As members of a racing family, local stock car driver Scott Nurmi and his wife, Debbie, became familiar with the courage it takes to be a driver as well as the wife of a driver. They know the risks of their sport.
Nothing, however, could have prepared the Lakeview family for the courage they would need when their son, Ryan Nurmi, suffered a tragedy that would change all their lives.
On February 1, 2011, Ryan was just a month from his 15th birthday. The day began as any other in the life of a teenager who was doing well in school. He enjoyed playing football and lacrosse and was excited about a future that would include pursuing a career as a medical doctor and becoming a stock car driver.
All that changed later that day when Ryan suffered injuries in a snowmobile sled related accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. His story, which began in tragedy, is now slowly turning to one of triumph.
Ryan is back in school, where he just missed achieving high honors at Frontier Central High School. He has been involved as a coaching assistant and statistician for the school's football team.
He is driving in a hand-controlled mini van with his learners permit and soon will be taking his driver's test. His dream of becoming a doctor is still very much at the forefront as well.
On the day of the accident, Ryan was riding a sled that was being towed by a snowmobile. The sled veered out of control and Ryan slammed into a tree.
"It was very heart wrenching when it happened," said Scott. "I can't tell you how much courage it took for us to deal with it. He was in the hospital for several months. His spinal cord was completely severed in half.
"But he has shown himself to be mentally strong and he is very tough. He is doing everything in life he did before the accident except getting up and walking. What's amazing is that he has goals that he's excited about for the future and he has no ill feelings toward anyone or anything because of what happened. He has been through a lot of rehab and there's more to go."
Ryan grew up around racing, His father and his uncle, Ron Nurmi, are both race drivers.
In 2010, Scott let Ryan take out his Late Model for practice laps at Shangri-La Speedway in Owego. Little did they know that those first laps could be Ryan's last laps.
"I let Ryan go out for practice and he did quite well," said Scott. "The plan was to get him into a stock car full time in 2011. Things of course changed. While you never say never, I don't know if he will ever drive a race car again. Of course, there are many things in life for him to resume that are much more important than racing."
Ryan is continuing on with his life in a way that has been inspirational to those who know him.
I'm trying to get things back to as normal as they can be," said Ryan, who is now a 16-year-old heading into his junior year at Frontier.
"I just keep telling people to enjoy life and keep doing the things you like to do because you never know what will happen. I'm back coaching and ever since I was a kid I've wanted to be a doctor and I still want to be one. I still like going to the races and being a part of my dad's team too. I'm his spotter for the races."
The Nurmis are grateful to everyone in the various factions of the local community that has reached out to help their family in so many ways during these very difficult times.
Scott Nurmi was just a few laps from clinching the Late Model points title last season at Shangri-La when the rear end of the car broke during the final race and his championship vanished.
"Yeah, it was real disappointing to have that championship get away but that's no big deal at all anymore since Ryan's accident," he said. "We are trying for the title again this year and we'll see what happens."
What is important to remember is that while Ryan's life may be somewhat different from the one he knew before, his courage, mental toughness, drive, desire, personality, sporting interests and the deep love found within his family are the same as before. That is all that really matters now.
> Pit stops
* Ever since the drag racing Pro Modified Racing Association was formed in 2005, North Tonawanda's Jack Grainy has been searching to find a victory.
The wait finally ended this past weekend at the PMRA Summer Showdown at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Mich. He thanked several fellow Western New Yorkers for their dedication to his team, including his brother and crew chief Sonny Grainy.
"I want to thank Mike Stawicki, Jim and Jon Salemi for all their work as well as Sonny," said Jack. Grainy drives the Grainy Brothers Racing 1967 Camaro.
* The local racing community is mourning the death of Bob Druar, 65, a Western New York native and attorney who lived in Statesville, N.C. Druar died while riding his bike June 6.
Druar was the brother of the late asphalt Modified driver Tommy Druar and the brother-in-law of the late asphalt Modified driver Tony Jankowiak, Bob also is the uncle of local asphalt stock car racers Matt Druar and Andy Jankowiak.
Bob's sister, Debbie Jankowiak, won a Pure Stock race many years ago at Lancaster Speedway.
Bob Druar was also behind the wheel of race cars as well, often running his Triumph TR-3 in sports car races at Watkins Glen.