Eight seconds off the pace.
For Norwegian road racer Caroline Olsen, just getting back on a bike should have been cause for celebration, regardless of her pace. After all, a little more than six months prior, she was lying in a hospital bed at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Following her turn-one crash on September 10, 2017, during the Sunday morning warmup session at New Jersey Motorsports Park – caused by a mechanical issue with the front brakes on her motorcycle – Olsen was life-flighted to AtlantiCare, where she was diagnosed with severe bruising on her lungs, a broken collarbone, two broken vertebrae, and a concussion. She was placed in a medically induced coma in order to give her lungs a chance to heal.
After a few days at AtlantiCare and a few weeks of recovery in the U.S., Olsen’s badly bruised lungs and broken back were healed enough to enable a safe return to Norway, so she flew home to Halden. The next step in her recovery was to have surgery on her fractured and displaced collarbone. And then there was a nagging discomfort in her right leg, the cause of which was finally revealed to be an undiagnosed fracture to her right fibula, just below the knee. Add that to the lengthy list of injuries from her crash at NJMP.
It was Olsen’s second big racing incident since coming to America. In 2013, she was struck from behind on the starting line at Road America, and her shoulder was shattered. After two surgeries and two years of recovery, she came back from that incident and returned to her former pace on a motorcycle.
But the New Jersey crash was different. The broken bones were mending. The lungs were recovering, but the concussion had lingering effects. Headaches. An aversion to bright lights. And vertigo, which took weeks of therapy to overcome.
Along with the brain injury was the state of her mind. Feelings of doubt permeated her thoughts.
Olsen is Norwegian through and through, and Norwegians are, by definition and birthright, a hardy lot. Vikings do not give up. Descendants of Vikings do not give up. Members of the Olsen family… Do. Not. Give. Up.
“I finally had to tell myself, ‘It’s not in your blood to give up. You’ve been through too much to stop now.’ You guys haven’t seen the best of me yet. There are still things I want to accomplish in racing.”
She also has a solid support system of friends and family, both in Norway and the U.S. Her family in Norway did suggest to her that maybe it was time to stop racing and find something else to do, but when she decided to push through and try to get back to the paddock, they were very supportive throughout the process.
Also a pillar of support and encouragement through the entire process was road racer, JP43 Training owner, and beIN Sports race-broadcast color commentator Jason Pridmore, who was at Olsen’s hospital bedside in Atlantic City when she awoke from the coma and scribbled, “I had no brakes” on a piece of paper.
But when Olsen finally returned to the racetrack under the tutelage of Pridmore, this time, things were different.
“I was eight seconds off my pace, and I felt like I was going as fast as I possibly could,” she recalls.
Eight seconds might as well as been eight minutes, or eight hours. Olsen had the memory of what it feels like when everything clicks on a motorcycle, but she didn’t have the results.
“Jason and others told me, ‘Don’t lose hope.’”
She had to deconstruct her riding, break down each lap, and work on individual elements. “I had to look for small wins, like getting cleanly through one turn. And then, working on the next turn, and the next.”
And those eight seconds came off her lap times.
“It’s been a long road back this time, but I’m back.”
Olsen will race this weekend in MotoAmerica Supersport at Road America. She will be aboard the #43 Caroline Olsen Racing/Yamaha YZF-R6 with backing from TSE Racing and her loyal and long-time sponsors JP43 Training, MotoVixens, LOXY, WT Solutions, and Ringstad, along with Arai, Dainese, Dunlop, Speedcell, Nordic Crane, GP Suspension, CVMA, and Drippin’ Wet. Plus Ryan Harper and Dan McCormack, who transported Olsen’s racebike from California to Road America.
“I’m very thankful that I have the support of so many great people and companies, and especially Meghan Ryan and TSE Racing. I wouldn’t be able to ride this weekend if it wasn’t for them.”
She also plans to race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, which is the follow-up round to Road America. “After that, we’ll see what’s next,” said Olsen. “Two months ago, I didn’t think I was going to be racing at all. But we need to get more financial support to finish off the year. Right now, I’m just focusing on this weekend, to have some fun on a bike again, and get through two solid races. Just lining up on the starting grid feels like a win in itself.”
As the saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” That’s how Olsen returned to racing. She got through those next couple of turns on the racetrack. And regained the feeling she used to have one turn at a time.
And took eight seconds off her pace.