Dan Wheldon will continue the tradition of wearing specially-designed crash helmets in IndyCar races after visiting Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St Vincent to meet with nine-year old cancer patient Sophie Banker.

Although he is no stranger to experimenting with different helmet designs, Wheldon's newest lid will be extra special, having been created by the bed-bound youngster. Banker designed the helmet the 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner will wear in the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt 225 at the Milwaukee Mile on 1 June by using a multi-coloured swatch of fabric from her favourite blanket and gluing pieces to a paper outline of the helmet.

The blanket is never far from Sophie's reach. Through the initial surgery to remove a brain tumour to radiation and chemotherapy treatments and rehabilitation programmes, it's been her calling card with the multi-discipline staff at the Indianapolis hospital.

"The blanket was at a lake cottage where my husband grew up and it ended up at our house," Sophie's mother, Diane, revealed, "Sophie just decided that this was what she loved and wanted to take everywhere. She was about two years old when she found it in a closet and took ownership.

"She traced the fabric, cut it out, got out the glue stick and here it is. This is about St Vincent - this blanket has been dragged around for six years here. It's represents [her] time here. We're really at a good point to be five years out of treatment and six years out of diagnosis. This is a moving forward point for all of us. It's all about moving forward for her."

Impressed by the determination he saw in the nine-year old, Wheldon said he would be proud to wear Banker's creation at Milwaukee.

"She's a very determined young girl," he confirmed, "At one point, her mother was talking and she said 'listen, Mom, it doesn't always go your way' - that really captured me. To meet her and see how well she's doing is a thrill for me. When you walk through St. Vincent Children's Hospital, it really puts things into perspective. We can be disappointed for not winning races, but to think what these young children have to go through - and a lot of them do pull through - it shows their strength of character.

"To be able to excite somebody who has gone through an extreme amount is very special for me. By doing this, hopefully, it can mean an awful lot to some people and hopefully we can make it bigger so we can do more for the children."

 

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