On top of his sport, and with a weekend off from competitive drag racing, Darrell Gwynn went to England for an exhibition in 1990 to rocket his Top Fuel dragster down a track at 240 mph.
In the blink of an eye, Gwynn, 45, smashed into a concrete wall and was left a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down and with his left arm lost at the elbow. Gwynn, who lives in Weston, has used his personal tragedy to start a foundation to support individuals living with paralysis and to underwrite research to cure paralysis.
“I am looking to save kids who have their whole life in front of them from tragedy,” Gwynn said.
The Darrell Gwynn Foundation will sponsor the first Florida Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week, today through Sunday, to make Floridians aware of the dangers of accidents that can lead to paralysis.
Gwynn has teamed up with Marc Buoniconti’s Miami Project to Cure Paralysis to create a spinal cord injury prevention program and brochure that will be presented at high schools.
Buoniconti, son of former Miami Dolphin Nick Buoniconti, suffered a spinal cord injury in 1985 that left him unable to move a muscle below his neck. He now serves as ambassador for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and president of the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, the Miami Project’s international fundraising arm.
Gwynn, Buoniconti, race car drivers, sports personalities, local celebrities, politicians and disabled individuals will make presentations at high schools during the week.
Gwynn said the activities were timed to coincide with the NASCAR Chase for the Nextel Cup at the Homestead Miami Speedway, where brochures will be distributed on race days, and at participating businesses.
Gwynn and NASCAR driver Tony Stewart recently made public-service announcements that the Florida Department of Health is paying to air. The videos show what it’s like to be paralyzed and how to prevent spinal cord injuries.
“Florida Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week is an important awareness tool for the citizens of Florida to better understand that spinal cord injuries can happen to anyone at any time,” said Marc Buoniconti.
Gwynn said the lack of a major sponsor for the week’s activities has limited his first-year effort, but it hasn’t dampened his spirit or the work of his supporters.
“We will continue to support efforts to find a cure for paralysis, but until a cure is found, our focus is on prevention,” Gwynn said. “We want to especially scare high schoolers straight who think they are invincible.”
He said parents should not allow children to ride in a car wearing a backpack or book bag, and he warns that diving into a canal is hazardous.
After his recovery and Rehabilitation, Gwynn started his own racing team. It was successful, but he said it wasn’t personally rewarding. The foundation, with the support and involvement of his racing friends and his family, has been his salvation, he said.
“It was hard for me to figure out what I wanted to be after I quit racing. But I got reminded many times by friends and pastors who told me that although we didn’t know why the accident happened, they were certain it happened for a reason and one day I would realize why,” he said.
“Now, I’m looking to put the wheelchair companies out of business,” Gwynn said, noting that the custom, motorized chairs that his foundation donates to victims each cost about $10,000.
For more information about the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, visit www.darrellgwynnfoundation.org or call 954-792-7223, ext. 105.
Do you have a recent story of hope? Have you overcome adversity in raising a family, been involved in a rescue or beaten the odds medically? Write Freida Frisaro at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 954-385-7926.
By Brian C. Feldman
Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel