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Victory in Adversity

Pattie Petty

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Enjoy this article from the Sidney Herald about a camper's perspective on his experience at Victory Junction.

Local Youth Attends Victory Junction
Article by Louisa Barber

Camp was an experience Cole Roberts, 9, will probably never forget. For five days Cole spent his time swimming, riding horses, riding in a hot air balloon, bowling, fishing, playing sports, "and we had a campfire and sang songs, but we didn't have smores." It was a chance to be a "regular" kid.

You see, Cole went to Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C., a NASCAR sponsored camp for children with chronic or life threatening disabilities. The camp was built by retired NASCAR racer Kyle Petty and his wife, Pattie, in honor of their son Adam who was killed during a NASCAR practice run. His dream was to open the camp.

"It's just an amazing place," Cole's mother and special ed teacher Kathleen Roberts said. "It's a place where kids, who otherwise would never get to go to a camp, get to go to camp and have a camping experience just like any other 'normal' kid."

Cole has a form of autism, though doctors have yet to narrow down which form. It causes him to have a short attention span and makes it difficult to make himself understood. He was one of 60 children who were chosen to attend genetic neurological week at the camp in July, a big surprise to Kathleen.

"I didn't have my hopes up because, to me, yeah, Cole's got autism, but it's not, for me, that big of a deal," she said. "And I thought, 'He's not going to make the cut. There's no way. There's got to be other kids that are more deserving.' "

The decision to even apply for the camp came with some coaxing from co-worker Sheila Hartl whose cousin works at the camp's administration office. Both thought Cole would benefit from Victory Junction. In December, Kathleen sent the application via fax and never mentioned it to Cole. But after the board reviewed it based on medical and behavioral factors, Kathleen was notified in April Cole had been accepted, and she finally told him. His attention stayed.

Victory Junction is different than other camps because it's tailored to the needs of its residents. Cole needs one-on-one attention, which is exactly what he got. The camp provides one trained counselor to every two children, and Cole's counselor, Se-an, was with him the entire time.

"I knew he was being taken care of. I knew he was being watched. They're never alone. You can't get that any place else," Kathleen said. Additionally, it's staffed with 24-hour doctors and nurses on call.

Aside from the medical care, Victory Junction is full-blown NASCAR with big name donations from Michael Waltrip, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and more who donated money to construct buildings dedicated for different activities like the Jimmie Johnson Victory Lanes bowling alley and the Kurt Busch Superdome. Every part of the camp revolves around NASCAR. A pit crew demonstrated the pit stop during a race for one of the activities. Cole also slept in the Daytona cabin.

"This was his one chance to go to camp," Kathleen said, who thanks Hartl and her cousin for making it possible. Victory Junction costs $2,500 to attend, but not at the expense to families, who only pay for airfare. For Cole, there wasn't one thing he liked best. It's a one-word answer: He liked "everything."

Now it's time to give back, so another child can benefit. That's why the family wants to raise $2,500 through a traveling bake sale, raffle or whatever it takes. "Cole and I need to pay it forward for whoever," Kathleen said. "We don't know who funded his $2,500, but we need to do that for some other kid."

To find out more information about the camp or to offer fundraising ideas, visit www.victoryjunction.org.

Article used with permission by the Sidney Herald.

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