COLUMBIA — NASCAR driver Carl Edwards rode his bike Wednesday morning along the MKT Trail with members of the community in the annual Ride with Carl for Sam fundraiser. The money from the event goes to the Sam Russell Helmet Foundation, which helps Edwards’ friend, Sam Russell, pay for his medical expenses.
Russell and Edwards have been friends since growing up in together in Columbia. Three years ago, Russell was injured in a mountain biking accident, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
This was the first year Russell was able to take part in the ride. Using his hand-cycle bike, Russell was able to ride 10 miles from Walt’s Bike Shop to McBaine. He said being able to participate this year made the event that much more special.
“Last year I was in Atlanta all by myself, feeling pretty lonesome,” Russell said. “To be able to come here this year and bring my three girls along and be able to ride, it’s wonderful.”
Edwards was excited to ride with his friend for the first time since Russell’s accident.
“Sam’s the man,” Edwards said. “We’re going to have to change the name to Ride with Sam for Carl, though, ‘cause I’m being more inspired by him and all these people that are coming out and supporting him than they are by me.”
There were 49 registered riders for the event. Each rider was asked to make a $50 donation. Some of Edwards’ friends biked to McBaine as well, bringing the total number of riders close to 60.
“The numbers are way up from last year, and we’re really excited about that,” said Nancy Russell, Sam’s mother and organizer of the event.
Edwards was surprised by the turnout.
“I couldn’t believe it when I pulled into the parking lot that there was this many people,” he said. “Last year the weather was rainy. This year it’s supposed to be like 110. There’s a lot of brave folks.”
Although the temperature was around 90 degrees, the heat index was well over 100 degrees, but that didn’t slow down the riders.
“Of course, it’s very hot today, but once you get going there’s a good breeze,” said Vicki Curby, one of the riders.
Curby, who does a lot of biking, was glad to see the number of people who rode to support Russell.
“It was good to see fans out on the trail on a bike,” she said. “That was rewarding.”
Sam Russell said the ride went well. He spent a lot of time before and after the ride talking with all the riders who were supporting him, something he’s never done in the past.
“I’ve met so many people that I’ve never met before and get to see so many people I probably wouldn’t get to see otherwise,” he said.
Edwards spent time before the ride signing autographs and visiting with the event’s participants. He also talked with many riders during the ride to McBaine.
The ride was just the first leg of Edwards’ annual bike ride, mostly along the Katy Trail, to Gateway International Raceway, just east of St. Louis in Madison, Ill. Edwards is set to race there Saturday in NASCAR's Nationwide Series, in which he is second in the point standings.
Some minor inconveniences in previous rides have led Edwards to make a couple of changes for this year’s ride. He wore sandals, so he didn’t have to worry about smelly socks, but that wasn’t the only change.
“I’ve got padded underwear, 'cause last year was rough,” he said.