A glimpse into sporting hero Schumacher

A media documentary on Formula One great Michael Schumacher gives us a glimpse into Schumacher the person.

True legend: Not all sportsmen identified with their sport so closely and so fully as Michael Schumacher did.   -  AP

Families have sporting heroes, especially as a sport-obsessed child is growing up. When I was a boy, such a hero was Erapalli Prasanna, the off-spinner who was the spearhead of India’s bowling attack then. His captain Tiger Pataudi was another. As I grew so did the list of heroes. I don’t think it was unique to my family.

When my son was a young boy, he was obsessed with Formula One to the extent that when the race was being telecast early morning our time (we lived in Dubai then), his mother would send a letter to his school explaining he was unwell and couldn’t attend classes! Our family hero then was Michael Schumacher.

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Thus when I first went to Barcelona to report Formula One — an unexpected turn of events given that I neither drove a car nor had any particular interest in cars — my consultant on the sport was an eight-year-old who was steeped in its history and knew more than I did. “Get me a picture with Schumacher,” he said before I left, and I did.

Meeting Schumacher was like watching Sachin Tendulkar for the first time. You knew this was a future great of the sport. And you felt privileged to be present just before sporting history was to be made. You knew events would take an inevitable path, one ordained from the time these sportsmen first took up their sport.

Schumacher hadn’t yet won his first world championship, but he carried himself like a champion. He was a play actor of what he would become. He was polite, soft-spoken, and aware that he spoke not only for himself but for his sport as well. Not all sportsmen identified with their sport so closely and so fully.

Already a hero, he consolidated his stature in our family by donating ten million dollars for tsunami relief when that terrible tragedy struck our coast. Some heroes have feet of clay, others have feet of metal, well grounded.

In 2013 came the terrible skiing accident that nearly killed Schumacher. Like millions around the world, we were devastated. Initially we received updates, but increasingly it became difficult as his family requested privacy.

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Recently Jean Todt, Schumcher’s friend and former boss at Ferrari, told a German newspaper that the champion will “slowly and surely” improve. It has been nearly eight years, and Todt gives much of the credit to Schumacher’s wife Corrina besides his own indomitable fighting spirit.

This is, in fact, the best news to come from within the inner circle; professional opinion before this has been worrying. Last year a neurosurgeon said on French TV that Schumacher was “awake, but not responding.”

The Netflix documentary gives us a glimpse into Schumacher the person. There is the story of Schumacher driving around a circuit following the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola, telling himself, “This is a point you could be dead. This is a point you could be dead.”

It is moving both for what was and what is.

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