Written by Donna Bell and Photos by Donna Bell
So, it started like this.
It was 2011 and I was getting ready to head down to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the NASCAR Championship races. My friend Dottie Hicks who is in PR called me and asked if I would do her a big favor and follow the #40 Key Motorsports NASCAR Xfinity Series car all day, get her pictures and send them to her, as she was going to be stuck in the office and couldn’t make it to the track.
Two big things were happening that day. The first was that young driver TJ Duke was going to be driving that #40 car qualifying for his NASCAR license. HUGE deal!
The second was that the car was being ‘sponsored by Angels & Warriors. Dottie told me that this is a non-profit group about childhood cancer and she wanted me to also get pictures of the ‘Warrior’ Orly Salvat. Dottie said that his parents would be there and that they would fill me in on the details because, of course, she was busy with pre-race details and had to go, bye!
So race day comes and I’m at the track early because I take my friendships seriously and I love anything to do with racing and I had to go find the Key Motorsports hauler. I walk up and introduce myself and why I am there and get started ‘working’ if you want to call it that. Trust me it was truly my pleasure.
Hanging with the car, Duke, his dad Terry and the crew as we go thru tech inspection practice, qualifying and I was on top of the pit box for the race. Oh, by the way, Duke did get Qualified for NASCAR License. Boom!
As we are heading back to the hauler after the race I am going to meet up with Orly and his parents to get pictures of Orly in the race car. Come to find out Orly had just finished chemotherapy and was too weak to hang with the team during the day. He and his parents had been offered to stay in one of the Cabanas above the garages. Oh wow, that is why he is called ‘the Warrior’.
So here comes this beautiful family and slightly shy Orly. Well, if you know NASCAR you know it’s about family. The crew just took over and showed Orly how to get into the car and that “yeah, dude, we want you to climb on in there”, talking to him saying “‘yeah, that windshield is pretty dirty after a race, hun?”
Then Orly starts to relax and enjoy the ‘ride’ and they put the steering wheel back on for him and he grabs it and I ask him to give me a wave for the crowd… and he does with a big smile.
His mom, Cindy Salvat and I get to talk for a moment and she explains to me why they started Angels & Warriors. You see, at age 2 Sophia V. Perez was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome aka MDS, a rare form of leukemia. A few months later, in April 2010 she underwent a bone marrow transplant, however, little Sophia never left the hospital. After months of a strong fight, Sophia lost her battle in August 2010. She is now an Angel that will forever be remembered.
Orly Salvat was 7 years old when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Burkitt’s Lymphoma in May of 2011. He completed intense chemotherapy treatments and to date remains cancer free and is standing strong and brave.