In his first race Sunday, in his first year competing in the Pikes Peak Soapbox Derby, 8-year-old Adam Walraven crashed his car.
"He had a tough start, and he said he didn't want to race again," said his father, John Walraven, of Colorado Springs.
It proved to be only a fleeting moment of discouragement for Adam, who in his short life has learned a bit about waging the long fight. Adam was diagnosed at age 2 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and went through years of chemotherapy. After a relapse and another round of chemo that ended last year, the second-grader is cancer-free, said his father. By the time his second chance on the hill arrived, Adam was ready - and went on to win the derby's "stock" division.
"When we crash in life, what do we do? We overcome," said Judy Faass, of Colorado Springs, who built and owns the car that Adam drove. For the past three years, Faass has recruited a young driver from among patients at Children's Hospital Colorado to take the wheel of the "John Lee Memorial" soapbox derby car, created to honor the memory of Lee, Faass' friend and a racing enthusiast, who died in 2006.
Adam Walraven was among 35 drivers ages 7 to 17 who put their rides and their skills to the test in the 10th annual derby, held downtown on Costilla Street. Racers competed in three categories: stock, for racers and cars weighing up to 200 pounds; super stock, up to 240 pounds; and masters, up to 255 pounds.
Cars are built from kits and must conform to strict weight and design specifications, said Jody Shanklin, of Monument, who helped inspect the vehicles for possible violations before the race. Shanklin also helped build a car for his son, Oliver, 18, a two-time derby champ in past years, and daughter, Grace, 12, who raced in the super stock division this year.
"The super stock (cars) are fairly easy to make," Shanklin said. "The biggest thing is the weight and the paint."
Winners in each weight category will compete with racers from around the world next month in the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio.
"I was surprised I won, because Grace (Shanklin) is really good," said Ally Claar, 11, who took the top spot in the super stock category in her first year competing in the higher weight class. It won't be Claar's first trip to Ohio. Last year, she took first in the stock division. "I feel really excited to be going to Akron."
After the awards ceremony, as Walraven prepared to leave with his family and a trophy more than half his size, fellow racer Danieljack Sawyckyj-Moreland stopped him for a few words, competitor to competitor.
"Good job," said Sawyckyj-Moreland, 8, pumping Walraven's hand. "I hope you win at Akron."
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364