86. Tyrone Mathurin: Driven to succeed

Tyrone Mathurin talks to host Sue Stockdale about being a racing driver in Team BRIT, which aims to become the first ever all-disabled team to race in the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race – the most iconic endurance sportscar race in the world.

Whilst riding his motorbike in 2005, Tyrone crashed which caused four nerves to be torn from his spinal cord. During surgery to reattach the nerves, doctors were unaware of a hematoma putting pressure onto his spinal cord and a week later he awoke from an induced coma, paralysed from head to toe. Fast forward to 2022, and Tyrone is behind the wheel at the Silverstone circuit in a specially adapted BMW 118, where previously he had watched Moto GP as a spectator.  Tyrone talks about his life growing up, how he endured the challenge of being paralysed, and how he became a racing driver in Team BRIT.

Photos courtesy of Team BRIT.

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Key Quotes

My career really started from a negative to a positive, from having a motorcycle accident to getting the chance to race motor cars.

I decided to jump on a motorcycle, and then that’s when life went the opposite way for me.

My nerves detached from my spinal cord, which caused my right arm to not move. 

It was a long road to the beginning of my recovery and I was in intensive care for three months. 

There wasn’t a support system there to help you through it, I had to do it myself.

I met a guy who was in a wheelchair and he gave me the inspiration to not give up – work hard and you can get through it. 

I’d never thought I would be actually in the pits at Silverstone doing motor racing. 

The innovation behind our hand control system puts us on a level playing field. Once we are in a car, the disability goes out of the window.

It’s my first year as a rookie and we are in the Britcar endurance championship. 

You’ve got to persevere from what you believe in and over time it will happen. 

Tyrone (Tee) Mathurin Transcription

Sue: Hi, I’m Sue Stockdale, your host of Access to Inspiration, the podcast with a social mission to help you be inspired by people who may be unalike you. We hope their experiences and insights cause you reflect on your own experiences about the world and make you think. Today’s guest in episode 86 is Tyrone Mathurin, otherwise known as Tee, who is a rookie driver in Team BRIT which aims to become the first all-disabled team to race in the Le Mans 24 hour endurance race, the most iconic endurance sports car race in the world. While riding his motorbike in 2005 Tee crashed which caused four nerves to be torn from his spinal cord. During surgery to reattach the nerves doctors were unable of a hematoma putting pressure on his spinal cord which meant he awoke from an induced coma, paralysed. Fast forward to 2022, Tee is ready in the pits area at Silverstone ready to go out on a race. How did that happen, well thats what we will find out today. Welcome to the podcast Tee it’s great to speak to you today.

Tee: Thank you. Yeah, Sue, thanks for having me.

Sue: It was interesting that I met you at Silverstone when I was there watching some motorsport and I heard your really interesting story and thought you’d be a great guest for the podcast. I want to start when you were a youngster and you were thinking about motor sport, did you ever imagine yourself doing what you’re doing now?

Tee: Not at all. Not at all Sue not at all. As a youngster, it wasn’t really something that I felt I could get into or someone like myself from where I’m from. Yeah. It was nonexistent sort of thing. So it was just pretty much a dream.

Sue: When you say somebody like yourself, where you’re from, what’s your background?

Tee: so I’m from South London, home of the iconic Battersea Power station. And from there, I grew up in a household amongst my two younger sisters. My younger sister’s father was present for the most of my youth, most of my younger years. Went school, primary school, secondary, college. So attended an academic year.

Sue: And were you interested in speed?

Tee: As a youngster. Yeah, I was quite interested in motorcycles, pretty much was my first love I was a BMXer, mountain biker, so I was always on two wheels. So it, my first love started from there and then progressed on getting older and, getting onto mopeds. And then progressing higher from there, until the motorcycle. Yeah. And that’s pretty much what’s started my career really from a negative to a positive and then, from having a motorcycle accident to getting the chance to racing motor cars.

Sue: Well, I also want to get a sense about the reality of life in South London because I think you did face some tough times.

Tee: Yeah, yeah, went down a path of a criminal lifestyle. Not a lifestyle, but what happened is, the pressures of, the, financial constraints of the struggles that we have to go through, you unconsciously think and resort to going down a path of what you’re not expected to do. So, just kind of pushes you to going down the wrong road. The lack of opportunities that were there back then it was hard to progress. Financially, I guess, trying to find a job and stuff. And then when you can’t find a job or it’s not working out for you, I guess you find yourself looking in other corners to further, you know yourself.

Sue: What happened that caused you to turn your life around?

Tee: It took a while, in turning your life around.  I guess for me personally, your morals come into effect where, you know, good and bad right from wrong. And as well as that, it’s just growing up and maturing and knowing what’s right. So for me personally, it wasn’t something that I had wanted to do, as a long term thing, doing what I had done, selling drugs it was just trying to get me off from being in a misfortunate position.

Sue: Given that, that was your reality at the time. What happened?

Tee: So what happened there was a court battle. I was going through drugs possession, court case. And then I was out on bail, so we were waiting my court case. And at the time I was signing on at the police station between six and seven on my push bike, and then this one particular day, I think I was late. I would’ve been late, so I decided to jump on a motorcycle, on a motorbike. And then that’s where, the life went the opposite way from me. So, and it was only literally like 10 meters away from where I lived at the time. I was going down the road, saw my mum, went to slow down, and there was a ditch. There’s like a drain. It was a drain cover, a defaulted drain cover, and around it the road was defected badly. And then, that was my, my end to being a able bodied person. So, yeah.

Sue: And how long did you then spend in hospital?

Tee: After that, Incident happened on that night. I was in hospital for like two days. Trying to figure out what the problem was.  the nurses thought it was a broken collarbone, which there was no signs of that. And then further on, four weeks later, I had an Appointment with a consultant to establish what a problem was, where they, I think they injected dye into your nervous system, and then they figure out the breaks or where whatever’s nerves are detached from the spinal cord. And then they realized, or should I say, it was known that my nerves detached from my spinal cord, which caused my right arm to not be moving And yeah, And then a month after that was my operation and then that was the turn for the worst for me after that, which was when I was paralyzed after the operation.

Sue: My goodness. I can’t imagine what that must like, how were you feeling mentally at this time? Because it seemed like from driving along on your motorbike to suddenly then finding yourself in hospital and not where you expected life to be?

Tee: yeah. Do you know before the operation I was quite nervous and, and I had the thought to want to just cut from the hospital. Like, you know what, Nah, this isn’t for me, Let me leave. But, I still went through with it. Maybe like a week after I must have woke up and was paralyzed. So for me, I didn’t think, nothing. The thought of going into hospital, I thought it was just like a broken leg. You know, mended, fixed, out. But then over time it was like, it started doing it on me like, wow, it’s not really that. And then once the doctors come around and tell you what really is the case, and see myself in intensive care as well, was the realization for me that, yeah, it’s not what it seemed to be just so simple and you know, the doctor saying you’re paralyzed. It’s like, wow. It’s, it’s like hard hitter, isn’t it? To just take that from being an able person. Well, as a young individual as well. Yeah, it was quite hard to take at first.

Sue: how did you then manage to get through? Did you have family support cuz your life’s turned upside down when you realize that, that is your reality, I imagine.

Tee: Yeah. Yeah. My mom, sisters, family friends, Yeah. They were coming immensely. Like, it was grateful for them to still be, you know, show their support and I guess it helped in some sense. I couldn’t really talk, intensive care. I was in and out of induced coma.The support was, it was much help.

Sue: now I’m wondering how you get from being paralyzed in intensive care to being a driver for team BRIT. What happened next?

Tee: So from then on, it was, it was a long road to the beginning of my recovery. I was in intensive care for like three months. Went onto the ward for another two, three months before being readmitted to Rehabilitation hospital, which was Stanmore hospital Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. I think that was all in all eight months period of me being on my back. So, yeah. And then just dealing with the whole mental health, side to it. There wasn’t like a support system there to help you through it and what you were going through. Like, I had to do it myself.

It was the family support as well. I guess that kept my mental stable place. But, You know, when you’re by yourself and I dunno, just, I think it’s just me, myself, I was always, just had been a good natured person and always had high hopes for myself, but I dunno what kept me going, but something kept me going. While I was in the rehab hospital, I met someone while doing my physio, Cause we had physio sessions like in intervals. On a daily basis we had scheduled appointments where we had classes throughout the day and then I met a guy who was in a wheelchair and he passed his rehab and he was doing his outpatients and he kind of gave me a talk and wrote down, Look, listen, this is what it is. And gave me the inspiration that inspired me to not give up and just work hard and you can get through it. So, after seeing that and seeing what he had gone through being in the wheelchair, how he gets about driving how he drives. So me seeing all that from there, thinking, you know, life was hard to not being so hard. There was no one to look up to from a disability side of things, so. There was no base to build from other than just to be okay with me being alive. You what I’m saying? So from seeing that, from hearing what he had to say, it, gave me a sense of hope and belief to yeah, things can happen.

Sue: As that recovery then continued,

Tee: Mm-hmm.

Sue:  how did you find out about Team BRIT?

Tee: As that continued, it was a long time after that, good few years after that after leaving the hospital, I was still interested in bikes. I was still watching motorcycle racing on a TV Moto GP. I was quite an avid fan. 2011 I went to Moto GP. Qualifying round on on a Saturday at Silverstone 2011, it was a birthday present from previous relationship, and I’d never thought I would be actually in the pits myself, at Silverstone doing motor racing. But It was one day I was just, like, No, I need to get back on the bike, or I need to get back. I’m doing something. And I was on the internet just surfing, surfing for a conversion for a quad bike. course I couldn’t get on a motorcycle, but the next best thing was a quad bike. So, I was only internet surfing and then come across Team BRIT. So then I was like, Okay, track. Track day, eyes wide open, like yes.

Wow. Track day. And that’s all I thought was just a track day experience that they were advertising and then sent an email. And then Dave Player, team principal emailed me back and then said, Yeah, do I wanna race? So I was like, Huh, race?

What you mean race? He’s like, Yeah, do you wanna be a racing driver? I was like, What? And then from then straight away it was like, what do I have to do? How do I get into it? And then, yeah, it just went from there. And you know wide smile and I’m here now.

Sue: What a transformation and in terms of driving a race car. Are there any adaptations that are made to the car so that you can drive it given your disability?

Tee: Yeah, so what it is, we have a world leading hand control system on a steering wheel, which allows me, myself, and others with disabilities in a wheelchair to still change the gears and use the accelerator and the brake on the steering wheel. So you’ve got the brake lever, which is the paddle shift on the left and the right accelerator on the right pedal shift. on the front of the steering wheel, you’ve got two rocker switches either side, either for myself just in my left hand, or my teammate, who’s got a similar injury, but he’s right hand, so then he can use the right side. But that allows us to change gears, the innovation behind our hand control system puts us on a level playing field. So, once we’re in a car, the disability goes out the window. So we’re both, you know, with able bodied drivers, we’re level, and it’s all down to our skill and performance on a day.

Sue: So what did it feel like that first time you sat in that car and, and drove it?

Tee: oh, it was, it was mind blowing at the start of it. Cause you know I haven’t got no motorsport experience at all, so. I started in the team academy. Before you get into the academy, you’ve got an assessment to do to see whether or not you’re capable of becoming a racing driver. I had a 45 minute assessment on the sim rig. And then once you pass that, you have various, various hours doing go karting under supervision of one of their experienced drivers. And then once you gone through that assessment and they’re happy with, your progression. You are forwarded onto the training program at the academy. And then from there it’s like that’s, that’s the next level to being at the track for the first time. And like I said before, I went to the Silverstone in motoGP at a qualifying and, I was sitting in the stand. And at that time I was in a wheelchair. So then to be further years on, to actually be in the pits and look into where I was, which was at Copse Corner, it was mind blowing, you know, seeing the track, you know, in person front and then being on the track, doing the training. Yeah, it was, it was definitely a dream come true.

Sue: What an opportunity to be able to, to do that and to start to, discover your talent of driving.

Tee: Yeah. Talent. I wouldn’t say that, but yeah. Yeah. I guess you’ve gotta have some talent to be in a position I’m in now, but Yeah, with thanks to  our team manager, driver coach, Jamie Fowler, he’s got me up to this, this point, so throughout the training, I was a training and hours of coaching thanks to him, the team.

Sue: I’m wondering if that resilience, that you showed recovering in hospital and through your rehabilitation. If that helps you today in your driving, in all the training and the, the things you have to do to keep improving?

Tee: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course. It’s, constant improvement to me. Yeah. It’s trying to improve every time. It’s trying to stay consistent. You know, always want, try and be better so that, that stays with you, similar to being in hospital. The thing is when I was in hospital, I guess, yeah, it’s the same I was improving so with my level of progression, every time I was progressing, I’m always working harder and then you get to that next level. So you’re always working to every level, you’re always progressing, so you never stop. And you’re always improving. If you wanna improve, you have to keep working at it.

Sue: And what’s the competition that you’ve been in so far?

Tee: It’s my first year as a rookie We’re in the Brit car endurance championship, like we’re in the trophy.

Sue: So how long does the race last?

Tee: It’s an endurance race’s its a 50 minute race. And I’m accompanied by my teammate Paul Folick, who drives with me in the 1 1 8 bmw. 25 minutes each. We have to take. So, the first 25 minutes is me or him. We get five minute pit window where we have to to pit in change drivers,

Sue: so you’re a team, even within a race, the two of you’re taking part in the one car,

Tee: yeah. We’re partnered in the one car.

Sue: and in terms of preparing for a race, what sort of preparation do you have to do?

Tee: Yeah. What do I do? Me personally, for me, it’s all self. It’s not a thing we must. Keep to, but it’s just based on, our own personal wellbeing, I guess. It’s not something that we’re told to do, but personally I keep fit by regularly going to the gym three, four days a week.

As well as that for me personally, it helps my disability. Even before being with Team BRIT, I was going to the gym regularly. And it helps me. Cause if I don’t go to the gym, it affects my mobility as my disability I’ve go. it’s like I’ve got my right leg’s weaker than my left leg. So, I’ve got weak hip flexers. So I tend to pull my leg through with my hips. If I don’t work on my lower legs, it affects my mobility where I tend to fall a lot more. So I work a lot more on my legs to, you know, keep me strong on my feet and stop me from, taking a few tumbles now and then. But yeah, I work a lot in the gym keep my physical health up. What else? I try and eat correctly yeah, just to help me in and out the car. So, yeah, that’s the only preparation before race days, I’d go over footage, over data to see, over the track, to familiarize myself with the track before, so at least once I get to the track I can just go out on test days and just attack it and, and try and gather the relevant data on what I need to improve on for race day.

Sue: And given that you’ve raced quite a number of times already as season Tee, what’s been the most enjoyable thing you’ve done?

Tee: On race day, the enjoyable thing. Hmm. We haven’t really had enough races due to us having a our car being out of action for a few races due to a track day incident where the car had a massive crash where it put our car out for a few races and had to be, repaired. So it put us out for a few races, but the most memorable moment for racing, maybe our first race at Silverstone, where we had an incident where my teammate, he had a little. Little oof moment at the beginning of the race. And then, the second race we came back from ninth, I think it was back to sixth or fifth. So yeah, that was a memorable moment. Cause you know, I kind pushed myself hard to get us right into the mix of it. So yeah, that was moment for me. Another moment was when we had our sister car. While our car was out being repaired, we had the sister car, which was a Volkswagen Scirocco Rock had a little incident with the with the sausage kerb at Copse Corner. So we damaged the suspension and that was the first time for me seeing like the actual team get to work and do there. So, over the course of that night they were working throughout the whole night trying to get the suspension fixed. You sort, just getting down and dirty. Seeing how they, pulled the stock size was, was amazing to see, the team effort and the teamwork and what, what goes, goes on behind the scenes, but no one don’t see. So yeah, that was one in the memorable moments for me.

Sue: And as you look ahead to the remainder of this year and to the future, what are your ambitions? As being part of Team BRIT.

Tee: Oh, still be here, still be with the team. But you know, with our goal on 2024 to be in Le Mans 24 hour, first disabled team to do that. Yeah, that’s one thing I’m, I’m looking forward to, but with the team and what we’re doing, you, you never know. We’re always surprising. Pulling things out surprising, so you’ll never know. But I’m willing to be part of whatever’s in the futures, you know, the future, future prospects. But yeah, a lot of the congrats and we’ve gotta thank it all to the sponsor as well. Cause without sponsors. Yeah, we wouldn’t be able to be, showing what we can do or, carving away for those with disabilities and in motor sports. So yeah. Well,

Sue: If you could go back and give that younger Tee some advice that teenager Tee , bear in mind what you’ve learned about life and motor sport now. What? What would that bit of advice be that you would give yourself?

Tee: I guess the advice I give my you self. Mm don’t change who you are. Just stay fulfilling a dream. You know, when you got a dream, stay fulfilling a dream. Stay passionate about it and, and don’t give up. There’s no A or B in in this. It’s just an a, I grew up thinking there’s an A and a B, whereas you leave A to go to B, then it’s like your dream of a is like it’s your short lived. So I guess now I’m only, I understand, you gotta persevere for what you believe in and, and, and over time it will happen. So, Yeah. Yeah.

Sue: I’m sure that’s useful advice for our listener who may have a dream and, and sometimes be questioning whether it’ll ever happen or not.

Tee: Do you know, is I’ve, I’ve realized it’s, you can be doing something for over like maybe six years, seven years. Maybe and in that eighth year, it could happen for you. And that’s just from you just sticking to it and not giving up. So it’s, just persevere, stick through it, work hard for it. And that’s, that’s, and that’s been the thing that’s been the success for, successful people where they’ve stuck through it. And so, my younger self, yeah, I just, stick to your dream and, and don’t give up. Don’t give up. Yeah.

Sue: Brilliant. Well, I think, I think what we’ve heard today Tee is You’ve described that perseverance, that determination, that keep working hard in how you’ve been able to achieve what you have.

Tee: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, me personally, I’m, I’m loving it. I’m loving the journey and I’m always trying to improve. I’m always trying to better myself. So yeah, going into every race, I’m always trying to improve from the last race. So that, and that I guess that will carry me through in just my life off the track as well. Just personally, just always improve, always trying to be a better person and, thankful with the team. They’ve helped me. Cause not only. You know, being a better person, it’s, it’s, it’s made me a more confident person, more outspoken. Do you know what I’m saying? When I thought I’d be doing a lot of these interviews or I’ve done radio interviews, it’s not been one of them things for me, but I’m surely getting used to it. So yeah, I’m thankful that gracefully thankful.

Sue: Well, I’m sure your words will be inspiring for our listeners in this podcast. It’s been really great to talk to you to get your story I wish you well into the future and for next year and, and further on.

Tee: Yeah, I appreciate that man, thank you for having me and yeah, thank you.

Sue: I hope you enjoyed what Tee had to say and we wish him well in 2023 Remember you can read a transcription of this and all our other episodes on our website at accesstoinspiration.org.  Next week I will be discussing the importance of sleep with Dr Sarah Gilchrist, a sports scientist with an expertise in sleep and wellbeing, who has spent 20 years in the high performance sports industry. I hope you can join us then.

Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra
Producer: Sue Stockdale