INDIANAPOLIS - A simple act of kindness mysteriously connected Tony Kanaan and a sick young girl nine years ago, and days before the Indianapolis 500, she was able to return the favor.
The friendship between Kanaan and Andrea Irwin was forged under the worst circumstances.
Irwin was only 15 when she was stricken by a brain hemorrhage and the prognosis for a full recovery was grim.
Kanaan visited the critically ill teen’s family. Days after that meeting, the family received a necklace and medallion that Kanaan had received from his mother as a gift of good luck and protection.
“I was in a drug-induced coma at the time, but he visited with my mom and got the story and was really touched,” Irwin said. “Between all of the prayers I received, the support, great doctors and good luck from the medallion, I had an amazing recovery.”
The two kept in touch over the years. Irwin was even Kanaan's guest at a Michigan race.
Irwin, now 24, is married and has a career. She is happy and said it was time to return the favor.
She had tried to return the necklace to Kanaan, but he told her that she needed it more than him.
Last week, Irwin mailed the necklace to Kanaan at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She said it gave her good luck, and now it was Kanaan’s turn.
After years of coming close to winning, Kanaan won Sunday’s race and pulled the necklace from his pocket after crossing the finish line.
“My mom, my sister and I are in tears. We can’t believe it and there’re some people looking down on us I think,” Irwin said.
Irwin said she kept the necklace hanging from a shelf in her room and she wore it on race days.
She said the necklace is now back to its rightful owner.
Follow Chris Proffitt on Twitter: @chrisproffitt