An aging Austin-Healey on a Journey of Hope
They call her Grace, but she has more than 10,700 names scribbled on her shapely but slightly tattered body. A ride in her passenger seat has lit the faces and soothed the soul of more than 900 child cancer patients.
She is Amazing GraceShe is covered with the names of cancer victims and survivors.
Grace is a 1953 Austin-Healey 100riddled with rust. Baling wire, duct tape, zip ties and at least one piece of chewing gum hold her together, but what keeps her going is an invisible force to honor survivors and fighters of cancer. is a metaphor for cancer patients to show that they keep going in the face of adversity.
The epic of Grace began last year when Californian John Nikas cross-country in honor of her owner and close friend, Mike Newsome who had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Newsome andmember of the Austin-Healey Association of Southern California. Nikas is an editor at Vintage Racecar magazine.
In a story for Hagerty insurance website, Nikas said “One day while I was in Arkansas, I drove past a girl riding in the backseat of a car who had written on an envelope, ‘I’m 15. I have cancer. Will you talk to me?’ So I pulled over at the next exit and we talked for awhile,” Nikas said. “Her name was Amy de los Santos and she was just coming from chemotherapy. With her mother’s permission, she was the first kid with cancer that I gave a ride to. She was so happy in that car laughing and smiling. For those few minutes, she forgot she was sick.”
Nikas said that De los Santos asked if he would come back this year and take her to the prom. She drew a horse on the hood and wrote, “Go Like the Wind.” “We lost Amy in March,” he said.
“Losing Amy was a crisis of faith for me,” Nikas said. “I didn’t want to do this any more, didn’t want to see the car again. But then I realized Amy wouldn’t want me to quit.”
more than 38,500 miles visited more than 900 sick kids.
“You know you’re going die a little every day,” Nikas said about the experience of losing sick kids. “You’ll never get that back.” His facial expression gets rigid as he tries to hold back tears when he talks about how he and Grace keep moving, never stopping, as long as there are kids to be seen. It’s a journey he doesn’t relish, but he can’t stop. It’s as if some unseen force pushes him on, something even he doesn’t quite comprehend or understand. But it’s simple. “We never say no to a kid,” he said, meaning he and Grace. “We’ve never missed a kid who asked us to come.”
Once, in Tennessee, Grace and Nikas traveled gravel roads and thena trail through the woods to give a young boy a ride. His mom cried, saying, “You drove 2,700 miles to get to us and I can’t even get anyone to deliver a pizza out here.”
The longest drive was 41 hours. No top, windshield laid flat, face into the wind, Nikas drives bareheaded. They go fast so as not to miss a waiting child. Every day requires some repair.
Grace has become a surrogate for those whose name she bears. One father told Nikas that he was so inconsolable over the loss of his daughter, but once her name went onto Grace he began to cheer up as he watched her travel the country and visit kids. Grace gave her new life.
Grace may be just an old Austin-Healey, but she rides with the spirit of 10,000 souls who, like Amy de los Santos, propel her “like the wind.”
You can follow Grace each day at http://cc.ebay.com/drive-away-cancer/Drive Away Cancer has a Facebook page. Saturday, Aug 11, is national Drive Away Cancer Day.