IndyCar driver Sam Schmidt suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash during practice that made him a quadriplegic in January 2000. Despite the tragedy, Schmidt knows it could have been even worse.
“The Hulman family had incredible driver insurance,” Schmidt said of Tony Hulman George and the George family, the leaders of the then-Indy Racing League and former Indianapolis Motor Speedway owners. “I had athlete insurance. I got six months of the best inpatient rehabilitation you can get. I went home reasonably prepared. My house was ready. I had transportation and I was able to get into trying to turn to the next phase of life.”
But Schmidt acknowledges that is not the case for most people who suffer similar injuries.
“You go home, your house isn’t ready. Your wife isn’t ready. You don’t have the technology to go back to work physically,” he said. “Mentally, it’s a disaster that leads to an 85 percent divorce rate and unknown suicide rate, and it’s just a tragedy.”
Schmidt created the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation in 2000 and later rebranded it as Conquer Paralysis Now with a mission to find a cure for paralysis while helping the disabled. In November 2018, Conquer Paralysis Now opened DRIVEN NeuroRecovery Center in Las Vegas.
Now, the organization is getting bigger. Schmidt led a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 10 for a second center in the former home of the Five Seasons Family Sports Club in Carmel. The cost of the project, including the purchase price, is estimated at approximately $20 million.
Although Schmidt lives in Las Vegas, the Arrow McLaren IndyCar Series team part-owner said he considers Indianapolis his second home because he spends so much time in central Indiana because of racing. He previously was co-owner of Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports.
“It’s an honor to bring this facility to Indianapolis. There is nothing like it in the entire United States,” Schmidt said. “This will be our home office. This will be our training facility. The Vegas (center) is 12,000 square feet, so this is 10 times bigger. This will be medical tourism. This will touch everything.”
Schmidt said when he opened the first center, he didn’t know what to expect.
“The demand was overwhelming,” Schmidt said. “Not a lot of people can afford to come there, so we have to put one up in a lot of places.”
Schmidt said he envisions more centers across the U.S., but nothing as big as the Carmel site.
“I’m so glad this (facility) was still available,” said Schmidt, adding thta part of the facility is expected to open in one year.
Schmidt said fundraising will determine how quickly some of the programming begins.
“If we can get the funding, we can help thousands of people,” he said.
Schmidt said when he opened the Driven facility, he learned there are a lot more disorders it can address, such as traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological disorders.
“This will be my purpose in life as long as I’m on Earth,” Schmidt said.
CPN also has partnered with NeuroHope, an Indianapolis nonprofit outpatient therapy clinic.
Schmidt described the health care system in the Indianapolis area as amazing.
“We’ve met with the four hospital groups, and they can’t wait to send us patients,” he said. “It’s important to mention that we absolutely are not coming here to compete with anybody that’s existing. We’re here to collaborate. elaborate. We’re here to do an extension to the current services that are here.”
Schmidt said Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has been supportive from the start. Holcomb praised Schmidt and his team’s commitment.
“The people (whose) lives are going to be touched and transformed is immeasurable,” Holcomb said. “You can’t put a number on that and the ripple effect it has.”
City of Carmel redevelopment director Henry Mestetsky described it as an incredible project.
“We’ve been waiting for something huge to happen on this site because it’s such a prominent site,” Mestetsky said of Five Seasons, which closed six years ago,
‘Inspired by Sam’
While driving for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports, driver Robert Wickens was paralyzed in 2018 after he suffered a spinal cord injury at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
So, he knows how important it is to have a facility like the DRIVEN NeuroRecovery Center nearby.
“I can tell you now if facility like DRIVEN in Indianapolis existed, we wouldn’t had to have scoured the United States for the facility that we ended up going to, and I’m privileged that I went to a great rehab facility at Denver,” said Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with support. “But this is going to be very comparable, if not better in a lot of aspects and the fact that me and my wife being a resident of Indiana, to be at our doorstep would have made our lives so, so much easier.”
Last year, Wickens began racing professionally again, this time in the IMSA series in an adaptive car.
“That was inspired by Sam (Schmidt) and what he’s accomplished,” Wickens said.