STATESVILLE, N.C. — For one night, a small airplane hangar transformed into a whimsical “Midsummer Night‘s Dream”-themed wonderland for Wednesday‘s ninth annual Catwalk for a Cause event. Drivers and industry personnel from different teams and companies came together to raise money and support for childhood and ovarian cancer.
And for one magical, twinkly light-filled night, racing and points weren‘t the focus among these drivers. Rather, it was the young cancer patients walking down the runway.
“When we first started there were 50 people and we raised $7,000. And it was small — we had no idea it was ever going to get this big,” said Sherry Pollex, longtime girlfriend of Martin Truex Jr., co-founder of the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation and ovarian cancer survivor. “There‘s not anything else like this in the NASCAR community, where we have drivers that come together as a community and walk with the kids and people see where their money is going while they‘re sitting in the audience. I think it‘s important for the donors to be a part of that and this event is just all about the kids and it‘s their night to show and it‘s incredible to see it grow.”
Several drivers and their wives walked — in some cases, danced — with current and former childhood cancer patients down the runway, as country singer Cassadee Pope opened and closed the show. There was first-time runway walker Kyle Busch with his enthusiastic dancing, Noah Gragson rocking a flower crown during the “Coachella” set, and Clint Bowyer and wife, Lorra, with a choreographed finger-pointing move upon exiting the stage. Aric Almirola, Darrell Wallace Jr., Todd Gilliland and Ty Dillon also walked the catwalk with patients.
At the end of the show, the children — called Catwalk heroes — took the now-darkened runway once more wearing glowing wings and head pieces. The crowd stood in applause as the patients held up signs depicting their dreams and aspirations, with “Won‘t Back Down” playing in the background.
The moments were sweet, rousing and impactful, especially for drivers like Bowyer with children of their own.
“If you have a family and you have kids and you see and you meet these kids … that‘s just when it really rings home,” he said. “You meet their parents, siblings … and you‘re just like, ‘My gosh, this is reality, this could happen, this does happen.‘ And then you come to an event like this and you see the awareness, you see the money that it generates, to support the cause, to support the families, to support the education, to support the research, the development, all those things that go toward not having those kids on that stage anymore. That‘s the reason that this thing just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
“It‘ll tug at your heartstrings. … To see them enjoying their moment and shining on the stage and enjoying it and embracing it — the pride and excitement in their eyes, that‘s the coolest thing about this event.”
After the show concluded, Truex Jr. and Pollex came back onstage again to present Novant Health with a $1.2 million check that will go toward the formation of the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Children‘s Emergency Department in Huntersville, North Carolina, and the SherryStrong Integrative Medicine Oncology Clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina. Pollex received her own cancer treatment through Novant, so it’s a donation that is especially personal for the couple, Truex said.
“I get chills when I think about it,” Truex said of the donation. “To be able to help the community here right in North Carolina where we live, to see the impact that it‘s going to have. The emergency unit for the kids is going to be amazing. And then the integrative clinic in Charlotte that Sherry‘s really leading up is going to be great because that was such a big part of her treatment and what she does to help herself heal. It‘s such a big part of what‘s made her healthy and being able to live life since she‘s gotten diagnosed with cancer. That‘s really, really near and dear to her heart.
“For both of us, these are the things that really matter to us and it‘s awesome that we‘ve been able to raise enough money to make an impact this big and we‘re very, very proud of it.”
And one point during the announcement with Novant, Truex looked at Pollex and said of Novant, “You saved Sherry‘s life.”
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“That’s where I had all my cancer treatments, that‘s where my doctor is, my oncologist and my nurses are all there,” Pollex said. “So they‘ve been an integral part of my whole cancer journey. … I can‘t believe my name is going to be on a cancer clinic. But it‘s just so cool to be a part of that and know that I can help teach other cancer patients all the integrative therapies that I used while I was going through my treatment because they helped me tremendously get through my treatment and have helped with life after cancer.”
Life after cancer for Pollex this year has been one of much-needed self-care. And she feels great, she said.
“I‘m on a new maintenance drug that I started a couple months ago,” she said. “So far, I haven‘t had any crazy side effects or anything, I feel great. I just have taken a little time for myself and to spend time with my family, so I haven‘t been traveling as much. … I‘ve been on the road for 17 years so it‘s really nice to just take a break and be able to enjoy my life. The fans all think I‘m not there because I‘m not feeling well, but I actually feel great, so it‘s been really nice.”
The time away from the track has allowed her to focus on the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation — and work to make the impact on the community even bigger.
“I‘ve been putting a lot of my efforts toward the new integrative cancer clinic and toward the pediatric emergency center,” she said. “I‘ve also been working with (Levine Cancer Institute) doing some things with the gynecological support system that they have there for patients like myself that have been diagnosed with ovarian or cervical cancer. …
“We‘ve kind of got our hands in a little bit of everything in the community and it‘s allowed me to have more time to spend on that.”