There are times in life when tragedy can inspire greatness. For Pattie Petty and her husband, NASCAR racing legend Kyle Petty, it was their son, Adam’s, tragic death in a NASCAR accident in 2000 that inspired a mission to change lives through the creation of Victory Junction, a NASCAR-themed camp for children with serious illnesses and disabilities.
Adam had proposed creating the facility following a family visit to Florida’s Boggy Creek Camp. That camp, like Victory Junction, is affiliated with the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps established by the late legendary actor and activist Paul Newman. “Adam challenged us to make Victory Junction happen,” Pattie says.
“We think of ourselves as the Disney World of camps,” Pattie quips. Since its 2004 opening, Victory Junction and its 84-acre campus have served more than 14,000 families and children with conditions ranging from cancer to kidney and lung disease to physical disabilities. Wide-ranging programs geared toward meeting the needs of each disease-specific session take place within expansive facilities, many of which were donated by NASCAR luminaries. At the Michael Waltrip Operation Marathon SportsCenter, for instance, youngsters enjoy games from basketball to ping-pong while the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America Water Park features slides, sprinklers, and a wading pool.
Elsewhere on campus, children can present stage productions in the Silver Theater, challenge themselves on soaring zip lines in the Adventure Area, bowl in Jimmie Johnson’s Victory Lanes, joyously scramble in the Tony Stewart Maze, and participate in kickball and baseball in the Kurt Busch Superdome. Annual operating expenses amount to $7 million with a cost of $2,500 per child, but no child or family incurs any cost. Camper selection includes review of applications from the Victory Junction website and medical-care-provider referrals.
Complementing these programs is Victory Junction’s medical facility, donated by pharmaceutical maker GlaxoSmithKline and featuring three registered nurses, a nurse practitioner, and a pediatric trauma specialist. “We have partnerships with leading regional medical schools and hospitals,” Pattie says. “This ensures that we provide healthcare specifically meeting campers’ needs, from dispensing medication to chemotherapy.”
Additionally, weekly camping sessions group together students with similar conditions or illnesses. “Because they can escape the discomfort of feeling different, they feel better about themselves,” Pattie says.
TOP 3 UPCOMING INITIATIVES
1. The Martin Truex Foundation will expand and refurbish the archery center in 2012.
2. Plans are underway to grow marquee fundraising events such as the Run 2 Victory Marathon and Camp Challenge Ride, as well as create new signature programs in support of Victory Junction.
3. The group will hold its annual Wish Upon A Star Holiday Gala in December, which aims to educate and challenge children to give back.
“It is so moving to see camp counselors help a quadriplegic child ride a horse, or young burn victims perform openly on stage,” she adds. “They realize if they believe it, they can achieve it. Their conditions no longer identify them. I’ve had children say, ‘For the first time in my life, I feel normal.’”
Seven years after Adam Petty’s vision became a reality, Victory Junction is poised to expand its mission of providing life-changing experiences for children with serious illnesses. The camp will begin construction on its second location in Kansas City, Missouri, later this year to provide summer camp programs for chronically ill children in the Midwest. In Kansas City, Victory Junction will fulfill a longtime need.
“Children from the Midwest frequently come to Victory Junction,” Pattie says. “It isn’t healthy for these youngsters to travel such a long way to get to us—we had to bring Victory Junction to them …More children and families need to see that their days don’t have to be filled with struggle. I want them to realize the same joy and hope our campers experience.”
Victory Junction also plans to broaden its mission to include US service personnel and their families. “We are partnering with the 82nd Airborne in nearby Fort Bragg as well as other military establishments to create family weekends for veterans scarred by war,” Pattie says. “By enabling these service men and women to participate in activities—like the ropes course or swimming—we hope to rebuild their confidence and self esteem while creating a bonding experience with their family.”