The drivers arrived in droves, without a firesuit in sight.
From Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s I’m-still-casual suit and untied bow tie (the yang to wife Amy’s sparkly blue bow-tie necklace’s yin), to Danica Patrick’s sharp black-and-gold wrap stilletos (Patrick has a sprained ankle but, in her words, “I’m a woman. I’m going to wear heels even if it kills me.”) to Sherry Pollex’s shining coiffed hair and sleek black ball gown and beaming boyfriend, Martin Truex Jr., the 8th Annual “Catwalk for a Cause” was a stunning spectacle and raised over $550,000 for pediatric and ovarian cancer research and recovery support.
But as with Pollex (the founder of the event) herself, what made the night special was its backbone: Drivers, paired with children battling various forms of cancer or in fresh remission, strutted down a runway amid delight and applause from the crowd.
Pollex and Truex Jr. have been organizing “Catwalk for a Cause” through the latter’s foundation for almost a decade, but it wasn’t until 2014 when it truly hit home. Pollex was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 35 years old.
“I remember seeing her before she found out,” said Patrick on the red carpet of Wednesday night’s event. “We were going to a baby shower and I picked her up in the car, and she was like, ‘Man, I’ve tried all of these things but I’m just so uncomfortable.’
“And then I found out, not long after, that she had ovarian cancer. Wake-up call, as a woman, to think about when things don’t seem right – they probably aren’t right.’”
The surgery that followed to eradicate the dreadful disease meant Pollex emerged after a six-hour procedure without her uterus, her ovaries, appendix, a foot of her colon and several liters of malignant fluid.
But Pollex, motivated by her loved ones and by the children she had spent so many years helping, was not going to become a statistic. She told Truex Jr. “It’s time for us to show them what we’re made of.”
After a 22-month battle, during the first six months of which Pollex underwent weekly chemotherapy treatments, she went into remission. There she has stayed, for the last year and a half.
Truex Jr. wishes she’d rest a little more, now that she has won perhaps the biggest battle a person can face.
But instead, Pollex has thrown herself into making a difference for others through the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation with events such as “Catwalk for a Cause” and her website, sherrystrong.org, that helps other women with all of the real and relatable sub-battles a cancer patient must fight to keep their bodies healthy, even after going into remission.
She has a particular fondness for “Catwalk for a Cause,” however.
“It’s a little different for me, because I’ve been through what they’ve been through,” she said. “To be able to talk with their families about treatment, I have a special place in my heart because I know how tough it is on a child to go through this – it was tough on me, so I can’t imagine how tough it is on the children.
“For me, it’s super emotional. I’m honored to be here as a survivor. I draw inspiration from them, but hopefully I give them some inspiration too.”
In a double-hangar at the Statesville Regional Airport on Wednesday night, 650 glitzy drivers, donors and guests – including country music group Florida Georgia Line – celebrated the life, vigor and fortitude of a group of young children battling cancer.
“All of the drivers have really latched on (to the kids),” said Truex Jr. “I mean, they feel it. They see what the kids and families have been through. And that’s a big part of the event – making the kids the stars of the show. They are showing you what it’s all about, they’re telling you what it’s all about.”
After a silent auction and James Bond-themed casino games, the event’s main feature burst to life amid thudding bass. As they shimmied, strutted and grinned down the runway, the kids felt the love and heard the applause all around them – the poignant joy and celebration of another day conquered in the battle against cancer.
“We’re here to celebrate that tonight,” said Pollex. “Obviously there’s a lot of NASCAR people here but we’re here to celebrate them and just let the kids be rock stars for the night and have a good time.”
Donate to the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation: martintruexjrfoundation.org/donate-to-mtj-foundation/