CARMEL, Ind. - On the eve of the Indianapolis 500, the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation held its annual Race to Recovery Gala – a reminder about the dangers inherent in the sport of racing.
IndyCar driver and three-time Indianapolis 500 qualifier Sam Schmidt was left quadriplegic after a crash during practice in 2000.
Today an IndyCar team owner, Schmidt has stayed active in the sport. But more than anything, he tells us he wants to walk again, and says fundraisers like the one held Saturday night will help make that happen.
The guest of honor for Saturday's event, a Hawaiian luau at the Lucas Oil Estates in Carmel, was three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, who suffered his own spinal injury in a career-ending crash last year.
"It's just amazing to me 15 years since I've been hurt the motorsport community still comes out with open hearts and open wallets," Schmidt said.
Organizers for the event said all money raised will go to spinal cord injury research – like the research that made it possible for Schmidt to drive again on Qualifying Day.
"The amazing thing about it is that I felt normal," Schmidt said. "I haven't felt [like that] in 15 years , where I felt normal and in control in that fashion, and driving a Corvette let me do that."
Schmidt says with his family as the motivation, every day he looks forward to walking again.
"I want to get back to normal life," Schmidt said. "I want to be everything I can be for my family. But if we can take a few hundred thousand people with us, that's great."
Last year the event raised $300,000. Even organizers say it's going to take continued support for the private sector to find a cure for paralysis.