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Overcoming challenges

Benefit dinner for Henry County's Brent
to feature former Indy Driver Schmidt

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

NEW CASTLE, Ky. (August 2004) – Most Henry Countians know who Michael Brent is. Friends for Michael, Inc. is on a mission to make sure everyone knows Brent and his story.

Michael Brent Sam Schmidt

Photo provided

From left, Michael Brent, Cindy Norton,
and former Indy Car driver Sam Schmidt.

Brent was involved in an accident in summer 1997 that left him paralyzed. Becoming dehydrated after a day of caddying at Valhalla Golf Course, Brent blacked out while driving home on I-71. The resulting paralysis may have daunted others, but not Brent. He has since attended the University of Kentucky as a broadcast journalist major.
A sponsor-volunteer appreciation dinner will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Covenant United Methodist Church in La Grange, Ky. The guest speaker will be Sam Schmidt, a former Indy car driver and quadriplegic.
Schmidt began his professional driving career in 1992. The following year he won the national championship in the Formula 2000. He has also raced three consecutive times in the Indianapolis 500.
On Jan. 6, 2000, Schmidt slammed into a wall during qualification at Walt Disney World Speedway near Orlando. His resulting injury was similar to Brent’s in that it left him paralyzed from the neck down. Schmidt remains active in the Indy Racing League.
An aggressive crusader for spinal cord research, Schmidt has established his own foundation, Recovery Assistance Program. The organization is instrumental in assisting people who may not have the necessary funds for equipment and rehabilitation. Schmidt has been an active participant in fund raising events for Brent.
Cindy Norton, president of Friends for Michael, said Schmidt established Disability Days at the Kentucky Speedway. This spin-off event, now in its third year, will be held Aug. 14-15, the same days as the IRL IndyCar races at the Sparta, Ky., track.
Schmidt had contacted Norton about Disability Days in 2002 and offered to put the Friends for Michael logo on his car, free of charge. Richie Hearn drove car No. 20 and John Hall designed the logo.
Proceeds from Friends for Michael-sponsored events go toward an endowment established with the University of Louisville for spinal cord injury research. “The money goes for research – it’s a really good cause,” said Friends for Michael secretary Pat Wallace.
Norton said she became involved with the organization because Brent and her son had been best friends. Michael was “just like one of my own,” she said. This local charity started raising money for Brent’s medical expenses with a simple bake sale and car wash and has grown into a major fund raiser for spinal cord injury research. “The community has overwhelmed us with support,” said Norton.
Friends for Michael is becoming recognized statewide for their efforts. Through donations, it has helped build ramps, aided in house reconstruction, provided a Henry County High School scholarship, donated to the Frazier Rehab in Louisville and the Cardinal Hill Rehab in Lexington, Ky. Friend for Michael is also one of three groups responsible for the founding of the Spinal Cord Injury Association of Kentucky, of which Norton is also president.
Other planned fund raising events include a golf scramble at the Henry County Country Club in New Castle on Sept. 15. A shotgun start will take place at 8 a.m. The 8th annual 5K-Walk/Run & Wheel and 1-Mile Fun Run Race is scheduled for Sept. 18.
Registration begins at 7 a.m. at the Henry County High School in New Castle, and the race begins at 9 a.m. Ticket prices for the Aug. 12 dinner are $25 per person and can be purchased by calling the Henry County Chamber of Commerce at (502) 845-0806.

• For more information on Brent, FFM events and spinal cord injury research, go to www.geocities.com/friendsformichael.

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