Thrill of the Ride

by Rebecca Hanlon

Make-A-Wish® Foundation of the Susquehanna Valley

Behind the wheel of a car, Justin Nicarry gets a rush of adrenaline. The wheel in his hands, his foot hovering over the pedal and his hand on the gear stick, the Northern Lebanon High School senior forgets about the cancer that racks his bones.

“I just like the feeling of going fast,” he says from the hospital, where he’s receiving one of his last chemotherapy treatments now that his health care providers believe he’s beaten the Ewing’s sarcoma – a rare cancer that is found in and around the bones. “I was never into racing as much as I was into the idea of just going as fast as I could.”

The freedom Justin found through speed was one that the Make-A-Wish Foundation, of which the local chapter covers Philadelphia, Northern Delaware and the Susquehanna Valley, hoped to help the young man find again.

His adventure started in September, when Make-A-Wish arranged for Justin to meet stock-car driver Bobby Gerhart at Mahoning Valley Speedway. While Justin thought he was just going to watch the race, he had no idea that he’d be ending the night driving around the track, says his dad, Joel Nicarry.

When an announcer approached Justin and his family in the box, they were invited to the center of the track where Justin was given a racing uniform. Gerhart then invited the 18-year-old to drive a few laps around the track.

“The whole event was just a treat for everyone,” Joel says. “I can’t think of too many teenage boys who would turn down an offer like that.”

But the real wish Justin had was to do something only a select few have the chance to accomplish – to participate in the three-day program at the Bobby Ore School of Stunt Driving in Florida.

Led by retired Marine and former Florida State Trooper, Bobby Ore runs the program that has taught CIA and FBI operatives exactly how to drive like the stunt doubles in famous movies. Ore even drove the famous orange Dodge Charger known as the General Lee as it crashed through the side of a barn in the 2005 film, Dukes of Hazzard.

The Nicarry family flew to Florida in October for Justin’s big-wish experience, but after one day on the course, Justin’s health declined. Driving more than an hour north of where they were staying to a hospital where Justin could get help, the family knew that Justin wasn’t up to seeing his wish come completely true.

When Ore heard about what happened, he jumped in his truck and drove to the hospital where Justin was getting treatments and delivered the coveted T-shirt that people only receive upon completion of the program – and after performing Ore’s required sideways sliding trick.

“We had to promise that if we didn’t come back and finish that Justin would send the T-shirt back,” his dad says. “But Justin is a little too proud of that T-shirt to let it go.”

Even with plans to finish the driving course out of the question, Make-A-Wish made sure the Nicarry family was set up with comfortable accommodations and able to spend a day on the Daytona Beach boardwalk until Justin was healthy enough to come home.

With plans to return to the stunt school in either June or September, Justin hopes he can soon wear his T-shirt knowing he fully completed the program.

“We’re lucky that we believe Justin will be in good health after he finishes these final chemo treatments,” Joel says. “So many other families who participate in Make-A-Wish don’t have that kind of hope. That truly is the last big thing they get to do as a family. Through our experience, we have nothing but gratitude for what Make-A-Wish does for families. It’s nice to see that people who don’t know us care about us.”