Courtesy photo A young cancer patient gets strapped in for a ride in a racing car. This during the 2012 Kids Racing For Life annual event at the Sebring International Raceway.
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published: Friday, May 24, 2013
Pedal to the metal -- Kids Racing For Life
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Long a raceway chaplain, in 1999 Pastor Stephen Zoeller and his wife, Stephanie, founded Zoeller Ministries to provide children fighting or dying of cancer a chance to meet real race car drivers and ride in their cars -- at 100 miles an hour.
The Zoellers organized Kids Racing For Life, a weekend event at the Sebring International Raceway every autumn for terminally ill children and their families. The Raceway and the ministry have worked together for 15 years.
Equally essential to Racing for Life's success is the Porsche BMW Owners Club (PBOC), which provides race cars and drivers.
Every child gets to meet the drivers, sit in different race cars and ride shotgun on the track. In between they're treated to pizza parties, bounce houses and a banquet. Most important they get a respite from the hospital, needles and tests, to simply have fun.
From 48 children the first year, Kids Racing For Life has grown to include 250 children and their families.
Because most families are burdened with medical bills, they do not have to pay for anything out of their own pockets, said Stephen Zoeller recently.
He is in town laying the ground work for this year's event, which takes place Sept. 6-8.
"The logistics of bringing 250 children to Sebring are overwhelming," Zoeller said. Fortunately, he added, he has found a great deal of support in the community. "The Kenilworth Lodge, Olive Garden, Pizza Hut, Toby's Clowns and the McGruff organization are among the many of our wonderful supporters." He hopes to get more of the community and the Boy Scouts involved as volunteers in the future.
In addition to making the necessary arrangements, Zoeller is raising funds to pay for the three-day event. "It takes $30,000 to do the whole weekend," he explained. "We pay for lodging, all food, transportation and gifts for the kids -- like T-shirts, toys, and autograph books so they can collect signatures."
Zoeller hopes to raise all the money needed by the middle of July because payments must be made up front. In-kind donations and volunteers are more than welcome.
"We need to provide lots of water for hydration. We need chaperones, pediatric oncology nurses and medical kits. We need a place at the track for families to get out of the weather (some children will need to cool off in air-conditioning). We need tables, chairs, coolers, ice, storage space and the use of a truck for the weekend. I'll be more than happy to speak to any civic clubs," Zoeller said.
Families of Highlands County terminally ill children are encouraged to contact the Zoellers so they may take part.
"Victory is measured in many different ways," Zoeller said. "We measure it in smiles."
Zoeller Ministries may be contacted at RaceRev.com or by calling (239) 945-3333.
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