Almost 25 years after the accident that ended his drag-racing career — and nearly his life — former driver Darrell Gwynn announced a new partnership with The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
Gwynn will become director of The Darrell Gwynn Quality of Life Chapter of The Buoniconti Fund, which is the fundraising arm of The Miami Project, the spinal cord injury research center located at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“I feel like I’m coming home as I join Nick and Mark Buoniconti,” Gwynn said. “I’ve always relied on The Miami Project for hope. They are so far ahead of where they were 25 years ago. A cure — it’s so close.”
Gwynn, 53, announced that his 13-year-old foundation would join forces with The Miami Project at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR drivers preparing for the Daytona 500 participated in the event’s annual fishing tournament at the track’s infield lake — won by Joe Nemechek’s team — then gathered with Gwynn as he donated a $25,000 wheelchair to 16-year-old Anthony Oliveira of Pembroke Pines.
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“It’s a gift of mobility, freedom and independence,” Gwynn said. “Anthony was the perfect recipient because he’s a big-time Jeff Gordon fan and loves all the drivers.”
Gwynn recalled that six months before his 1990 crash at 240 mph, he adopted The Miami Project as his prime charity and placed a decal with its logo on his car.
“I never thought I’d be on the other side of the fence, needing their help and their research,” said Gwynn, adding that he and his wife, Lisa, were able to conceive their daughter Katie, 16, thanks to a Miami Project program that assists paralyzed men in achieving fatherhood.
Marc Buoniconti, president of the Buoniconti Fund and The Miami Project, said Gwynn will turn over the daily administration of his foundation and utilize the fundraising and marketing expertise of The Project.
“We’ll be able to maximize his mission as he continues to help thousands of people,” Buoniconti said.
He said The Project’s latest milestone is the start of a clinical Schwann cell transplantation trial involving 10 paralyzed patients.
“The cells are retrieved from a nerve in the patient’s legs, then millions of the Schwann cells are injected into the spinal cord where they regenerate and release nerve growth factors,” Buoniconti said. “We’re excited about the results we’ve seen in other trials.”