By BOB SHRALUKA
Andrea Braun Irwin and her family spent Sunday in Decatur with her folks, Sharon and Pete Braun, watching the Indianapolis 500. The memories surely flowed as Tony Kanaan made his 22nd and final appearance in the motorsports spectacular.
It was 10 years earlier that Kanaan won the 500 for his first and only time, and in the winners’ circle he pulled a medallion out of his firesuit (see photo) – a medallion on a black nylon cord that was a “good luck charm” given to him by Andrea Braun of Decatur
“It was great to see Tony safely complete his last Indy 500,” Andrea remarked Monday. “What was even cooler to watch was the videos of him during the parade and all the pre-race events; it seemed like he was fully enjoying it and of course giving the fans all his energy and attention. He seemed to really be soaking in his last Indy 500. “
Nine years before Kanaan’s big win, Andrea Braun was lying in a bed in an Indianapolis hospital. She had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage, the result of a previously undetected birth defect.
Airlifted from Adams Memorial Hospital, she wasn’t expected to survive the first night. But, thankfully, she did and was placed into a drug-induced coma.
She was still battling for life when Kanaan visited. He often visits hospitals when he is in the Indianapolis area – one reason he’s so popular – and he was so touched by the 14-year-old Andrea’s story that he left a medallion with her.
Kanaan had worn the medallion – a gift from his mother – the previous five years in Indy car competition, but wanted Braun to have it to give her strength.
“It was a necklace to protect me, not to give me luck, because you know the way moms are,” the Brazilian explained after his 500 victory. “She had been telling me to race slow. So I took it out and I said to her mother (Sharon), ‘I don’t know if you believe in these things, but I had this for a while. It always protected me. My mother gave it to me. I want to give it to you.’
“I gave it to her. She survived. She is doing really well. We kept in touch in the past years. This year, four days ago, she showed up, gave me a letter with an envelope. I opened the letter. Here it was. She said that she had enough of luck in her life, she got married, and she wanted to give it back to me to bring me luck.”
A story in the Indianapolis Star noted: “On race day in 2013, Andrea was at her grandfather’s (Rich Braun), hovering around the TV as Kanaan made history. Tears streamed down the faces of Andrea, her mother and sister (Erin) and they hugged each other. At the IMS, Kanaan celebrated.”
After Andrea’s recovery, Kanaan invited the family to a 500-miler. They got the VIP treatment.
Andrea was hoping to attend Kanaan’s final 500, but she’s married and a mom now, and oftentimes those things can clutter the schedule. “I had really hoped to go to the race but with school wrapping up for my kids, work commitments, and my daughter’s soccer schedule, it just didn’t work out,” she said Tuesday.
Andrea and her husband, Danny, reside with their daughter and son in St. Clairsville, Ohio, just across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia.
Danny is the head coach of a division II college wrestling team at West Liberty University in West Virginia.