Michigan MS Society Honors Cody Unser of Legendary Motorsports Family with 'Spirit of da Vinci Award®'; Paralyzed Advocate and Fundraiser Conducts Detroit 'Discover Scuba' Class for People with Disabilities

Sep 19, 2011, 13:00 ET from National MS Society, Michigan Chapter

SOUTHFIELD, Mich., Sept. 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ --

  • Twenty local physically challenged individuals participate in 'Discover Scuba' event, 1 p.m. Sept. 21 at Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, Dearborn, Mich.

  • Unser delivers keynote speech at Sept. 22 da Vinci Awards gala celebrating worldwide leaders in accessibility and adaptive technologies

Cody Unser, paralyzed granddaughter and daughter of legendary racecar drivers Al Unser and Al Unser, Jr., is the 2011 Spirit of da Vinci Award® recipient, an international awards forum created by the National MS Society, Michigan Chapter. The honor is given annually to exemplifying individuals who overcome physical limitations and serve as great inspirations to others.

Unser receives the award and delivers the keynote speech at the 2011 da Vinci Awards gala, Thursday, Sept. 22, at Henry Ford Museum. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the awards recognize individuals, organizations and corporations throughout the world whose innovations are designed to enable everyone to participate in and contribute to all aspects of society.

Unser was paralyzed in 1999 at age 12 from autoimmune disorder Transverse Myelitis, a neurological syndrome caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.  A year later, she established the Cody Unser First Step Foundation to create public awareness, raise research funds and improve the quality of life for those with spinal cord-related paralysis and has been an internationally-known advocate ever since.

"The MS Society's da Vinci Awards bring well-deserved recognition to the many individuals and companies creating products and services that enable people with disabilities to focus on what they can do instead of what they cannot," said Cody Unser. "It is a great honor for me to be a part of this wonderful night and to receive the Spirit of da Vinci Award." 

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, Unser brings her Discover Scuba class to Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, Dearborn, Mich., teaching physically challenged individuals the joys and benefits of scuba diving.

With encouragement from her brother, Al Unser III, Unser learned to scuba dive and launched Cody's Great Scuba Adventures, a program that introduces the freedom of scuba diving to others with disabilities.

"Cody's accomplishments and advocacy is an inspiration," said Elana Sullivan, president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Michigan Chapter. "Her out of the box thinking and integration of adaptive scuba is changing lives one dive at a time."

9/21 DISCOVER SCUBA CLASS – Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, 15801 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, Mich. 48126

Twenty area people living with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord and brain injuries will participate in the class beginning at 1 p.m. Sept. 21. The Cody Unser First Step Foundation, partnered with National MS Society, Michigan Chapter and DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan to provide an introduction to adaptive scuba for persons with disabilities. Unser will be accompanied by a few of her foundation's "Operation Deep Down" dive team from New Mexico, with local support from Huron Scuba of Ann Arbor, Mich. Experienced and specially trained instructors will be paired with divers with disabilities and their diving buddies (spouses, caregivers, friends, etc…).  

9/22 DA VINCI AWARDS GALA – Henry Ford Museum, 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, Mich. 48124

Sixteen finalists from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Sweden – including three from Michigan – will be honored at the prestigious international forum recognizing the latest developments and research in adaptive and assistive technologies. Winners in each of five categories will be announced live and additional special achievement awards will be presented. Event begins at 6:30 p.m., awards ceremony, including Cody Unser's keynote speech, starts at 8:00 p.m.


Through Cody Unser First Step Foundation, Unser has encouraged doctors to collaborate and help fund symposiums across the country.  She has lobbied on federal and state government levels for stem cell research and the improvement of quality of life for individuals living with disabilities. She went to University of Redlands in California where she created her own degree, Biopolitics, a multidisciplinary approach to how better relate politics and science in the context of human health.  

Fulfilling a 10-year dream, the Cody Unser First Step Foundation recently completed a pilot study with doctors from Johns Hopkins University and International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute on the neurological and physiological effects of scuba diving. The study was conducted with 10 paralyzed veterans and the findings were presented Sept. 17th at the Paralyzed Veterans of America's spinal cord injury summit in Orlando, Fla.

SOURCE National MS Society, Michigan Chapter