25 Apr Cassie Gannis – She Is a Racecar Driver
This woman won’t let anything stand in her way! Meet Cassie Gannis – She Is a Racecar Driver!!
“When I was young, I was a very good swimmer. I seemed to be in the water more than out. I was on the swim team since I was 5, well on my way to becoming a great competitive swimmer. When I was 10, I started racing (quarter midget) cars. I was winning and discovered my passion for racing as well! But at age 12, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. My curve was called a 15 percent left thoracic curve. I was told I needed to wear a back brace to prevent the curve from advancing.
The brace covered my entire torso from my hips to my neck. I couldn’t move that entire section of my back. It was so uncomfortable! Not to mention embarrassing! You could see the brace when I wore a regular shirt. I looked like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. I decided to always wear a sweatshirt to conceal it. Even in 100 degree heat I wore a sweatshirt! No way did I want anyone to see that thing.
Over the years, I was fitted for two more back braces. As I grew out of one, I was fitted for another. Each time my family was told that in spite of the brace, my curve kept progressing. During one visit my mom even cried, which brought me to tears too. It was a very scary time. I had never seen my parents cry, so I knew it wasn’t good.
Over time the braces didn’t help. I had progressed to a 50 percent left thoracic curve with rib hump. In photos you could see that my left shoulder was four inches higher than my right. My spine specialist explained that my scoliosis curve had started to impede on my heart and lungs. Surgery was now my only option. Wearing a brace was one thing, but hearing I had to have surgery was terrifying!
When the day of my surgery came, I was scared to death! Thankfully, my entire family was with me. Even my grandma and grandpa flew in from Pennsylvania. Before surgery I was hooked up to a bunch of electrodes that make sure your nerves stay intact. I looked like a science fiction character! That’s when I broke down. I started what we call in my family “the ugly cry”. My mom was holding my hand and started to cry, too. We were both scared. My mom gave me some quick kisses and words of love. I don’t remember anything after that.
I woke up in the ICU with my family all around me. Time went in and out. I was told to use my Morphine drip anytime I felt pain. I remember hearing beeps and I think my parents tried to talk to me. I know my mom spent the night because she was always there.
The next day physical therapy came to get me into a chair. I have no idea how they made that happen. At one point my grandma bent over to give me a kiss and accidently hit the button that moves the bed up. My eyes got really big and my family yelled at her to stop. Nevertheless, I did so well in ICU I was moved out one day early.
Once I left the ICU, things got a bit more challenging. Physical therapy had me up twice a day walking the hall. I just wanted to lay in bed – I didn’t want to move. They also make you eat, but I had absolutely no appetite. My dad kept saying “eat, eat, eat” and my mom kept ordering food, but it all looked horrible to me. One morning my dad tried to put a Cheerio in my mouth. I was so mad I spit it out and hit my mom at the other end of the bed. Everyone in the room cracked up, including my mom!
I was progressing fairly well after just 3 days. I was told I would soon be discharged. I was very excited to go home and see my dogs!
There’s nothing better than being told you get to go home! The hospital gave me a bunch of paper-like pillows. We placed them on the car seats. I just remember feeling very stiff and hating the bumps in the road. My dad did his best to avoid all bumps, potholes and manholes.
The first days home sort of blurred together. I would get up, clean up, and get my back dressing changed. Pulling the tape off (to change the dressing) hurt a lot. It was hard to remove the tape without also taking some of my skin. Every little thing made me so tired I needed to nap. The first few days I slept on a portable bed in our family room. After that, I was allowed to go up and down the stairs once a day to sleep in my bedroom.
I really wanted to shower, but wasn’t allowed to get my back wet. My mom was able to rig the shower with an outdoor resin chair and my dad installed a hand-held sprayer. It worked really well. I just sat on the chair and got hosed off. It was pretty much just my front getting hosed off, but it made me feel fresh. I wasn’t allowed to get my head wet, so my mom took me to the salon when my hair was really dirty. It was hard tilting back into the bowl, but with those extra flat plastic pillows it was tolerable. Having my hair washed never felt so great!
It took me a while to get an appetite. I knew I had to eat because I had a lot of healing to do. I ate a lot of protein and calcium. Even if I didn’t feel like eating I tried to get the right food groups needed for healing.
After a few weeks, my mom and I started to get cabin fever. My sister was back at school and my dad was out of town. It was just my mom and I – all day, every day, repeating the same process. We were both feeling down, so one day my mom said “let’s go to McDonald’s”. I couldn’t believe she said that! She placed a bunch of the paper pillows in the car and carefully loaded me in. She was careful not to hit potholes or stop the car suddenly. As we went through the drive thru, we started cracking up! It was such a nice break, the perfect thing to do. And fast food never tasted so good! We did that every few days. It became our little adventure.
I also started physical therapy when I was home. The movements were designed to improve my mobility, strength and flexibility. The work was difficult, but my physical therapists were so nice. The fact that I wanted to work hard made the process easier. My mom kept telling me there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and as therapy went on, I found that to be true.
I was six months out of surgery and itching to get back in the racing seat! There was a practice scheduled in Tucson that I really wanted to make. We had a special SFI-certified seat made for the car. It fit exactly to my body dimensions. My X-rays showed significant healing in the surgery area, so my spine specialist allowed me to practice on a track with no other drivers. It was the news I’d been waiting for. Once I completed my first practice, there was no turning back! I was back… back to racing!
I’m happy to say Scoliosis is survivable. For me, having the surgery was totally worth it! I was even told after surgery that I grew two inches! Once I completed physical therapy, got back to school and back to racing, I had so much more self-confidence! No more sweatshirts! I could stand up straight and tall! I also began to move up in my racing. I own my own NASCAR Super Late Model team. I have raced in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, ARCA and NASCAR Camping World Trucks. My goal is to eventually race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
So… don’t let your fear stop you! If you work through it, it is so worth the journey!”
Want to see more of Cassie? Cheer her on at her upcoming races at the Tucson Speedway in AZ:
May 6th: Sierra Cycle Western Night: Spyder Racing/Demo
June 3rd: Icebreaker 110: Hornet Skid Plate Race
July 1st: Fire Cracker 100: Best Family Fireworks Show!!
Aug 5th: Lightning Strike: Dave’s Trailer Smash-Up
Sept 2nd: Tucson 520 & Double Feature: Auto Soccer
Oct 7th: Cancer Awareness: Speedway Sampler & Food Truck Roundup & Trailer Race
Oct 28th: Grand Finale: Trunk ‘N Treat
Nov 25th: Turkey Shoot 125: King of the Hill 100
For more on Cassie:
Cassie’s website: CassieGannis.com
Special thanks to Cassie’s Sponsors:
Tough Tested ToughTested
Cool Towels CoolTowelOnline
The Coffman Agency TheCoffmanAgency