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Reeve inspired two IRL families

By wire services
Published October 14, 2004

Actor Christopher Reeve touched the lives of at least two people connected with the Indy Racing League and left them saddened by his death.

Reeve, best known for his movie role as Superman, spent the last nine years battling paralysis after being injured in a horseback riding accident. He died Monday at 52.

Sam Schmidt, owner of a team in the IRL's Infiniti Pro Series, and Cody Unser, daughter of racing great Al Unser Jr., credit Reeve with helping them deal with paralysis.

"(Reeve) was injured approximately four years before me," said Schmidt, paralyzed in a racing crash in January 2000. "If he hadn't been injured, I would most likely be on a ventilator right now, or there's a decent probability I'd be dead.

"Because of his injury, people went to his Web site, called his doctors, tried to get information on what should be done. A lot of people draw on him as a resource."

Schmidt formed the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation in the months after his injury. The foundation holds a fundraiser each May before the Indianapolis 500. Reeve spoke at the gala in 2003.

"He became an inspiration to me personally," said Schmidt, who recently won his first championship as a car owner. "He was definitely leading the fight, a really big figure for not only those with spinal cord injuries but for people with disabilities in general."

Cody Unser, 17, has been partially paralyzed since 1999 with transverse myelitis, a neurological syndrome caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. She first met Reeve a year later.

"I was looking for inspiration and I found it," Unser said. "I was able to go meet him at his birthday party. He was funny and very vivacious. He had a big heart."

Unser formed a foundation, Cody's First Step, and worked with Reeve's foundation on improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

"Last spring in Mexico, we talked and exchanged our stories and frustrations about public health for the disabled," she said.

Most recently, Reeve had filmed a video clip for Unser to use as an introduction when speaking.

"He's Superman, and he'll always be flying above us," Cody Unser said. "He impacted my life and touched a lot of people."

RACING FOR KIDS: Performance Racing Network will do double duty Friday night, airing two radio broadcasts of the NASCAR Busch series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

One will be the usual race broadcast; the second will be aired over one station, HITZ-FM 94.1 in Lexington, N.C. It will feature a broadcast team combining veteran motorsports announcers Mike Joy and Stephanie Durner with 16-year-old Chrissy Wallace, daughter of driver Mike Wallace, and 15-year-old Jessie Johnson, brother of Nextel Cup star Jimmie Johnson.

Teenagers also will handle reporting, with Kyle Whisenant working from the infield and Megan McMillan as a roaming feature correspondent. Doug Rice, vice president and general manager of PRN, said the special broadcast was set up because of the involvement of Nickelodeon in the race, which is sponsored by the cable network's SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.

All of the participating youngsters have raced at the speedway in developmental series.

"This broadcast will offer a complete new perspective as we hear the race described by young people who understand racing and who have competed at Lowe's Motor Speedway," Rice said. "It's a one-station experiment and we'll see how it goes."

LEFFLER HAS RIDE: Joe Gibbs Racing made it official: Jason Leffler will join Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte on the team in the Nextel Cup series next year. He'll drive a No. 11 Chevrolet sponsored by FedEx.

FORMULA ONE: The British, French and San Marino Grand Prix races got a reprieve when they were temporarily listed on the 2005 calendar.

Nineteen events are on the calendar, but the schedule most likely will feature 17 or 18 when the world governing body completes the schedule in December. The only new race for 2005 is the Turkish Grand Prix on Aug. 21.

The British, French and San Marino races have been in jeopardy and were listed with an asterisk by FIA, the sport's ruling body.

[Last modified October 14, 2004, 00:44:16]


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