Actor Christopher Reeve touched the lives of at least two people in the Indy Racing League and left them saddened by his death.
Reeve, best known for his movie roles 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 their own 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 fund-raiser each May before the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 /><st1:city><st1:place>Indianapolis</st1:place></st1:city> 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.
"It's definitely going to be a pretty big loss. Effectively, his life has been cut short by the injury. Hopefully, it will draw more attention to the need to find a cure."
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.
"Paralysis was such a new world for me," Unser said. "I was looking for inspiration and I found it. I was able to go meet him at his birthday party. He was funny and very vivacious. He had a big heart."
Unser founded her own foundation, Cody's First Step, and worked with Reeve's foundation on improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.
"Last spring in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Mexico</st1:place></st1:country-region>, 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 during speaking engagements.
"He's superman, and he'll always be flying above us," Cody Unser said. "He impacted my life and touched a lot of people."<?xml:namespace prefix = o /><o:p></o:p>