LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Sam Schmidt will watch the Vegas Indy 300 on television Saturday, wishing he was there.
But he refuses to feel sorry for himself, even though he'll be strapped into a wheelchair instead of racing to defend the biggest title he ever won.
''I'm very fortunate that when I had my accident I was fulfilling a lifelong dream,'' Schmidt said. ''I want to be there, but I know I can't.''
Paralyzed in a January training accident, Schmidt no longer can race Indy cars at 200 mph. He gets around in a motorized wheelchair and spends his days in a rigorous program trying to regenerate links between his spinal cord and muscles.
Any thoughts of returning to racing in any form have to wait while he fights his paralysis with the same energy he took on in his racing career.
''Maybe some day, but I've got an uphill battle of my own that I pretty much have to concentrate on,'' Schmidt said.
It was only last September that Schmidt, racing before family and friends in his hometown, won his first Indy Racing League race at the age of 35.
Hundreds of fans crowded Victory Lane to celebrate with Schmidt, who passed Kenny Brack with three laps remaining to win. He had helped promote the race earlier by growing long sideburns and wearing an Elvis costume to a race week party.
''It was the biggest day of my life, outside the birth of my two children,'' Schmidt said Thursday.
What looked to be a promising career was cut short, however, when Schmidt's car slammed backward into a wall at 160 mph Jan. 6 during an IRL Open test at Walt Disney World Speedway.
Schmidt wasn't breathing when a rescue crew reached him and resuscitated him. Luckily, the IRL had its rescue team onsite and they got to Schmidt and had him breathing within four minutes.
Unluckily, his vertebrae was damaged and he was paralyzed.
''They basically saved my life,'' Schmidt said. ''I was unconscious and not breathing.''
The day of the accident, Schmidt underwent surgery to fuse two vertebrae, and a few weeks later he was transferred to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, which specializes in treating spinal cord injuries.
Schmidt was taken off a ventilator last month, and doctors say he has made progress. But he remains a quadriplegic despite intense daily therapy sessions to try to stimulate feeling and movement in his body.
''They tell me I have as good a chance as any to recover a lot of movement because my spine wasn't actually severed,'' Schmidt said from St. Louis. ''It's a pretty good outlook as far as spinal injuries go.''
''We don't even want to talk about how bad it is,'' said Robby McGehee, who took over for Schmidt on the Treadway Racing team. '
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