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Romain Grosjean & Marion Jollès Grosjean

When F1 driver Romain Grosjean crashed into a wall at 120 mph during the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix and his car exploded into a huge fireball, it was nothing short of a miracle that he survived. But for the Swiss-Frenchman and his wife Marion Jollès Grosjean, it was only the beginning of a long road to recovery. In a joint interview, they talk about the hardest parts, the impact it had on their kids, and how they managed to come out even stronger on the other side.
by Sollis Health

Can you both speak a little about what was going through your mind as the crash was happening?

ROMAIN: Well, what was going through my mind is that I had to get out of the car. Try and find a way without panicking to find the exit. I was stuck under the barrier under the headrest, so there’s a lot going on. I realized very quickly that I didn’t have the time to wait—I had to get out as soon as possible. I would say the key was very much to stay focused, very mathematical in what I was doing. But what I thought about most was my kids. And that’s what gave me the strength to put my hand in a fire and go from there.

MARION: I thought about my kids… My first instinct was to protect them. As I immediately knew that it was Romain’s car crashing, I asked our children to leave the room so that they wouldn’t see what was happening. Fortunately, they didn’t have time to realize. Left alone in front of the TV, I kept wondering: what am I going to tell them? What am I going to tell them? It is their dad the TV commentator is speaking about…

Romain, what were you diagnosed with after the accident, and what kind of treatments did it entail? Marion, what kind of a role did you play in helping him recover?

ROMAIN: I was diagnosed with two second degrees burns on both hands, which I believe was 5 percent of the body. Later on, we realized that I also had a broken left knee, but that was only a week and a half after. So it was really the burns on the hands. Initially, they were very worried about my lungs being also burned from the inside, so I stayed in intensive care for one night. But very, very luckily, my lungs didn’t suffer any burns.

MARION: In the first hours and early days, as I was far from Romain, I knew that he wanted me to be strong for the sake of our children. He was so obsessed with our well-being! He kept apologizing for what he was putting us through, and the only way I could help was to tell him that we were fine, that we were not suffering any trauma and that he shouldn’t worry about us. He needed all his strength to recover, and I didn’t want to be a burden. Then, two days after, as he was still at the hospital and I was sure that the kids were safe and alright, I flew to Bahrain to join him so that he could rely on me.

What would you say was the hardest part? Was it more physically or emotionally difficult?

ROMAIN: For me it was more physically difficult. Just because of the pain and burns. There is pain at the beginning, but the more you go along the way, the harder the pain gets. Kind of the opposite of a normal wound. Just because the nerves come back to life and therefore the pain increases every day.

MARION: The hardest was to see the man I love in pain, and feeling useless about it. There was not much I could do to help him physically recover. I hugged him as tight as I could to make him feel my love when I joined him in Bahrain, reassuring him as much as I could about the way the kids and I felt. He had to focus on his injuries, not on our mental health! I kept telling him that we would go through this together and history proved I was right!

“There is pain at the beginning, but the more you go along the way, the harder the pain gets. It’s the opposite of a normal wound, because the nerves come back to life and therefore the pain increases every day.” - Romain

Let’s talk a little about the mental component. Romain, what did it take for you to get back behind the wheel after something like that? Marion, what did it require from you, mentally? Did you have any mixed feelings or fear about him returning to racing?

ROMAIN: So I’ve been working with a psychologist for 10 years now. The accident happened on Sunday. And on Tuesday, I had a call with her and she started by saying, “Let’s go steady. Let’s see what’s left after the accident.” I say “No no no no, let’s go fast.” They were very intense sessions. But after the accident I only had two flashbacks, and one of them was when I was going through surgery back in Switzerland. Apart from that, I never had any flashbacks or nightmares. For me, the key was to jump back on the horse as soon as I fell from it. And through doing that therapy, I wasn’t really worried about going back to the car. I was more worried about where we were going to be going racing again. But as soon as the engine started, and we went for it, I was very normal. I was just focusing on my start and I realized that there wasn’t anything left behind.

MARION: I knew that as long as we were together, we would survive all this. I quickly realized that if my husband was strong enough to escape his car and the fire, he would be strong enough to physically recover too. So I was sure that he would not suffer any trauma and that he would want to keep racing as soon as he could! I was OK with it. I used to be a journalist in F1, and I have always been aware that motorsport was dangerous. We lost Jules Bianchi, a friend who was a racer, a few years ago… Romain isn’t a fool. I would trust him with my own life. When he told me he wanted to race again, it wasn’t a surprise and I could never forbid him to do what he loves, even though I won’t lie: it made me anxious to watch him back on track!

How did this near-death experience change each of your outlooks on life? How did it change your relationship?

ROMAIN: It does change life a lot. You realize that life can go any minute. And I think we all know that, but it’s kind of different now that I have experienced it. I just enjoy life much more for what it is and live a little bit more carpe diem.

MARION: Friends always joke about Romain’s second date of birth, but there is a part of truth in this statement! It changed our life forever. I feel like we need to deserve this second chance. It is always when you lose something that you realize how much you are going to miss it, aren’t you? This day could have turned out to become a tragedy, and I think we must not forget it to make every day count. Now we are closer than we have ever been, if possible!

Have there been any chronic effects from the accident—whether physical, emotional, or mental—for either of you?

ROMAIN: For a year my hand was a bit painful. But no, it’s pretty much normal. It’s 90 percent normal; it’s always going to be a little bit different than what it was before, but it’s a very small price to pay.

MARION: For a long time, even now and then, I kept wondering: “What if…” And it killed me! What if he hadn’t survived? What if he remained stuck in his car? I was obsessed with how it would have changed our lives forever. Where would I be now if my husband hadn’t survived? How would I have coped with my kids’ grief, while bearing my own sorrow? From time to time, I still have to shut this little voice inside my head so that I don’t become crazy!

How have you guys navigated talking about all of this with your kids, and has your approach to it evolved at all?

ROMAIN: The first thing they wanted to see is that I was OK after the accident. After a couple days on video call they started preferring playing to talking to daddy. So that’s when we knew they were OK. And then I came back home and they asked a lot of questions. They wanted me to do something different as a job. So they proposed engineer, tennis player, football player, designer, doctor, lawyer, you name it. I tried to explain to them that if I was the dad that I was, it’s because I had fun doing what I was doing. I was passionate about my job, and therefore, that’s why I was the dad I was. And in 2021, when I got back to racing, we brought them to race. They realized what I was doing and they loved coming to the race and seeing me doing what I do. That was something very special for me.

MARION: Even before being able to call Romain, I immediately told the kids that their dad was a superhero. He escaped fire! Would Batman or Superman survive what Daddy had survived? They became so proud that they couldn’t see I was a wreck! They spoke about it at school the day after. I wanted them to keep their life as normal as possible, and there was no nightmare. They didn’t watch the accident, they just knew that it was a big one. We managed to organize a video call from the hospital later that night so they could see their dad already joking about it. Two years later, they still believe he has magic power, and it is partly true! Their love has protected him. It helped him find the strength to get out of his burning car. I know Romain thought about them while he was fighting for his life, and he couldn’t give up on them.

Is there anything either of you wish you could help people understand better about what you’ve been through?

ROMAIN: I don’t think you can understand unless you’ve had something similar, which I don’t wish anyone to go through. As I say, after that, you can use it both ways. Either it hurts you a lot. Or you take it the other way, which I was lucky to be able to do, and take it as a positive experience where you should just enjoy life and enjoy the moment and be very different after that. I think the key is to turn it into a positive.

MARION: I wish people could see Romain as I see him with my own eyes. What he managed to do… it is breathtaking. It is a whirlpool of emotions: pride, love, resilience. Human beings can surprise us with unlimited power when it comes to survival instinct, and if we could use it to make the world a better place… Wow! That would be amazing.

“There is pain at the beginning, but the more you go along the way, the harder the pain gets. It’s the opposite of a normal wound, because the nerves come back to life and therefore the pain increases every day.” - Romain

Romain, what advice do you have for anyone who is going through something similarly traumatic—whether it’s a brush with death, burns on their body, or a potentially fatal disease? Marion, what advice do you have for anyone who might be helping a loved one through something traumatic?

ROMAIN: My advice is to try to see it as a challenge, overcome it as much as you can. Fight it! I’m a competitor. Whenever they were telling me to do five minutes of rehab per day, I would do 10. And I would just I would just push it as hard as I could, I would hit everything right, I would just do everything perfect for my body to heal as fast as you can. And then also work with a psychologist. So you turn that very tough experience into something that you can use. I call it positive. I understand some people may not want to call it positive. But I would just say turn it into something that you can use, something that can make your life better.

MARION: Don’t think you are useless! Showing your love and support can help them recover. I remember a specific night when Romain was in pain after his surgery. We spoke a lot, I went out to find medicine… We were together in this. I went to the hospital every single day with him. It is a slow process, you have to live one day after the other, believing that time is a friend: every minute that goes by gets you closer to a full recovery. You have to stick to this idea! And when that moment comes, you want to share it with your beloved ones. It is a vertiginous experience, but it makes you stronger than ever.

How has the Sollis support system been able to help you both in your health journeys—and your family as well?

ROMAIN: If anything happens, I have one number that I can call, which I was very lucky to have back in Switzerland or in Bahrain after my accident. And that number is going to look after me for everything. Timing is key in a health issue, and I think that’s where you want to know where you’re going and trust the people you’re going with. What Sollis is good at is that we’ve got that absolutely amazing treatment. One number, call it, and we know we’re going to be taken care of in the best way possible.

MARION: When some accident happens like that and you are far away, you don’t want to think about whether your beloved one is well taken care of. You want to take it for granted! You have so many other things you have to deal with… I feel like it is the same now for us with the U.S. As we are expats from our native country, it is a relief to know that our kids get the best health coverage if anything happens. We were anxious enough to know whether they would like their new school, make new friends, etc. Far from the family and the world we grew up on the other side of the ocean, feeling safe is priceless.

Any good words to live by?

ROMAIN: Enjoy the moment. Enjoy life. It is very precious and it’s not given.

The views and opinions expressed in this campaign are those of the participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sollis Health.
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