in a good spot then, for sure.”
Although it took a few years, enduring the tough times would eventually lead to bigger steps in Gidley’s recovery; imbued with the racer’s spirit, a secret trip to a nearby kart track gave a winded Gidley the first hints he’d be able to handle the jarring bumps and forces without pain. Tests in GT cars and races as recently at Petit Le Mans in IMSA’s LMP3 series (pictured, above) have followed, and with the 2019 season here, he’s on the lookout for new pro racing opportunities.
“I’m really just in a good spot, so I’m just really appreciative of — just amazed, actually — at how the body can heal from something that was pretty extreme, that’s for sure,” he said. “So yeah, it’s been five years, (but) I’ve always been a happy person. I’m just looking for another opportunity. I’m a little older than I was, but I think you can be an inspiration to people that are not 25 years old. Maybe it can be for 25, but even people that are in their 40s, an inspiration to do something that you really want to do. If you really love it, you can be successful at it. That’s where I am right now.
“And I just need another opportunity to get out there, hopefully long-term, and do what I love, which is racing cars. Just live by what I always usually sign my autograph hero cards, which is ‘work hard and dream big.’ That’s what I hope everybody does with life. You know, just go out there and make it happen and enjoy.”
Enjoy the full interview with Memo below:
International Link: https://marshallpruett.podbean.com/e/mp-468-memo-gidley-five-years-later/