,,, a Klippel-Trenaunay Family Scrapbook
KT has certainly presented its share of challenges for me. From physical abnormalities, life-threatening symptoms, to mental anguish concerning my physical appearance, KT at times consumed me and for years affected who I was (I’ll explain/elaborate later).
While KT has its many challenges, I consider myself lucky to have been born in such close proximity to Duke Hospital in North Carolina. I was one of a relatively few patients to be diagnosed at birth with Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome. At this time, surgical and interventional options were few and not encouraged. Fortunately, I was able to rely on Duke during all of my childhood, teenage and early adulthood years.
As a child, KT patients don’t always know their limitations. I never considered slowing down until KT stepped in and forced me to. I played baseball and basketball throughout my youth and only slowed down when the pain and swelling forced me to. At home, you would often find me riding a bike, playing basketball, or jumping on a trampoline. While participating in those types of activities portrays what seems like a normal childhood, KT caused its share of problems. By the time I reached third grade, I had undergone three surgical procedures. The stares, teasing, etc. that come from others were something that had to be dealt with at a young age as well.
As I entered my teenage years, the thought of what others might say or knowing there would be plenty of stares began to change me. As I entered high school, I began to hide my condition. It wasn’t something I discussed very often and I kept the physical abnormalities hidden with clothing…..
While hiding my physical condition was something that I had to deal with for years, I did pursue some of my key interests. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of auto racing. My parents began taking me to races at local short tracks when I was just 5 or 6 years old. It was something my entire family did together and we were there each and every weekend during the season. I became a huge fan of the sport and it became a big part of my life for years. As I approached 16 years of age, I was given the opportunity to be a part of a local race team. While it mostly involved cleaning the race car as well as keeping the shop clean and organized, it gave me a chance to be a part of a sport that I had loved for years. This volunteer experience quickly evolved into allowing me to work on the cars and go with the team to the race track during test sessions (huge steps considering I had no prior automotive experience). Of course, KT would always have some kind of effect on this hobby. This type of activity requires a lot of standing and walking, something that takes a toll on me with KT affecting my right leg. Despite the pain and suffering, racing was my passion and I wanted to be involved in the sport. So, I dealt with the pain and kept my focus on the sport that I loved.
Keeping that focus allowed me to visit places and be involved in events that I never dreamed would happen. As the team I began helping as nothing more than a shopkeeper progressed from racing at the local level to a touring series, I was presented with opportunities to travel to tracks with decades of history. In December 1998, I traveled to Daytona International Speedway as the team tested in preparation for the season-opening event in the ARCA racing series. I had watched the Daytona 500 on television every year that I can remember. After driving all night from North Carolina to Daytona Beach, Florida, we entered the track and I was in awe of entering the garage area at what is one of the most famous sporting venues around. Later that year, I traveled with the same team to Charlotte Motor Speedway for another ARCA race. On this night, we would share the spotlight with what is now known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. We shared the garage area with the top teams in the sport and I was able to stand just behind the pit stalls of drivers such as Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte during the Winston, their version of an All-Star race.
While my venture into motorsports allowed me visit some of the premier race tracks in America, it also opened the door for my family to transition from race fans to having our own race team. My brother began racing at Orange County Speedway, one of the tracks in which we were spectators for years, in 1997. As I gained experience with the other team, I inherited the role as crew chief for my brother. This role required even more hours at the shop preparing the car and days at the track testing in preparation for each race. As a KT patient, this meant more pain, more suffering, and more agony at the end of late nights at the shop and days at the race track. But, this was my passion. I had gone from a kid in the stands that rarely missed a race to a key position on a race team. I was no longer looking in from outside the fence; I was now a part of the action. For 16 years, we began racing in March and spent most weekends at the track until October or November. We started as true rookies. Rookies as mechanics. Rookies as racers. But, we were having fun. We worked hard. With luck and more hard work, we progressed up the ladder from racing a four-cylinder Volkswagen Beetle to a NASCAR Late Model Stock car. Along the way, we earned 18 wins, over 40 pole awards, a qualifying speed record, and two championships.
I had my ups and downs during those 16 years. On weeks where we had to work extra hours to get the car ready, the resulting pain in my KT-affected leg could become excruciating. But, this is what I wanted to do. One of the most memorable moments came in November 2007. This was a monumental season for us. We had built a newer car during the offseason. We immediately saw better results at the first race. We dominated the season; earning the fastest qualifying speed in 12 of 14 races and 5 wins during the season. Heading into the final race, we were leading in the point standings and were in a good position to earn the track championship. However, the night before that final race, I was taken by ambulance to the emergency room in extreme pain. I spent the entire night in the ER waiting to be seen by a surgeon. At 6:30AM, the surgeon had not been in to see me and I had a championship to win. I left the hospital, got approximately two hours of sleep, and then went to the race track for the season finale. I wasn’t going to let KT or any medical condition take this chance from me and our team. We worked hard that day and ended up earning the 2007 Limited Sportsman Division championship, our greatest accomplishment at that time. I was honored to be recognized as the crew chief of the year at the season-ending awards banquet. During the presentation, the host told the story about me leaving the emergency room to go race. To my surprise, pictures were included in the presentation showing me catching some ZZZs in our hauler on that race day.
That award was truly an honor. We were honored as champions that night. I was recognized for leading the team to a championship. I was honored for my hard work, success, and dedication despite a complex medical condition. I had devoted so many hours, sweat, blood, and tears into the sport that I had been a fan of my entire life. I never thought I would go from a fan to a team member. I didn’t envision transitioning from a team member to a champion crew chief. How did this come about? I followed my passion. I knew following this passion would cause me much pain, often agonizing pain. But, these were the cards I was dealt. KT is a reality and it’s not going away. I had two choices: let KT dictate my life or I could take the lead. I wanted to race. I was a racer. I challenge you to follow your passion. It may not take you to Daytona or Charlotte. It may not earn you a championship trophy or a unique award. But, if it’s something you desire/yearn to do, pursue it. Don’t regret it later. While KT can’t be ignored, don’t let it control you. Branch out.
Branching out into the racing world continued to open doors for me. Today, I also work as a radio broadcaster at one of our local race tracks. When we’re not racing, you’ll often hear me across the radio waves on many Saturday nights.
While I was able to do so many things despite having KT, there was something missing. I hadn’t found that one special person. For a long time, keeping my condition hidden probably contributed to that. In 2007, during a year that had a very promising start in my life as a racer that too would change. That summer, I began dating a beautiful redhead named Jessica. Obviously, as time went by, I had to disclose the fact that I have Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome. Being that I was very self-conscious about my appearance due to the condition, I was nervous about her reaction. To my surprise, my having this condition had no effect on her feelings toward me. To the contrary, she worked with me for the next couple of years to let go of the uneasiness I felt about my physical abnormalities.
It’s amazing now to think back on how difficult some everyday, simple things were for me due to my having KT. For a number of years, wearing shorts was out of the question. On the few times I did branch out and wear them, my mind was constantly worrying about what others would think and how many stares I would get that day. Jessica wouldn’t let me settle for that. She encouraged me daily. She wouldn’t simply let me answer, “Not today.” Today, that is a non-issue for me. Whether we’re together or if I’m out on my own, I’m proud to display my KT-affected leg. I’m happy when I get asked what my condition is or the more common, “What happened to your leg?”
As I began to open up about my condition, I wanted to raise awareness to others. While researching online, I ran across a website about the KT Foundation. Ironically, it was based in my home state.
Passion for racing… despite KT. Led me to cool places. Let you passions take you places. Don’t let KT hinder that.
More to come …