IRWINDALE, Calif. — Paralyzed from the neck down in a horrendous 135-mile per hour car accident, and all but given up for a life of round-the-clock nursing care, 51 year old Patrick Rummerfield will soon be charging around Irwindale Speedway pursuing his dream of driving in NASCAR competition.
On Thursday, June 24, at Irwindale Speedway just outside of Pasadena, California, the indomitable Rummerfield will jump into one of the on-site Performance Race Training Center’s ultra-fast Chevy Monte Carlos stockers and take 8 hours of intensive training on the road to a NASCAR license.
His life-changing accident happened 30 years ago. The list of his injuries is a macabre catalog of the very worst things that happen to the human body in high speedway highway accidents: every rib broken, an eye blown right out of the socket, major head trauma, his collarbone smashed, ankles and knees ruined, and a neck broken in four places.
In the first hours after the accident the diagnosis was that he might not even live long enough to know that he was a Paraplegic. Paralysis was a given and his long-term prognosis was perilous. Arrangements were made for 24/7 convalescent care to make the few days that he had left as comfortable as possible.
Fast-forward to 2004, Thursday, June 17, St Louis: Hey, isn’t that Patrick Rummerfield running with the Olympic flame as it makes its journey across the United States on the way to Athens? Yup.
This release could easily be turned into a novella by just covering a small percentage of the things that Pat Rummerfield has accomplished since that day when he first felt some motion in his legs while day-dreaming about being a NASCAR driver. A miracle, yes, but one that would wear on the soul of a saint.
This “miracle” was wrought with fourteen grueling years of every day, all day therapy. Hours of reconstructive surgery on his knees and ankles and then the years of competing in runs, setting land speed race car records, speaking, motivating, and working with teams of medical scientists who were (and still are to this day!) baffled at his recovery from what was thought be a sure “death sentence” that he had been handed in 1974.
Except for the incredible example and bastion of hope that he’s become, he’d rather get on with his dream and get racing a stock car. On the other hand, as the first fully-recovered spinal cord injury quadriplegic he knows that he’s been singled out and has done his best to make people aware of both the awful affliction and the possibilities for recovery.
“My goal is to use my NASCAR racing to raise money for spinal cord damage research,” says Rummerfield. And his “Nextsteps” foundation is doing just that.
On Thursday, June 24 at 8AM Rummerfield is all set to be at Irwindale Speedway (he’ll most likely be there at 7:30 raring to go) to attend a full day of instruction at the track’s on-site PRTC. It’ll just be one more challenge to him, But, much more importantly, it’ll be another source of inspiration to thousands. “We’re really looking forward to his visit,” said PRTC president, Joe Oddo. “We’ve heard a lot about this guy, everyone here is anxious to meet him and to see him in one of our race cars!”
Patrick’s full (jaw-dropping) bio is available on-line at www.speakersquest.com (just type in his last name). Here’s just one quick quote from the document: “Pat Rummerfield, who struggled through 17 years of Physical Therapy after an automobile accident, finished the marathon in 6:48:10, remarkable considering he fractured his leg from falling into a crevice on Collins glacier near the start.”
– Kim Puntillo, New York Times (to which we can only say: WOW!)
Recently, there’s been talk of a film based on Rummerfield’s incredible life story. When he’s asked who he’d like to see playing him in the movie, he’s right there with a name: “Tom Cruise, ” he shoots back without a millisecond’s hesitation. “Mr. Cruise is a great actor and the one that I want to interpret my story if it’s ever put on the screen. In fact, I hoping that someone in Hollywood might put me in touch with him while I’m out in LA at the Irwindale driving school.”
Now some might click their tongues and say that Pat Rummerfield is aiming a little bit high in talking about superstar Tom Cruise playing him on the silver screen. On the other hand his just being alive is a miracle. Simply walking is a wonder. Being able to move his arms is a marvel. And as for his driving a 500-horsepower, 3,000-pound NASCAR stocker on June 24, Pat just thinks of it as part of his rehab program 30 years down the line from that damn car wreck.
There always seems to be more adventure ahead for this singularly unstinting human being.
by Doug Stokes