As my alarm clock blared, I rolled over and hit the snooze button for the third and final time. I lay in bed for a few more precious minutes and thought about the tough challenges I would face in the day ahead. Eventually, I rolled out of bed and started to mutter my daily complaint about my tired muscles and aching bones.
But on this particular day, I stopped in mid-mutter. My mind went to my conversation with Julie Fosbinder and her daughter Gaila, a seventh-grader with arthrogryposis, a condition that affects the joints and requires all of Gaila’s strength and determination to do something as routine as getting out of bed.
I thought about Julie telling me that it took two years for Gaila to be able to open a car door, an achievement the family celebrated. I reflected on this for a few seconds and realized my day won’t really be so tough after all.
Gaila and countless other kids live with severe medical conditions that can bring new challenges every day. And these children need a place where they can forget about their health issues and just be kids for a while. They need to experience what victory feels like.
Victory Junction’s goal is to put kids like Gaila in the winner’s circle.
A Son’s Dream Made Real
“It started with Adam,” Victory Junction founder Kyle Petty says. Adam was Kyle’s son, and the grandson of NASCAR legend Richard Petty. Adam died in a racing accident at just 19 years old.
“Every year during our annual charity motorcycle ride, we would stop by hospitals that helped kids with chronic medical issues so the camp was just a natural extension,” Kyle reflects. “One day Adam said, ‘Let’s build a camp.’ And when his accident happened, that’s when we decided that’s what we’re going to do. The NASCAR community rallied behind it and Victory Junction was up and off of the ground within 18-20 months.”
Randleman, North Carolina – near Greensboro – was the perfect place to build Victory Junction as it is roughly the geographic halfway point between two similar camps for kids with chronic illnesses on the East Coast, the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (Connecticut) and Camp Boggy Creek (Florida). The plan was for Victory Junction to serve as a regional camp for the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee.
However Victory Junction quickly grew to national proportions largely thanks to the NASCAR community’s help. “We see kids from all 50 states and we see kids from foreign countries. So it ended up being a bigger camp than we thought it was going to be,” says Kyle.
In the beginning, the biggest challenge was attracting kids. “A lot of these kids have gastrointestinal issues, certain forms of cancer, hemophilia, spina bifida, issues that take a lot of time and effort from care givers. So you open up a new camp and you have skeptical people who may be thinking, ‘It’s brand new, what do they know about doing this?’ It’s like getting on an airplane and having a 15-year-old pilot. You want somebody with a little experience. So, in the beginning, the hard part was finding parents that were willing to trust us with their children,” Kyle recalls.
“I Feel Like I Won’t Be Judged”
Gaila’s mother Julie was initially reluctant about sending her daughter to Victory Junction.
“It’s very hard the first time you leave your child there, especially when you know when they can’t climb out of the swimming pool for example, so I was so struck by how safe I felt leaving Gaila there. I watch the medical staff interact with people, and they have a huge amount of resources and I’ve never worried about anything bad happening to Gaila after the first year, and that’s huge for a parent, obviously.”
Gaila has now attended Victory Junction for four years. “I went ziplining for the first time there,” Gaila says. “I also like archery and bowling there is pretty fun.”
In addition to enjoying the range of camp activities, kids for lasting friendships. “I met a person who I already knew, but not very well, with my condition, and we’ve gone every year together and we’ve really bonded,” Gaila explains. “She is a really good friend and I text her often.”
Victory Junction in North Carolina is a place that empowers kids and allows them to be who they are, a safe haven where they can let loose and enjoy life. They don’t have to constantly worry about their medical issues and they’re able to be around others who understand what they’re going through.
“When I’m there, I feel like I won’t be judged,” Gaila says. “That’s probably one of my favorite parts.”
For Kyle, the camp provides valuable life lessons.
“It puts life in perspective. You realize that a day you think was bad was really not a bad day. Whatever their challenges or illnesses, these kids get up and do it again every day. They don’t worry about it, they don’t fret about it. They just do what they do and they live every day, they don’t just survive every day. I think that’s what we get from it more than anything else, how to live.”
“We built Victory Junction for our son Adam and I feel like in a lot of ways, I lost one child, but I gained 23,000 children as a part of my family through the years.”
If you’d like to support Victory Junction in North Carolina, visit www.victoryjunction.org to see how you can help. The camp is always seeking volunteers. As Kyle explains, “It’s not just about the almighty dollar. It’s about time and time is the most priceless thing anyone can give.”
Victory Junction is a recipient of this year’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Month of Thanks donation of $5,000.