NASCAR, like almost all sports, is based on competition. It’s all about the team with the fastest car, the best setup, the most points and wins. As human beings we love competition. This is exactly why we pick a favorite driver, a favorite car. It gives us a reason to watch on Sunday – to see our driver beat the other 42 guys on the track.
While there may be that one guy that you would just love to see lose more than the others, there is no denying that just being out there takes a great deal of courage.
At this Sunday’s Pepsi 400 televised on ESPN from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Edwards and Johnson will bring a different kind of courage to the racetrack – Beads of Courage.
Developed in 2005, the Arizona-based nonprofit, international program provides innovative, arts-in-medicine supportive care programs for children coping with serious illness.
Inspired by her clinical practice and time spent as a camp nurse at a Paul Newman Hole in the Gang Camp, Jean Baruch started Beads of Courage, Inc.
She says that the joy children received through making things with beads and by wearing them and sharing them with their friends intrigued her. Baruch then translated this into a meaningful intervention that would help kids acknowledge their courage and with the financial support of family and friends, she piloted the program at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in 2004 and it has been a huge success ever since.
The program provides children with a strand on which to place their beads, a bead color guide and a membership card.
The “beads of courage” serve as symbols of courage that mark a milestone in the child’s particular path of treatment. The child is given a bead for each milestone, such as a first hospital visit or radiation treatment.
The beads provide the children with a tangible way of recording and telling their stories of survival.
Beads of Courage has partnered with hospitals across the United States, New Zealand and Japan and has lent their support to over 10,000 children in need.
The program’s success will be all the more evident on Sunday as the program’s logo will be featured on the “TV panel,” or rear panel of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion driven by Edwards.
As part of the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and Samsung’s Helmet of Hope, the logo will also be seen on the helmet of Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Launched in 2008, Johnson’s Helmet of Hope was started to provide fans and media members with the chance to nominate a charity of their choice to be featured on Johnson’s helmet during the Pepsi 400 race at Auto Club Speedway.
This year’s program focuses on children in need in the U.S. and provides ten selected charities with a $10,000 grant and a spot on the “helmet of hope.”
Beads of Courage was nominated by Becca Gladden, of Insider Racing News, and was chosen by the program to be featured during Sunday’s race.
Edwards first discovered the Beads of Courage program while visiting the Aflac Cancer Center in Georgia, a hospital that utilizes the Beads of Courage program.
Just like Baruch, the colorful beads and the joy they brought to the children intrigued the Sprint Cup driver.
During his visit to the hospital, Edwards was given a strand of beads from a child named Dalton to wear for luck. At that Sunday’s race, Edwards wore his “beads of courage” and went on to win the race.
In showing their support for the Aflac Children’s Cancer Center of Atlanta and Beads of Courage, the No. 99 Aflac Racing car will have a new paint scheme for Sunday’s race, featuring the logos of both organizations.
Also, in honor of their commitment to the cause and in celebration of the Aflac Duck’s 10th birthday, Aflac has announced that they will support Beads of Courage with the creation of the Wingman Bead.
According to the Aflac Racing website, the Aflac Duck has come to symbolize Aflac’s focus on pediatric cancer treatment and research.
“Who doesn’t love the Aflac Duck?,” said Baruch, “He is fun, and a highly visible iconic symbol. I personally think he looks great wearing Beads of Courage.”
The hope behind the Wingman Bead is that it will serve as a reminder to kids that they are never alone in their fight for life.
On Sunday, Edwards and the entire Aflac Racing Team will wear the Wingman Bead as a symbol of their support and a reminder to the children that they are never flying solo.
By visiting www.beadsofcourage.org, for just a $5 donation anyone can sponsor a Wingman Bead for a child coping with a serious illness. For $25 donors will provide five children with a Wingman Bead and will also receive their own bead as a reminder of their generous donation.
Each bead is packaged with an Encouragement Book that explains the meaning behind the Wingman Bead and provides the children with fun activities for those long hospital stays.
“Our hope is to get a Wingman Bead to every child in the Beads of Courage program” says Baruch.
Hopefully with the help of Aflac Racing, the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and Samsung’s Helmet of Hope and the thousands of race fans at Sunday’s Pepsi 400 at Auto Club Speedway, every child in the program will have a Wingman.
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to bring the Beads of Courage program to NASCAR once again in honor of all the kids we support, many who are also motorsports fans,” explains Baruch.
She further explains that having Beads of Courage recognized by NASCAR sends a strong message of support to the children – a message that they have an entire audience supporting them in their journey of life and treatment, a flock of wingmen so to speak.