RANGELY I It wasn’t a dream to be shared with just anyone.
Especially now, when the hope of its happening had faded—faded, he thought, like the strength that once flowed from him, before the multiple sclerosis had sapped it over 13 long years.
Luckily, Don Worrall wasn’t prone to pity. The dream itself, to attend one of NASCAR’s biggest races, still held beauty.
He would savor it, just as he’d learned his support systems – family and the people who cared for him here, in the long-term care unit of Rangely District Hospital – were gifts of worth.
Worrall still thoroughly enjoyed the sport. He rarely misses a NASCAR race on his flat-screen television, wheelchair positioned so he could watch the dance he never tired of: steel-sheathed cars vying smoothly for position, floating the corners at 200 miles per hour. This, too, was a gift.
The nurse’s questions as she visited with him initially stemmed from curiosity: how did pit crews change tires and fill gas in a matter of seconds? Who were his favorite drivers? What did it really take to win one of these things?
He saw that her interest was piqued before he ventured to tell her the dream that still beguiled him, even as he knew it was lost.
“I’ve always wanted to go to a NASCAR race,” he commented.
“Really?” she asked. Her name was Irene Kilbane, and she had worked at the hospital for two years. Her blue eyes were quizzical.
“Yeah,” he said, grinning. “I’ve been to Mile High Nationals, to the boat races, to the outlaw car races. Never made it to a NASCAR race, though, and never will now. The Daytona 500 or Talladega, those are the ones I’d choose.”
“Why’s that?” she asked.
“Those are the tracks they run wide open,” he said. “They never take their foot off the throttle.”
Not so long ago, he’d visualized himself at the Daytona 500, when the dream had still seemed within reach. In 2007, his mother, Beverly, brother Mike and Mike’s wife, Leigh, had moved to Tampa Bay, Fla., a mere 2-½ hours from Daytona.
It was the opportunity Don had been waiting for. He’d been diagnosed with MS in 2002, but the disease was still largely under control. He had time.
As he talked to Irene, his gaze shifted momentarily, thoughts returning to the inexorable stealth with which the MS had progressed.
By 2010, he could no longer pump wells for Weldon Construction, the job he’d held for six years. Two years later, he could no longer live alone. When the new hospital building opened up in January 2012, he’d joined the first group of long-term care patients to occupy the facility’s west wing.
In the quiet, Irene busied herself about the room. He didn’t know it yet, but something Don said had sparked something alive in her.
“He says he’ll never go,” she mused as she left. “Good thing ‘never’ isn’t in my book.”
It wasn’t. When, eight years ago, a surplus cat population had seemed an insurmountable problem for her hometown of Meeker, she had begun humanely trapping feral cats and taking in injured or abandoned ones. Animals were spayed or neutered before they were rehomed, given new starts as mousers on local ranches or released back into their native environments
Now, three years into the Meeker Cat Coalition’s existence as a registered non-profit organization, Kilbane had been responsible for approximately 600 such rescues.
Over the next couple of days, she spoke with Dr. Tim Hsu, her supervisor and the hospital’s CEO about the feasibility of a long-distance trip with a long-term care patient.
The legalities and logistics could be worked through. Now she just needed buy-in from Don and some people to help bring it together.
“Guess where we’re going in February?” she said nonchalantly, entering his room once the plans were in motion.
“Where?” He played along, imagining some punchline to a joke he didn’t yet know.
“Daytona Beach,” he repeated slowly. “I know what happens in Daytona in February.”
And over the last few weeks, he’d come to believe that this woman, with her quick smile and methodical, precise approach to nursing, meant what she said.
Don, Irene and another RDH nurse, Wendy Campbell, will drive to Denver and stay with Don’s daughter, Tayah, before flying in to Orlando before the race. A custom-built ramp would allow Don and his chair to travel in Irene’s truck. Handicap-accessible restroom stops had been mapped out, hotel rooms reserved and parking permits applied for.
Most importantly, the Daytona Speedway, recently renovated to better accommodate people with disabilities, had five seats—brother and sister-in-law Mike and Leigh would join them—with their names on them.
Within four days of a GoFundMe campaign launching on Facebook, donors had backed more than $3,000 of the trip’s estimated $5,000 cost. As of press time, “Nascar Dream Come True” was more than 80 percent funded by 53 donors.
The remaining months leave ample time for Don and Irene to imagine what the reality will look like.
“I’m looking forward to the start of the race,” Don says. “My brothers told me when the cars line up to start and officials give them the green flag, it’s not like you see on TV. When you’re there live, it’s completely different.”
“We’re all so excited,” Irene says. “We’ll rent the headphones so you can actually hear the drivers talking. We’ll take tons of pictures and show everybody. It’s just going to be the trip of a lifetime.”
That RDH nurses, doctors, aides and administrators have wholly supported the project is characteristic, Wendy Campbell says, of a staff determined to give its long-term care residents more than a place to live.
This is home, and, as Duane Stevens, a good friend of Don’s who also lives at RDH knows, those providing care aren’t just health professionals. They’ve become family.
Don’s daughter, Heidi Lucero, says that the response from RDH staff and community members has been astounding. Every day, she speaks with her dad in person or via phone. And every day, she says, Don talks of the race. There is much to savor, indeed.
“That’s the cool thing about Rangely,” Lucero says. “If you lived in a big town, this wouldn’t go the way it went. In his whole entire life, he’s never been as excited for something as is he is for this.”
To donate to Worrall’s trip, visit his “Nascar Dream Come True” fundraiser page at www.gofundme.com/donworrall.