Peterborough Panthers skipper Hans Andersen is smiling again.
And given what he’s been through on and off the track in the past nine months, that is a minor miracle.
Andersen is a Grand Prix winner, a World Cup winner, a national champion and a standing dish at the top level for well over a decade.
Approaching 39, it may be that Father Time is starting to catch up with a man whose name will forever be etched into Panthers folklore.
But it would be difficult to expect any sportsman – of any age or ability – to battle against the sadness and struggles which Andersen has encountered in the past nine months.
The loss of loved ones, major mechanical issues and bad crashes left the Panthers captain at a low ebb and in need of professional help.
In an incredibly open and honest interview, Andersen revealed: “My personal life has been affected by the deaths of people who were very close to me.
“I lost my dad two days after Christmas last year and, when he passed away, a piece of speedway went with him.
“He introduced me to the sport and was always so supportive in the early part of my career when I was getting started. It’s more than eight months ago now, but I still don’t think I’m over it.
“Then there was my long-time sponsor and friend in Poland who committed suicide and my main sponsor in the UK, who has been a good friend to me for all the years I’ve ridden over here, died in the summer.
“My best friend back in Denmark also lost his dad and it’s a case of all the pain and suffering building up.
“We all know that death is a part of life, but losing so many people in such quick succession really got to me. It’s been a very difficult situation. It might just look like I’ve lost my form this season, but it was something in my head that wasn’t right.
“If you’re not right mentally, you’re not going to perform out on the track.”
Andersen’s homecoming to Panthers got off to a tough start as he was plagued by mechanical issues. Once they were resolved it was clear the ability of old remained with a series of fine showings.
But his progress was halted by a small fracture to the shoulder – sustained when he was the innocent party in a crash at a meeting in Denmark which started in dreadful conditions and quickly abandoned.
And no sooner had Andersen returned to the saddle then he was involved in a truly frightening spill when racing for Panthers against Ipswich on July 1.
He was knocked unconscious for several minutes by the impact of a crash which also left him with a bleed on the brain, torn eardrum and thumb and wrist damage.
Andersen was back in action a month later but predictably struggled for points and even pulled out of a meeting at King’s Lynn when he simply couldn’t hold onto the bike.
“All the mechanical problems I had at the start of the season really hurt me,” added Andersen.
“It’s not something I’ve ever had in my career and it was really disappointing after spending so much money on equipment.
“When I look back now, it was probably a case of my mind being elsewhere. It’s also the first time in my career that I’ve gone from one bad injury to another.
“I came back from my fractured shoulder – which should never have happened by the way – on a Thursday and then had the big one on a Monday 11 days later.
“People who know me well were getting worried about me after I banged my head. I’m normally a funny character and a happy person, but they were telling me that I had gone quiet.
“There were also times when I would be sitting talking and start crying so I knew I needed professional help. The hour and a half I had with a psychologist was massive for me.
“He listened to me, had a quiet voice when he spoke and didn’t judge me. He didn’t feel I need to see him regularly, but told me it does take time to get over sadness.
“I wasn’t treated well by my clubs in Denmark and Poland either.
“Grindsted just seemed to forget about me after the crash where I hurt my shoulder while Lodz took me out of the team for six meetings even though I had scored seven in a win.
“It’s always been the case through my career that the more I ride the better I ride, but I wasn’t getting the meetings this season.
“All in all, it’s definitely been the hardest year I’ve had, but I’m still here and smiling again – even after the crash last week!”
Despite his issues over the last 12 months, Andersen intends to compete again in 2020.