Sandriana Shipman is recovered and ready to return to dirt track -- and she's got a new ride

Sandriana Shipman is recovered and ready to return to dirt track — and she’s got a new ride

By Deb Williams | Sep 7, 2018
Special to espnW.com

Sandriana Shipman is well aware of the dangers of dirt track motorcycle racing. She has broken her back (twice in six months), a leg and an ankle, torn a rotator cuff and punctured a lung.

But the multiple injuries the 23-year-old Maybrook, New York, native suffered in April at Texas Motor Speedway's dirt track initially triggered retirement thoughts.

That spring night, Shipman flew over the front of her motorcycle after being tapped in the rear. Another bike ran over her. An inventory of her injuries showed several broken bones -- her right femur, right wrist and all four metacarpals in her left hand, a lacerated liver and a bruised lung -- and necessitated a blood transfusion.

"I was in a pretty low place at first -- maybe for about a week while I was getting all of the surgeries done," Shipman said. "Once I was home, I was already focusing on my comeback. That's what pulled me through it all."

Shipman's recovery was a four-month journey, but her mindset this time differed from her previous rehabilitations. This time, she concentrated on making sure everything healed properly before taking the next step -- that her doctors and trainer were always in agreement.

Scott Hunter/American Flat Track

Owner Richie Morris, left, said of his decision to make Sandriana Shipman a part of his racing team, "The fact she is coming back and is willing to come back after those kind of injuries lets me see a little bit about what she's made of."

"I did physical therapy Monday, Wednesday, Friday," Shipman said. "I had to drive an hour [to] my trainer on Tuesday and Thursday. Recently, I started riding Thursday nights [for fun] at a local track [with my dad, little sister and brother], and then either traveling or riding on the weekends as well to try and keep everything in motion."

On Saturday at Williams Grove Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Shipman returns to racing in American Flat Track's single cylinder division. And her return will come with Richie Morris Racing, one of the series' top teams that fields motorcycles for title contender Ryan Wells.

A former motorcycle racer, Morris signed Shipman to a contract in late August for the season's final three races with an option for 2019.

"I wanted to give her an opportunity," Morris said. "I've had people shy away from me as far as wanting to back me after an injury. You can recover from injuries and be just as good or better afterwards. The fact she is coming back and is willing to come back after those kind of injuries lets me see a little bit about what she's made of. It tells me she has the heart of a lion."

Shipman made her professional debut last year, arriving at her first three races with a car and a lawnmower trailer carrying her motorcycle. When she received the opportunity to show her skills with a better bike and a mechanic, Shipman qualified for her first professional main event. Morris said he had watched Shipman "for a while" and "had seen her potential."

"She was growing by leaps and bounds," Morris said. "I was afraid if she came back on her own, she would feel like she had to do it overnight or everyone would forget about her. I want her to take it easy, to have fun, and enjoy herself. I don't want her to be under pressure and feel like she has to go out and perform at the top level right away. Sometimes it takes a while to get back to top shape.

"I don't want her to ... end up getting hurt again. It's going to take time ... and she needs to be patient. I am being patient with her."

Morris said he wanted to see how Shipman meshed with his team this year and how she progressed.

There were those who didn't expect Shipman to return to racing this year, and she admitted while she was en route to the hospital, she contemplated retirement.

"When I was in the ambulance, I said, '... I have to quit. My body can't take this anymore,'" Shipman said. "But once I was through the surgeries, home, off the medication, two weeks later I had to have something to focus on, to look forward to, and I wasn't ready to move past my racing career. I feel like I have unfinished business."

Shipman's family attempted to get her to step away from the sport. She said her father even told her that he "didn't want to bury his daughter." But they eventually relented.

The fact Shipman is returning this year comes as no surprise to her. "I'm very headstrong [and] I know what my body can take," she said.

Still, it's been a challenging recovery. She broke her right femur for the second time -- she had a plate and several screws in the leg from the previous break at age 15. In this year's accident, her leg broke just above the plate. All of the old hardware was removed during the surgery and a rod inserted. She began physical therapy on her leg while still in Texas. After a week in the Texas hospital, she and her mother flew back to New York.

"While I was doing physical therapy for my leg, it was tough because I had casts on my hands," Shipman said. "I had a great team that helped me adapt."

The cast on Shipman's right wrist came off next and she received a brace. The cast on her left hand was the last one removed. She had five external pins in her left hand for six weeks. After they were removed, her hand remained in a cast for another week. Her left hand now contains two plates and 13 screws.

"I had a lot of work to do on my left hand," Shipman said. "That was the last piece of the puzzle. I was worried whether I would be able to hold on to the handle bars, what it would feel like to pull a clutch again."

Shipman took a set of handle bars with grips home with her and would squeeze them while watching television. She also constantly works her fingers.

"Beyond the fact that I have all of these plates in my hand, I also lost the tendon off my middle finger on the top, so I have a weird hook to my middle finger, [and] my ring finger, I broke the tip," she said "All of my fingers are doing some funny stuff right now."

Shipman's three-day-a-week physical therapy sessions consume two hours. The first hour is devoted to her right leg and the second to her wrist and hand.

"I stretch every morning and every night," Shipman said. "I've had to adjust the things I do in my life and how I do them. I've done this to my body, but it's been totally worth it."

When Shipman climbed back on a motorcycle in early August, she said, "Everything just felt right."

"I'm in better shape now than I was before I got hurt," she said. "I'm strong. I know there are a lot of people nervous about me coming back. I'm not nervous. I hope that rubs off and that shows to everybody I'm ready to go."

Sandriana Shipman