Michael Schumacher's magic and the hope that now comes with it

This story on No. 7 athlete Michael Schumacher appears in the 20th anniversary issue of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!

At this moment, Michael Schumacher lies in a hospital bed in his home on the shore of Lake Geneva. He's surrounded by a private team of doctors and nurses who monitor his vital signs and wait for a miracle that every bit of their training tells them won't come. This care reportedly costs around $175,000 a week.

Nobody inside the Schumacher family or racing team has said anything about his condition, although they occasionally have to shoot down reports that he has walked or talked. The underlying takeaway is that he either is in a vegetative state or has lost his memory and ability to communicate. He's confined to a bed or a wheelchair. His manager will meet reporters in fancy country hotels on the outskirts of town to persuade them not to write anything, and to make sure it's understood: The Schumacher family won't be giving out any information.

Michael rarely let anyone in, and if he ever recovers, they want to have followed his wishes. They owe him that.

Five years ago, he strapped on his skis with his 14-year-old son, Mick, and they set off down a section of the French Alps. Among the best race car drivers who'd ever lived, he made his reputation imposing order on chaos: the chaos of his own rocket ship of a car, and the other cars around him, eliminating variables until he alone controlled the line. He pointed his car toward the finish line and often arrived there first. Other drivers complained that he'd cut them off or left them inches from a wall.

He followed his line, and nothing could shake him from it. To see him drive was to see man as the center of the universe, dominant over nature and time. He won seven Formula One titles, the most ever, and he won five of those in a row. He wasn't a daredevil taunting death. Even on that December day five years ago, he wore a helmet. Then he tumbled while skiing the Combe de Saulire in France and, even wearing that helmet, hit his head on a rock.

The chaos claimed its revenge. Now he's in a strange purgatory. Some tabloids report that he is paralyzed and has memory problems and can't speak. Others report that he's completely gone. He cannot walk. He cannot speak. He likely doesn't recall that he used to be Michael Schumacher, the fastest man in the world. He doesn't know Mick is a driver himself now, chasing those invisible lines of his own.

Doctors say that hope for a recovery from a traumatic brain injury starts in year four. It's now year five. The soaring public praise that once followed him wherever he went has been replaced by private, small acts of reverence, as the family feeds and bathes and cares for Michael Schumacher, out of respect for what he was and with the hope of what he might be again. They've seen him do so many impossible things.

It's that magic, his ability to conquer and overcome, that surely keeps them believing he can defy the medical odds. That's how he made his living. That's what they've come to expect.

Wright Thompson has been a senior writer for The Mag and ESPN.com since 2006. He's a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi, and now lives in Oxford, Mississippi.