When Sam Schmidt first hit the racing scene in 1997, he seemed poised to become a top driver in his field.
He spent three years competing at the Indianapolis 500 and won his first race in 1999. Tragedy struck during the following off-season, however, when Sam crashed during training and became paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Sam was in the hospital on a respirator for five long months. After he was released, he threw himself into physical therapy in hopes of recovering some movement in his body.
Unwilling to give up his passion, he switched from driving to running his own racing team. He founded Sam Schmidt Motorsports, and it's now the most successful team in the history of the Indy Lights series. It has been over 20 years since Sam's accident, and he has never given up his dream of standing upright and walking again.
"In 21 years, I've never had a dream where I was in a wheelchair," he told Today. "I'm always walking around with my kids and the race team and everything else."
Over time, he has become a champion for those in the disability community. He started working with a team of engineers from Arrow Electronics a few years ago to develop an "exoskeleton" that will help paralyzed people walk. The device supports his legs and keeps him upright, while another person stands behind him to help him stay balanced.
Sam said wearing the device is an immense thrill after decades of sitting in a wheelchair. On the day he took his first steps in the exoskeleton, he wept tears of joy, and he wasn't the only one. Everyone who saw him was bawling!
"I've almost ran out of words to describe the feeling in this entire process," Sam said. "Epic. Mega. Unbelievable. After 21 years, I didn't remember what the view was like. I haven't gotten a full-body hug in 21 years, you know. And we got some of those today."
And the biggest thrill was yet to come! In addition to the exoskeleton invention, Arrow Electronics worked with Sam to design a custom Corvette that he can drive himself. Sam uses a tube in his mouth to control the car. He simply blows into the tube to go forward and sucks into it to slow down and stop.
Using this incredible technology, Sam was able to walk to his car and drive for the first time in years. Being behind the wheel brought back some of the power he has missed since his accident.
"Everybody thought it was insane. Why would I go back to the sport that put me in a wheelchair?" Sam explained. "I've been racing since I was 5 years old. It's all I ever wanted to do, was compete at this place. And that, to me, is what's kept me alive for 21 years."
Sam will continue working with engineers to help propel this technology to the next level. He hopes this first version is just the beginning of new advances that will mobilize people with disabilities beyond their wildest dreams.
"Their goal with it is that I won't need to be balanced and that I will be able to operate it completely, myself, which is a mega-task," Sam said.
Nothing can stop this man from getting behind the wheel again! His passion is admirable, and we can't wait to see what technological advances his efforts will inspire moving forward.
Watch Sam walk again in the video below, and don't forget to share this amazing story.
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