When Denny Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Sprint Cup Series race team compete in the final four in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship at Miami-Homestead Speedway on November 16, they will be without jackman Nate Bolling. It’s a pivotal race for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin and his crew, who frequently rank among the top in the circuit.
When the team goes over the pit wall on a stop, Bolling has an imperative job, lifting and lowering the side of the car so tires can be changed at lightning-quick speed. A former NFL defensive lineman, he tore his right triceps tendon during the second pit stop during the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October. Like many sports injuries, this acute injury can happen during high-speed activity, especially when strong pushing-type forces are involved. Bolling’s triceps tendon had mild calcification, or calcium build-up in the tissue, causing it to possibly be more susceptible to rupture. In his case the triceps tendon was asymptomatic before his injury, meaning it showed no signs of being damaged.
Dr. Patrick Connor performed surgery to repair the tendon the week following the race. During surgery, Bolling’s tendon was physically sewn back to his olecranon bone (part of the ulna) using drill holes through the bone. He has since been focused on rehabilitation, working closely with Joe Gibbs Racing and his medical team to heal the injury swiftly and safely. Six weeks post-op, here’s what he’s been doing:
· His elbow immediately went into a locking hinge brace after surgery, positioned that way to alleviate any tension and allow the tendon to repair.
· The brace is dialed up 10 degrees per week to slowly stretch the triceps tendon. He has reached 90 degrees of flexion but hasn’t yet started working on strengthening.
· He will be allowed to begin working on strength in his triceps tendon eight weeks post-surgery.
· He has returned aerobic conditioning, working out on the treadmill, bike and elliptical trainer, as well as general shoulder strengthening being careful not to stress the repair.
Bolling says he’s “healing quickly, like a 10 year old,” adding that “one of the most difficult things is to be patient with the process, especially because I’m ahead of schedule, per my therapist and virtually pain free. It feels normal, except being a little stiff for full flexion.”
The nimble work of athletes during a pit stop happens in mere seconds, but the need for such coordinated precision is why NASCAR pit crew athletes train continuously. They fine-tune endurance, agility and strength on a daily basis, and elite athleticism is standard.