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Posted March 21, 2013
Grand Prix Drivers Zoom In to Visit Patients at All Children's

Grand Prix Drivers Visit ACH
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The green flag for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg won't be waved until Sunday. But Thursday morning, favored driver Ryan Hunter-Reay got in gear for racing in the streets of downtown St. Pete by walking the halls of All Children's Hospital.

Hunter-Reay, the No. 1 driver in open-wheel competition today, and up-and-coming Mazda Series competitors Spencer Pigot and Petri Suvanto spent the morning trying to rev up spirits of young patients before getting behind the wheels of their sleek Indy cars this week.

"We just wanted to come by and say hi to the kids and brighten up their day just a little bit," said Hunter-Reay, winner the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship and the representative of Racing for Kids. "I know that race cars certainly had that effect on me when I was little so I'm trying to reciprocate a bit here. And it brings a lot of great energy to us as well, coming into town and doing a little bit for the community - thoroughly enjoying it. It's a great way to start off the season."

Hunter-Reay will drive the No. 1 DHL Andretti Autosport Chevrolet Sunday. But if you look inside the No. 1 on his car, you'll see another number as well: 28. That double-digit has special meaning for the 32-year-old champion. It signifies the estimated 28-million living with cancer worldwide. His mother died in 2009 of colon cancer and he has been highly active ever since in raising awareness in the fight to stop cancer.

Reaching out to help kids who are hurting in different ways is also important to him. That's why he enjoys being part of Racing for Kids, a Detroit-based charity founded in 1989 that uses motorsports to help raise awareness and funding for pediatric health care needs.

"The interesting thing is that the caregivers at All Children's and other hospitals we visit - we've been doing this for 24 years now - tell us that the kids we see get better faster," Racing for Kids executive director J. Patrick Wright. "It takes their minds off some difficult treatments. And Ryan Hunter-Reay is so good with the kids."

That was evident Thursday as all three drivers interacted with patients from toddler to teens, signing autographs, giving out racing hats and sharing conversation.

"We've seen a lot of smiles and that makes it all worth it," he said after the visit. "I think it takes them by surprise at first when you see all these people walk in, and you see a couple of guys walk in with helmets. It could be a bit intimidating at first. But once they understand what we're there for -- just to meet them and shake hands - there are smiles all around. That's the best part about it."