Former quadriplegic inspires Santerre By Shawn A. Akers
MADISON, Ill. (Oct. 22, 1998) It's as if Andy Santerre stepped back in time -- remembering a period of his life that helped mold him into the person, if not the intense competitor that he is today.
A visit to the Spinal Cord Injury Unit rehabilitation program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis last Thursday brought back memories of a time when Santerre wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to walk again, much less drive a race car.
As if Santerre didn't have enough respect for the patients at the hospital and others like them, after speaking with them and a man who works closely with them, his eyes have been opened wider to their plight.
In 1988, at the tender age of 19, Santerre was struck down by Guillian-Barre Syndrome, a virus that attacks the central nervous and muscular systems. He spent 87 days in the Eastern Maine Medical Center, 32 of which were spent in the Intensive Care Unit. In addition to paralysis, his kidneys failed, and he literally had to fight for us life.
Only his spirit and his indomitable will to defeat the illness kept him going during those horrifying three months, and the promise he made to himself to fulfill a lifelong dream -- to be a professional race car driver.
"It was one of those things that, when it happens to you, you just wonder why," said Santerre, driver of the No. 47 Monro Muffler Brakes Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division. "It's scary because you don't know what's happening to you, and you don't know if you're even going to live or not. It's just a feeling that you'll never know in your life unless you experience it.
"With Gullian-Barre, it's very frustrating because your mind is still intact and your mind and your heart tell you that you want to do these things, but your body just isn't able to respond. These guys (the spinal cord injury patients) know what I went through because they have to live it every day, and I know what they're going through because I lived it. I overcame it, and maybe it gives them some hope to see how things turned out for me."
Santerre once believed his ordeal was a huge mountain to overcome. That was until he recently met Pat Rummerfield, a Washington University School of Medicine injury prevention researcher in St. Louis. A former quadraplegic, Rummerfield is now an accomplished triathlete who has his eyes, and heart, set some day on driving a race car.
While Santerre and Rummerfield have a lot in common (they both have the same birthday, Sept. 7; they both had fathers that owned similar businesses when they grew up, and they both worked for their fathers), Rummerfield's saga had a much different twist. It wasn't an illness that struck him down, it was his own admitted thoughtlessness that paralyzed him.
After celebrating his engagement on his 21st birthday in 1974, Rummerfield was involved in a high-speed crash that was alcohol-related. Just surviving the accident was a minor miracle, much less the thought of him ever walking again.
"You look back and think, 'how dumb can I be to do something like that?,'" said Rummerfield, 45. "Sometimes, you just never think about the consequences, and that's a pretty big risk to take with your life. And then, knowing you're alive but you can't do the things you used to do, well, that's a pretty low feeling. You feel like you want to die, but I never gave up on life. It wasn't going to be easy, but I was going to try everything I possibly could to walk again."
It took three years of aggravation, frustration and mentally-exhausting therapy, but Rummerfield overcame the heavily-stacked odds against him and learned to walk again, a miracle within itself. And after another 14 years, he has re-learned how to swim, run and to ride a bicycle, the three events of the triathlons he participates in.
And he doesn't do the triathlons just for himself. Every event he participates in he turns into a charitable cause to help others to overcome the same roadblocks in life he was faced with.
Santerre and Rummerfield first met in late July when the NASCAR Busch Series traveled to Fontana, Calif., and California Speedway for the Kenwood Home & Car Audio 300. The two hit it off instantly, sharing stories of the ordeals they had both been through, and a close friendship was born.
"Seeing what Pat had to overcome and endure in his life made my situation seem small, but he reminded me that it wasn't," said Santerre, the leading candidate for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Busch Series and a former standout in the NASCAR Busch North Series.
"I had a lot of motivation and inspiration in my life, but now I've got a new hero, and that's Pat. He is a walking miracle. Doing what he's doing now, you never would have thought it was possible. And now with the work that he does with these patients, you've got to admire him that much more. He wants to help people who were in his same situation, and to give them hope, too."
Rummerfield said the patients he works with are huge NASCAR fans, and just receiving a visit from Santerre, someone to whom they can relate, was a big inspiration to them.
"You can just see it in their eyes when listening to Andy and what happened to him that there is a sparkle there and a glimmer of a hope," Rummerfield said. "It was a big boost from them. They all love NASCAR and now they're big Andy Santerre fans, too. Andy is one of the up-and-coming stars in NASCAR, and we're all rooting for him."
Even at the age of 45, and despite the fact that he grew up in Idaho, which is not exactly a hotbed for NASCAR racing, Rummerfield has been a NASCAR fan for as long as he can remember. Although they were few and far between, Rummerfield recalls watching the races on television, and cheering on heroes like Richard Petty, Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett.
Now, Rummerfield has a new NASCAR hero in Santerre, and even hopes to be able to do some testing with Santerre, possibly as early as next year. Santerre and George diBidart, owner of the No. 47 Monro Muffler and Brake Chevrolet, are working out the details that will hopefully allow Rummerfield to do that.
He already has raced against the clock. Rummerfield holds the unofficial land speed record in an electrical car of 237 mph.
"That would be the ultimate for me (driving a race car)," Rummerfield said. "I'd love to be able to drive competitively in a car, but we'll wait and see what happens. I know Andy's going to do what he can to help see that dream comes true."
Whether it does or not, both Rummerfield and Santerre every day are living a dream they once had -- just to be able to get out of bed every morning and walk. Source: NASCAR Online