A miracle in Joplin
The following true story of no small miracle at the late-September Guilty by Association Truck Show at 4 State Trucks was written by Debbie Zehrer, with her owner-operator husband Jeff proprietor of the 16 Ton Industries company marketing Jeff’s inventions. More about that here.
As vendors traveling from truck show to truck show across America, it’s not usual that we get the opportunity to witness the Special Olympics convoys. But at 4 State Trucks’ Guilty By Association Truck Show in Joplin, Mo., we got that opportunity on September 28 this year. There were 160 trucks in the convoy, and they helped raise more than $21,000 for Special Olympics. I believe that may be a record on both counts! Special Olympic athletes got to ride along with some of the drivers and wave to us all as they passed. We had the privilege of standing next to a bunch of other athletes who did not ride. It was in that crowd of athletes and their friends and family that the miracle began.
Karen Johnson, our sales executive for 16 Ton Industries, stood with me along the road, surrounded by dozens of others watching the trucks pull out and join the convoy. They were wheeling out from both sides all along the quarter-mile stretch in front of us. It was wonderful to witness this convoy, but even more exciting to see the looks of the Special Olympics athletes as they waved from the trucks. We heard people many saying “Cool!” or “Wow!” — quite often. There were lots and lots of smiles (including our own).
Then I heard one young man in a yellow t-shirt say to a middle-age gentleman standing next to him, “We came all the way for this.” I couldn’t determine if the young man was excited or disappointed.
The reply from the gentleman was, “Yes, it was a long drive.” He sounded exhausted.
The convoy grew and grew. I explained to those around me that there is a small competition each year between Walmart and Con-way to have the most trucks in the Joplin convoy. I further explained that there are several Special Olympics convoys at many shows across the nation, but this one supposedly set records in truck numbers and money. As the Walmart and Con-way trucks came by, there were many cheers.
As the last of the trucks pulled out, the middle-age gentleman spoke and said, “This is amazing! I can’t believe this.”
He went on to explain that he and his son drove 11 hours from Bowling Green, Ky., for the show. He introduced Karen and I to the young man in yellow as his son, Chase. He told us that Chase has been a huge fan of the Chrome Shop Mafia and Trick My Truck for years, that Chase was a special needs child and didn’t talk much — but he drew trucks. The father told us that Chase loves trucks and loves to draw them. He handed us a calendar full of Chase’s drawings. As soon as I saw, I searched out the owner of 4 State Trucks, Bryan Martin, and showed the calendar to him. Bryan was very impressed and asked to meet Chase. After the introduction we took a picture with Chase holding his calendar, Bryan’s arm around his shoulder. There wasn’t a lot of emotion on Chase’s face, but Karen and I could tell somehow that he was very excited.
Karen and I told them that we had to get back to our booth. Before we left, I asked Chase if he would like to see my husband’s inventions.
He ran up to me as I was walking away and said, “Sure, but only if we get back before the trucks come back.”
As Chase and I walked ahead of Karen and Chase’s dad, Chase leaned toward me. “My dad says I don’t talk,” he said, “but I do. He just talks all the time.”
That sentence is important to the miracle of this story. I was surprised but didn’t expect much more. After all, his father told us his IQ was only 55. I didn’t take his comment too seriously.
We showed them our wares, but Chase’s eyes kept wandering to all the trucks around us that didn’t join the convoy. His dad proudly told us how knowledgeable Chase was about trucks. He explained that he knows everythingabout trucks. I tried to engage Chase personally, but his responses were short and his father spoke up to explain whatever I was inquiring about. Chase gave me a copy of his 2012 calendar, and soon after, he and his dad left to watch the return of all the trucks.
After they left, I shared with Karen what Chase had told me on the way over. We left the calendar out to share with people as they visited our booth. Many hearts were warmed by Chase’s story. The front page of the calendar explains that Chase was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis at his birth in 1994 and Juvenile Diabetes at the age of 7. It further tells that Chase has had seizures since he was 11 months old. Chase’s seizures are under control when he draws. He decided to create the calendar from his drawings to help raise money for research at Vanderbilt University Medical Research facility in hopes of finding cures for both of his diseases. Karen and I were deeply moved.
That evening, as we were preparing to dismantle our booth and pack up our truck, we were surprised to see Chase and his dad return to our booth. I felt an overwhelming joy come over me that I couldn’t explain. I asked Chase if he had the opportunity to look inside any of the show trucks. His dad tried to answer, but I stopped him and said, “I wasn’t talking to you. I asked Chase.”
When I found out that Chase had not had the opportunity, I told him that I knew the driver of the Harley-Davidson Peterbilt on the corner and asked him to accompany me. He quickly joined me and began talking about all the lights on the trucks and trailers. He never looked back, and we never said anything about it to his dad. Luckily the driver’s door was open, and after the driver asked Chase to wipe his feet, he climbed up into the seat, put his hands on the steering wheel and looked all around. For the first time, I saw a smile on his face. He was where he’d only dreamed about being! He reluctantly climbed back down and stared down the long row of trucks with the smile still on his face. He asked if I knew any other truckers. I took my cue from that, and we continued on. As we walked down the row, Chase pointed out all the different models of trucks, telling me about air cleaners, tandems, axle spreads, LED lights, gear ratios, engine models, flatbeds, reefers, cattle trailers and vans. He was greatly anticipating the fast approaching dusk as the drivers were beginning to turn on their lights.
I didn’t know what was happening back at our booth, but I was ready to check on progress. I didn’t want Karen to have to clean up alone. I was surprised to find the displays, tent and everything almost all packed up. Chase’s dad, John, quickly pulled me aside and gave me a huge hug.
Through tears, he whispered over and over in my ear, “Thank you! You will never understand what you’ve just done. This has never happened before.”
I jokingly called him a liar. He’d told us earlier that Chase didn’t talk much, yet for the hour we were gone, Chase talked nonstop about trucks. John informed me that never before had Chase left his side willingly, yet with me by his side, Chase walked away and didn’t even look back.
Karen filled me in on the conversation that went on while Chase and I were off checking out trucks. She shared with John what Chase had told me earlier about not talking. As a mother who lost a special needs child at an early age, Karen understood the turmoil John was feeling. Earlier, she had reassured John, as Chase and I walked away, that he was safe with me. She informed him that I had years of experience working with people with special needs as a Special Olympics coach and volunteer and have a brother with Down’s Syndrome. John shared much with Karen about his role in Chase’s future. John and I had a small conversation about this little miracle we just took part in, but I stopped it short so we could finish packing up and get Chase back to the trucks now that it was fully dark.
Chase and I helped Karen and John finish loading the pickup, locked it up, left it right where it was and took off toward the music and more trucks. Karen and John took off in one direction and Chase and I went all over, checking out the trucks. We were an inseparable pair for the rest of the evening. I introduced him to dozens of drivers, got permission for him to climb up in about 15 trucks, and just enjoyed the time looking at them all lit up. He continued to talk about the trucks, but now he was beginning to open up about school, his best friend, his diseases, his thousands of drawings and his family. Not only was he smiling, but on several occasions he was laughing out loud and making Three Stooges noises. At one point I tripped and broke my sandal, and he laughed hilariously and shared that story with strangers along our walk. By this point, we were both beaming with big smiles. I was overjoyed that one little act of kindness had turned into what could possibly be a life changing experience for Chase and his dad.
There were three trucks that Chase had been eyeing up. One was his favorite color — a black Peterbilt. I approached the family that owned the truck and introduced them to Chase. We asked if he could sit inside. At first they said no, as it had a painted floor. But when I told them that Chase wasn’t able to ride in the convoy earlier that day, they quickly jumped up from their chairs and said if he took his shoes off, he certainly could climb in the driver’s seat. Chase eagerly agreed and raced to the front of the truck. Before I could look back, his shoes were off and he was wiping his socks off as he stood on the step. The owner started the truck up and Chase’s eyes widened. I cannot explain the look on his face when the owner encouraged him to step on the throttle. Chase was so very excited as his stocking foot stepped gingerly on the pedal. The owner told him to push harder. What a joy to see his face beaming with pride! I had to walk away to thank God for allowing me to witness this miracle. I left Chase sitting up in that truck talking to the driver as if they were old friends. There were tears in my eyes — tears of pure joy!
Saving the best for last, near the end of the evening I introduced Chase to two of the winners of the truck show. Chase had talked about these two trucks parked side by side several times already. He liked the big shiny tankers behind the beautiful trucks. I first introduced him to my friend, First Gear driver Brad “Nut Nut” Aldridge. Brad helped him climb up in the truck and I shared with my friend just a few of the amazing moments I’d spent with Chase. Brad hugged me and gently closed the door with Chase up in that truck. The interior LEDs were on, and Chase looked like he was glowing. It was indescribably beautiful. Again I had to wipe my tears and thank God for using me to make these moments possible. Brad told me he wanted to hear more about this awesome young man currently sitting in his truck. As Brad heard details of Chase’s story, he called his teammates over and I continued to share bits and pieces of my experiences with Chase and the trucks.
As I stood there with Brad and the others, Chase climbed out of the truck and walked off talking to a woman from Brad’s team. After a few minutes, I left Brad and went in search of Chase. I caught up to him as he was explaining to Karen and his dad, John, what he just experienced. John was once again in tears and thanking Karen and I for opening his eyes and helping his son to actually live his dream. John informed us that he had given up a lucrative career for something that would allow him to spend more time with his son. Chase called his grandmother and tried to explain to her all that just happened. We could hear the thrill in her voice from several feet away. A bit later he called his mother and he was literally pacing in circles as he tried to get all the words out.
He came up to me after the last phone call and clearly and loudly proclaimed, “This is the best vacation ever!”
The four of us walked back to the two tankers. It was then that I introduced Chase and his father to Paul Marcotte, owner of a beautiful Peterbilt. Karen and I had met Paul and his friends just days before, and we’d spent a lot of time together during the show. Paul was happy to take Chase around the truck. There sat Chase in a beautiful truck with the glowing trophy by his side. Paul asked him to honk the horn and Chase quickly grabbed hold and made us all shake in our boots. Chase climbed down and pictures were taken with Paul and the trophy. Chase was again beaming, laughing and chatting up a storm with Paul. I’m not sure whose face showed more pride. Paul? John? Chase? Karen? Me? What an amazing moment to end the night! Truly amazing!
The time I spent with Chase that night was only a few hours, but he went from a shy young man to an extrovert. Karen and I repeatedly heard from John how much we touched his life and his son’s life. While I have no doubt that may have happened, I know that Chase touched many lives that day, including several drivers, show attendees, vendors and staff at 4 State Trucks’ show. We feel so blessed to have been able to share that experience with them all.
The time and conversation between Karen and John helped John to see a clear vision for his son’s future. His role as Chase’s father will definitely change based on their experience at the show. John told us that his goal is to learn to drive a semi, load a trailer with Chase’s calendars and hit the road selling them with his son. I’m not sure that is a realistic possibility, but seeing the miracle God just worked in their lives, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday we see a black Peterbilt driven by John, pulling a van full of Calendars Can Cure drawn by his son, Chase.
We vow to follow up with Chase and John. In fact, my husband Jeff and I hope to find a run through Bowling Green in the near future and give Chase his long-awaited ride in a moving truck. We also hope that we can have Chase drawing pictures of trucks and selling 2013 Calendars Can Cure at our booth at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March. For more information on Chase and his calendars go to http://www.chaseharnage.org/ or http://www.calendarscancure.org.