Finding Freedom with Just Hands
By Cynthia Hochswender
When Torsten Gross moved to Sharon in 2019, he found a local culture that beautifully suits his own personality: An individualist who goes his own way and always likes to win, he is also a community builder. In Litchfield County, he has found a place where everyone kind of goes their own way — but will also always stop to offer a helping hand.
“Life is a team sport,” Gross says.”I strive to be number one because of the people around me. It’s important to me that we do it together.”
To some degree, it was his career in creating marketing strategies at firms such as J. Walter Thompson and Deloitte Consulting that taught him to gently build consensus. (Gross is now Global Head of Advertising and Media for TCS, the largest company in India.)
Or maybe it was his innate understanding that life can be hard, and the road is easier when we drive together. Gross has, perhaps, more insight into this than the average person. As a quadriplegic since the age of 15, it has been a goal of his life to be independent. Part of the complexity of Torsten Gross is that going alone has made him even more appreciative of the benefits of working with others.
This is one of the reasons he has come to love Litchfield County.
“Whether you’re disabled or not, this is a community where people want to reach out to each other,” he says. “Mine happens to be a more visible ‘help,’ but…we all need help in different ways.”
Gross and his wife, Maggie, built a weekend escape from city living just before COVID, purchasing a multi-acre parcel on which they built a custom home with the help of Salisbury master builder Rick McCue. Once COVID hit, they made the move permanently—and love it.
Two years later, as quarantine lifted, it was Maggie who realized that race car driving was a perfect hobby for her high-adrenaline husband (who was already into skydiving and SCUBA diving). She purchased a track day experience for him at Lime Rock Park, and he immediately fell in love with performance driving.
While speed is part of the attraction, Gross explains what sets this sport apart from others: “It’s the only sport that allows me to be completely equal with able-bodied people,” he says. “When I’m in a car, no one knows I use a wheelchair.”
To help other drivers who use hand controls to experience the freedom of track driving, he created the Just Hands Foundation, which provides track cars and guidance to novice drivers with disabilities.
“We had our first Just Hands Foundation driver in May 2022,” he says. “Since then we’ve had a wait list of two years, solely built through word of mouth.”
Soon, an even larger audience will learn about the foundation, thanks to media opportunities that have come Gross’ way. He’s promoting just-hands driving in commercials (one for Pennzoil aired this spring) and is shooting a television series about his racing for Amazon Prime. Just Hands already has cars in Belgium and Germany, with one coming soon in Austria. Gross also continues to race, and drove the Foundation car at Lime Rock Park’s season opener in May.
For help with his own racing, Gross credits Autosport in Sharon, and Hairy Dog Garage in Southington.
“I’m honored to have the help of others who are passionate about the mission, from large companies like Pennzoil to tracks like Lime Rock Park to my board of volunteers. I’ve got an amazing team.” —justhandsfoundation.org