In 2021, a gift from his wife helped change the direction of Torsten Gross' life. A race day at Lime Rock Park piqued his interest in a sport that he didn't think was for him.
"If you don't have a bit of nerves before you go on a racetrack, that's not a good sign," said Gross. "For me, things slow down, really slow. The first time you're out on the track is completely freeing. No one knows I'm in a chair, no one cares that I'm in a chair. That freedom is indescribable."
Torsten has been chasing that feeling for most of his adult life.
"When I was 15, I dove into the ocean, broke my neck, drowned and was clinically dead for two and a half minutes," said Gross. "I remember when I was drowning, I couldn't close my eyes and I was looking in front of me and instead of it being three feet deep, it went straight down and all I could think was, one more step and I would have been okay."
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"Best thing that could have happened to me though. I think we all have our own versions of disability, mine happens to be visible. Everybody has their thing that is sometimes invisible, but it makes me try harder. It makes me prove things to people. I don't see it as a limitation at all," he continued.
That attitude has led to endless opportunities.
"I take on projects that allow me to prove that I'm better than the one time," said Torsten. "I don't want to do one marathon, I want to do 12. I don't want to be a scuba driver, I want to be a rescue scuba diver. I don't just want to track a car, I want to be a racecar driver. I think it pushes me to a place that I didn't even dream of going. None of what I'm doing right now is a dream because I never thought I'd be able to do it. So I am outliving every dream that I have."
Later this year, Torsten plans to compete in his first race at Lime Rock Park, but he isn't doing this just for his own satisfaction.
"To me, a passion isn't something you do yourself, but your obliged to share it with others," said Gross.
His new love of racing got the wheels turning on how he can open the door for others.
"There have been so many foundations that have helped me out, I felt like it's time for me to give back and allow people in chairs to also experience what it's like to be on track and that's when Just Hands was formed," said Gross.
The Just Hands Foundation gives anyone who uses hand controls to drive the chance to get on track. And it's more than just a driving experience, it's also a shift in perspective.
"A woman with her son approached me after her husband was on the track and said 'fathers are heroes' to their 9-year-olds and when my husband landed in a chair, he lost that in his father. Now when [he] got off the track, all his son could say was I want to be like 'daddy, I want to be a racecar driver.' That was the moment I realized Just Hands was going to help a lot of people," Gross said.
Torsten's foundation tracks mainly at Lime Rock but travels to other tracks in the area and is even offering hand-controlled racing experiences in Belgium, Germany and Austria.
Just Hands has gone from zero to 60 quickly, but its mission has been in motion for decades.
"The reason why the car is number 94 is, that is the year of my accident," said Gross. "So, we say that Just Hands, while it's only two years old, started in 1994 and we're here now. I'm hoping that it becomes what people can do with their hands, just use their hands and how we can help, but one step at a time," said Torsten.