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How Pattie Petty Honors Her Son's Memory

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I am not a powerful woman...I am not any better with grief, or handling the loss of a child than anyone else. Sometimes I get put on a pedestal for what my husband does, but most of the time I tell other parents who have gone through adversities like we have that I am just like they are. I say, 'I still have days of extreme struggle and stress and that's just normal, you know.' Sometimes I think they look at me and say, 'Oh I want to be like you,' and I say, 'You are--I'm not different.'

--Pattie Petty, of NASCAR fame, who lost her son Adam in a tragic accident on May 12, 2000. She started the Victory Junction Gang Camp in his memory.


Mom•Logic: How did you come up with the idea of the Victory Junction Gang Camp?

Pattie: My son Adam had visited children's hospitals, and he wanted to build a place where chronically ill kids could really enjoy themselves. We began a needs assessment on how many chronically ill kids there were in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, the states we thought we'd serve. There were 283,000 chronically ill children. At that point, we didn't know we were going to service kids from all over the United States eventually. After Adam's accident in 2000, everybody in the NASCAR and racing community who loved Adam and what he stood for wanted to rally around us and make some sense of his loss. It was a perfect time for us to educate them on Adam's dream of building a camp for chronically ill children.

Mom•Logic: What motherly touches do you bring to the camp?

Pattie: At the Hole in the Wall Gang camps, they offer handmade quilts and teddy bears to the kids. We do that, too. They get the quilts and bears when they arrive, and they take those home when they leave. Senior citizens from all over the country make the quilts and bears, and that's a huge contribution. At the camp, chronically ill children can swim in a water park, ride horses, climb a three-story ropes course, catch a fish, or perform on stage. The fact that they can do this with other children just like themselves has a huge impact and changes their lives.

We also put focus on the moms. God love moms--the care of the children usually falls back on their shoulders. We give moms a little respite, rest, and mom time. We have a beauty shop on campus called the "Fab Shop." These mothers can't usually afford to go to a beauty shop to get their hair done or have a salon treatment. We also offer moms an opportunity to be around other moms who are going through the same battles and struggles they are.

Mom•Logic: What advice can you give other moms who have lost a child? And how did you find the strength to turn your son's tragic passing into triumph?

Pattie: I wish I had the magic answer. I tried to let God help me up when I couldn't stand up, or get me out the door when I didn't even think I could crank my car. And I still have those days. I am no hero; I am not better off than other moms are.

I don't like to be made up like I am something above what I am to other parents who are grieving. I find when I am giving speeches or visiting places, moms come up to me and say, "I can't be like you... I am not strong enough to be like you." I say, "Yes you are." I came up with the crazy idea--let's just build this camp, and let's do it in honor of Adam. And then millions of dollars came in from people who had admiration and respect for my son and for my husband. Most moms don't have that opportunity, and yet their child's life was no more or no less a loss than mine. For that, I am very sad because everyone wants his or her child remembered.

I don't like to ever portray myself like I got past the grief because I haven't. It's something you deal with every day. There's days I can't leave my home, there's days I don't want to leave my bedroom, and there's days I don't even want to be at camp. I get sad. Each year gets worse because that just means your child is gone longer. It doesn't get better, it doesn't get easier, but I think you become a better actress. You become what people want you to be. You try to put others at ease when they're around you, so they don't feel uncomfortable. But it's a wound that never heals.

For more information on the Victory Junction Gang Camp, click here.

Click on an image to view the NASCAR's Pattie Petty: Triumph Over Tragedy Gallery.

next: Moms Unite to Help J. Lo
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C Goldsmith
Anderson, Indiana

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