HOYT LAKES – Caleb, a shy and contemplative 17-year-old, loves camping, listening to Polka music and watching NASCAR. Caleb likes living the life of a normal teenager, but has more difficulties to overcome than most. Shortly after birth he was diagnosed with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy and over time has been losing strength and mobility. Caleb can no longer lift his arms without assistance, and has lost the ability to walk, confining him to a wheelchair.
When Wish Coordinator Madeline Robinson of Kids Wish Network heard about Caleb and his dream of meeting Dale Earnhardt Jr., she quickly raced to the finish line coordinating an outstanding wish for Caleb to help celebrate his approaching eighteenth birthday.
The family was flown to Phoenix so they could attend a race at the Phoenix International Raceway and meet Dale Jr. before seeing him in action on the track. But before Caleb’s big day with his idol, the family had a couple of days to relax at the Crown Plaza Hotel and take in some of the city’s local sights.
Caleb’s landmark birthday was celebrated in a big way. First, he was invited to the raceway for a celebrity encounter of the racing kind. “It was cute, because they were both really shy,” said Caleb’s stepmother Mabel. “It was funny because when Dale Earnhardt Jr. came around the corner to meet Caleb, they were two people just peering at each other.” While they were shy, they had no problem talking about racing cars, their common love that brought them both together that day. It was a thrilling moment for Caleb being face to face with his racing idol. When it came time to say their goodbyes, racecar driver Robby Gordon spotted Caleb in his wheelchair and came over to greet him. By his side, Gordon brought Caleb to restricted areas for a personal tour of the garage where racecars were being prepped for the next day’s race. Caleb usually does not outwardly show his emotions, but in a moment of excitement, showed Gordon his enthusiasm by popping a wheelie for him in his motorized wheelchair.
The birthday celebration continued with dinner at the Rainforest Café. Devyan, Caleb’s server, constantly entertained him with stories and kept him laughing with his comedic routines. His stepmother said, “The waiter really took Caleb under his wing.” After dinner, Devyan gave Caleb a plush jaguar that he entertained him with throughout the meal. Caleb also received a gift from a Kids Wish Network donor who wanted him to have a very special birthday present. When Caleb opened the box, he uncovered a highly collectible Dale Earnhardt White Angel racecar. Caleb exclaimed, “Oh baby!” and then paused as he teared up thinking about all of the wonderful things he was experiencing.
The next day Caleb’s family headed back to the raceway to watch #8 work his magic on the track. Mabel said, “Every time Dale Jr. would come around the track, Caleb would grin and sit up in excitement. Each and every time he rounded the track he’d perk up again. We most enjoyed just watching Caleb.”
“My most memorable aspect of Caleb’s wish was seeing him with Dale Jr.,” said Mabel. “It gave him a boost and made him feel very special. He can’t wait to wear his autographed shirt to school and show the pictures to all of his friends.” While Caleb will still have to deal with the challenges of battling an illness, Caleb can always speedily think back to his wish when he was made to feel like the celebrity in the driver’s seat.
Kids Wish Network would like to graciously thank all of its gracious sponsors: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Phoenix International Raceway, The Crown Plaza Hotel, The Rainforest Café, American Airlines, Wheelchair Van Rental and Dave Mancak for donating Dale Earnhardt memorabilia.
Kids Wish Network is a nationally recognized non-profit organization whose mission is to grant wishes to children who have life-threatening illnesses. If you know a child between the ages of 3 and 18 who may be in need of their wish granting services, please call (813)891-9374 or toll free at (888)918-9004. You can also visit its web site at www.kidswishnetwork.org.