JOHN L. SMITH: Sam Schmidt empowers himself to help others with spinal cord injuries


Sam Schmidt's life has been defined by his passions, but he readily admits politics isn't one of them.

For many years, Schmidt lived to race. He moved swiftly through the ranks and worked tirelessly to fulfill a childhood dream of starting in the Indy 500. When a January 2000 crash during a practice run left him a quadriplegic and on a respirator for six weeks, Schmidt's passion shifted to fighting for survival and, after several grueling months, struggling to support his wife and two children.

Now the 44-year-old Henderson resident's passion manifests itself in the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, which holds its 3rd annual Racing to Recovery Golf Tournament on Nov. 3 at Reflection Bay Golf Course on Lake Las Vegas (Information:

The foundation helps persons with spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders and also funds research in the field.

The Nebraska native laughs about starting the foundation in May 2000 and, less than a year later, creating Sam Schmidt Motor Sports. Most in his condition would be satisfied to be off a respirator and watching television. Not this guy. He travels more than 120 days a year on behalf of his racing team and the foundation.

At first his motivation was selfish: Get out of the wheelchair and on with his life. Gradually, he realized life went on while he was in the wheelchair, and he had it better than many. He had insurance, a belief in God, a loving family.