Entering the XFINITY Series season as a full-time driver, it’s no secret that Matt Tifft hopes to be successful all year long. Though while making trips to victory lane, he has another goal – to raise awareness about brain tumors.
Currently working with the American Brain Tumor Association and other organizations, Tifft wants to be able to raise awareness, and show people that discussions are being had.
“I’ve talked about this in the past, but we don’t know much about brain tumors as a society,” he said. “You hear other diseases and you know you can get cured from that, you know the resource to go to, this doctor, know what to do. Brain tumors are a little different. There’s a stigma that it’s a death sentence, that your life is over. I want to be an advocate for brain tumor awareness and help those others in need.”
Tifft has already been able to connect with the fans about it, speaking with a young fan at Kentucky Speedway last week about his experience.
“Being able to talk to those people and having an avenue to talk about it, I love it,” he continued. “I want to be able to help people more with that. The more I can raise awareness for it, the more we can find cures and doesn’t have such a bad stigma with it.”
Tifft knows the experience firsthand, having gone through brain surgery last year for a tumor.
While having a back injury checked on, doctors found a low-grade glioma in his brain. At the beginning of July, he had surgery to remove the benign tumor and began rehabilitation, returning behind the wheel of a truck in August.
Going through the recovery process, Tifft admits that he questioned whether things would get back to normal but always kept it in the back of his mind that he’d return behind the wheel eventually.
“I used that as my motivation to get back,” he said. “Now the timing of that, I didn’t have any idea. I didn’t know if it’d be a few weeks, few months, or next year – I had no idea. The only thing I knew was the best I could was use every resource that I had possible to re-strengthen my brain and try to get myself in a position to get back in a car.”
The want to get back in the car created anxiousness for Tifft, in wanting to get better as soon as he could so he could race once again.
“The first couple of weeks was watching races on TV because I wanted to stay active and know what was going on. But at the same time, you’re saying that you should be out there,” he said. “Internally, I don’t feel different, but I can’t do those things right now. Luckily, I’m at a point, where I’m 100% fine but during that time, I want to get out there, be involved. It was hard to take a back seat to that.”
The recovery process included doing a series of brain puzzles, which Tifft admits he called “stupid” at the beginning, but realized as time went on how much they helped.
“Doing those games over and over and I see the Lumosity commercials and ask if it really works,” he said. “Then months down the road, it’s like, ‘Wow, that helped clear my head.’ I did that, neo-cognitive exam and I’m interested in going back in July a year later and comparing the results. That’ll be interesting.”
Now having the opportunity to race again, Tifft isn’t about to take it for granted.
“Being able to look now ahead to 2017 and not having a worry about that, having it completely in the past and not paranoid about that, it makes everything that much more sweet to get to this point and look forward to a great year,” he said.
Tifft will have one of the best opportunities to do well, set to run the full XFINITY Series schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing. He made a total of 10 starts last year with JGR in XFINITY, including a top-five, five top-10s, and a pole award.
“JGR and Toyota both are giving me so many tools and resources to use as a driver to better myself,” he said. “I’ve never had a full-time season, so the ability to race every week, be consistent, and getting the seat time every week will be huge for me moving forward.”
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