How retired Formula 1 hero David Coulthard now devotes his spare time to charity

Published: January 29, 2009  |  Source: dailyrecord.co.uk
112

SCOTS Formula 1 hero David Coulthard is used to life in the fast lane. And three months after retiring from racing, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The 37-year-old became a dad in November, and is fitting in spending time with nine-week-old son Dayton and fiancee Karen Minier with business interests around the world, as well as preparing to become a TV pundit for the BBC’s Formula 1 coverage.

And when he has any spare time, he is busy trying to help cure paralysis.

David is the ambassador for the spinal injuries charity Wings For Life, a foundation set up to fund research into curing paraplegia and quadriplegia, conditions in which the spinal cord is severed and the patient has no movement of limbs or muscles.

He signed up for the project when he joined the Red Bull F1team, after being inspired by the courage of his driving mentor, Frank Williams, boss of the Williams team, where the Scot earned his F1 spurs.

And after emerging unscathed from 26 years of hurtling round the most dangerous race tracks in the world, plus a plane crash nine years ago, he knows he is incredibly lucky and wants to put his energies into helping people not as fortunate.

Paraplegia and quadriplegia affect 2.7million people around the world. There are 130,000 new patients every year, which means that every four minutes someone suffers a spinal cord injury, such as paraplegia (paralysis from waist down) and quadriplegia (paralysis from the neck down).

David, born in the Kirkcudbrightshire village of Twynholm, said: “Of all the injuries and disabilities you can have, this is particularly cruel, especially for a young person.

“For a large part of my adult life, I’ve been surrounded by people who have these kinds of injuries and, not just to say nice words, I am sincerely amazed and inspired by way they deal with the realities of the situation they find themselves in. I just cannot imagine how you would cope.

“Frank Williams, who is quadraplegic following a car crash, continued to build a business and win world championships and grand prix using only his brain, with no physical contribution. That shows amazing mental strength.

“I’ve been involved in supporting this kind of work for a while, through the Race of Champions event which has supported spinal cord research, before joining Red Bull. But I have got more involved through them.

“Wings For Life started through another Red Bull-sponsored sportsman, motocross rider Heinz Kinigadner, whose son and brother both have paralysis.

“I’ve also come across people at various events who have just amazed me. Quite often, they have been paralysed by simple things like household injuries but are getting on with life the best they can.

“You have to decide what you will put your time and energy into, and I think this is a very worthy cause.

“It’s great to be able to help people and give them hope with the absolute belief that we will find a cure.”

David attends and supports various events for the charity, but his most notable involvement so far has been his final F1 race, the Brazilian Grand Prix, in Sao Paolo last year, when he had his car decked out with the Wings For Life logo.

It was an emotional day for David, who won 13 GPs and had 14 podium places in his 14 years and 247 races in F1. He also notched up a British record of 535 championship points for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull.

HE may not be surrounded by the howl of F1 engines any more, but David isn’t slowing down and relaxing into a quiet life.

A large portfolio of businesses and investments, including launching a worldwide hotel chain with Scots tycoon Ken McCulloch, continue to take up his time.

He still endorses firms such as Hugo Boss and is a consultant for Red Bull Racing.

In between all the travelling, he relaxes with Karen and Dayton in their new home in Karen’s home town in Belgium. Of course, David lived in Monaco for many years and has kept his home on there.

While he loves his work and charity events, he admitted he gets upset when he is separated from his family.

“Being a dad is fantastic,” he said. “Dayton is growing at a fair rare of knots and looks like a little Buddha. The only bad thing is that I’m not around every day because of the nature of my business, although that is something we’ve always been used to.

“Adults don’t change if you go away for a couple of weeks, but babies do and I’m missing little bits.

“The good thing is that, unlike previous years where I was testing in between races, I’ll be around more.

“While I’ve been busy in December and January with commitments, February becomes a little bit more normal and I’ll be at home with the family.”

David is also looking forward to making his broadcasting debut on the BBC’s commentary team when the F1 season starts in March.

“Of course, I’ll miss driving, but this way I’ll still be involved,” he said. “In many ways, I’ll see more of what happens.

“Having raced for 26 years, which is a great run for any sportsman, I’d have been greedy if I’d wanted one more season.

“I’ve been involved in incidents from which I was able to walk away, in a racing car and a plane crash.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that potentially every week I got in a racing car I could have been involved in an accident.

“I do consider myself exceptionally lucky and that’s why I’m willing to put in time and effort to raise awareness, raise funding and raise hope.”

For David, Wings For Life isn’t just another celebrity endorsement.

He feels he is on a mission to help cure the terrible condition.

He said: “One of the things I discovered is that most spinal-cord injuries are not caused through sports.

“Most are from everyday injuries like falling in the bath or crashing a car.

“I was watching a programme the other night about knife crime in Scotland, and a boy took one single stab wound to the neck, which cut his spinal cord.

“He’s in a wheelchair for the rest of his life unless we can find a cure.

“And, of course, we will.

“They already know that you can use electrical currents to stimulate the muscles, but somehow they have to connect that to the brain’s message of what you’re trying to do.

“It’s just a question of time, effort and money, what with the way medical science has progressed over the last few years. We just have to keep going to see a result.

“I’m sure we will see a cure in my lifetime.”

For more information and to donate to Wings For Life, visit www.wingsforlife.com