Sam Schmidt

Conquer Paralysis Now, a global non-profit project of the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation established not long after Sam Schmidt was injured in a racing accident in 2000, recently announced it will relocate from Las Vegas to Indianapolis, including a move to a facility of more than 100,000 square feet to double its capabilities. Schmidt got emotional talking about it.

“I’ve got five (important) things in my life,” the former NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver and current partner of Arrow McLaren Racing said. “My marriage of 31 years, the birth of my kids, having been a part of Dan Wheldon’s (Indianapolis 500) victory in 2011, my new granddaughter and this. That’s the list.”

Conquer Paralysis Now is devoted to furthering advancements in neurological disorder research and treatment, and the move to Indianapolis includes the opening of a second DRIVEN NeuroRecovery Center to provide multidisciplinary neuro rehabilitation services for people with neurological conditions that affect mobility. The other such center is in Las Vegas.

A groundbreaking ceremony to commemorate the start of renovations of a former tennis center in Indianapolis was held Aug. 10, with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb among the dignitaries in attendance.

Schmidt said the outpouring of support has been far-reaching, with NTT INDYCAR SERIES team owners and manufacturers, officials from Penske Entertainment, INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and members of Indianapolis’ vast healthcare network, plus the governor’s office, on board to assist.

As the saying goes, it takes a village.

“I think you know, as we learned (in 2000), in this sport we try to kick everyone’s (butts) on Sundays, but if something tragic happens, i.e. with me, Robert Wickens and a list of others, everybody is there to help and support,” Schmidt said. “It was a no-brainer to bring Conquer Paralysis Now to Indianapolis because of (IMS), the people in this sport and the robust healthcare system here.

“We will have an unlimited number of referrals, and we’re going to be able to help thousands of people. When we opened our facility (in Las Vegas) in 2018, I started to see an amazing number of people that need this technology. They want to go back to work, they want to get a college degree, they want to get a driver’s license, and this is a path to do those things. This facility will be like no other in the United States, and I’m just proud. The team, BraunAbility, our foundation, is an unbelievable triangle to be able to bring this together.”

Schmidt started an Indianapolis-based race team just 14 months after his accident, and Sam Schmidt Motorsports became the most dominant force in what is now INDY NXT by Firestone, winning seven series championships, including the 2011 title with Josef Newgarden. That year, the team acquired an NTT INDYCAR SERIES assets and success quickly followed, with Alex Tagliani capturing the pole for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and Wheldon winning the race with a dramatic last-lap pass. Five years later, James Hinchcliffe completed his comeback from injuries suffered at IMS the year prior to win the pole for the “500” in a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car.

Schmidt and co-owner Ric Peterson sold majority interest in the Indianapolis-based team to Arrow McLaren before the 2020 season, taking enough of the sponsor-seeking duties off of Schmidt, who lives in Las Vegas, which has allowed him to focus on his off-track mission.

Schmidt said that mission – conquering paralysis – is at the core of every part of his life. He established the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation to further the cause of paralysis research, treatment and quality-of-life issues, and he helped Arrow Electronics debut the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray that is controlled by head movement, voice commands and mouth actions.

“In racing we talk a lot about passion, and I’ve been passionate about racing since I was 5 years old,” Schmidt said. “But rarely in life does it become so clear what your purpose is, and (conquering paralysis) is my purpose. It’s why I’m on Earth to help these people grow and bring (the services) to the masses.

“It’s the type of technology and the type of therapy that (driver) Robert Wickens got, that Kevin Swindell got, that all these guys got. They’re getting back (to life), and they’re productive.”

Davey Hamilton, who drove for Schmidt and partnered with him on the race team, said this is exactly the type of project for which his longtime friend was designed.

“Sam has done more to help people from a wheelchair than anyone could ever know,” he said. “God puts each one of us here for a reason, and this is Sam’s.”

Schmidt said renovations to the former Five Seasons Family Sports Club on the north side of Indianapolis will be ongoing for the next several months, and the center should be fully operational within a year.

“This will be our training facility, our rehabilitation and research center, that type of thing,” Schmidt said. “I can’t stress enough how excited the (local) healthcare system is – they are overwhelmingly ready for it – and we hope to open 25 to 30 satellite (programs) out of this.

“It’s incredible, and I couldn’t be more proud of what’s happening here.”