Diagnosis of multiple sclerosis did not stop this truck-driving woman
June 4, 2004
The News Journal, Delaware
When Kelly Sutton was told she had multiple sclerosis at the age of 16, she was devastated.
Diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the most common form, Sutton spent some time in a wheelchair, but was determined to get back to her passion - racing.
In relapsing-remitting MS, there are unpredictable relapses when new symptoms appear or existing symptoms become more severe. It can last from days to months before there is partial or total recovery. The disease may be inactive for months or years.
Sutton developed an exercise regime, adhered to a strict diet and a daily drug therapy, and now finds herself competing full-time in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series.
Now 32, the Crownsville, Md., resident is looking forward to today's MBNA America 200 Craftsman Truck race at Dover International Speedway.
"We're pretty excited about it," said Sutton, a mother of two. "I guess you could consider this one of the home tracks for us since it's only about an hour and 15 minutes away from my house. I used to watch from the other side of the fence, so you can't beat this."
Sutton is not just a race driver, she also is a spokesperson. Her No. 02 blue, yellow and white Chevy Silverado is sponsored by Copaxone, a daily injection drug for people with MS.
"My MS does not affect me at all in the truck," she said. "I've been taking Copaxone for five years, and I've been relapse-free for five years and it's great to have them on board.
"With Copaxone I get to share my story with other MS patients since we travel all over the United States, and it's a shame that almost 50 percent of the people that have MS aren't on drug therapy. We're just trying to spread the word and open up people's eyes to what MS is."
Sutton began riding motorcycles when she was 10, and moved on to racing go-karts at 12. Four years later, when she discovered she had MS, she was sidetracked from the race track for a little while.
It was not long before she was back at short tracks in Hagerstown, Md., and Manassas, Va.
Now she is trying to earn respect on the Truck Series. She has qualified for two of the five truck races this season. She finished 32nd at Atlanta, where she had transmission trouble, and 20th at Mansfield, Ohio.
Andy Houston, who is 17th in the truck points standings, said Sutton is just another driver on the track - though she is an inspiration.
"It's pretty cool to have a driver with what she's been through and to come out here and perform at the level she does," Houston said.
Sutton was awarded the 2003 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award by the Women's Sports Foundation.
It is given annually to a female athlete who exhibits extraordinary courage, shows the ability to overcome adversity and makes significant contributions to her sport.
"That was pretty humbling," Sutton said. "It was a really neat experience to be around so many famous women athletes."
Sutton hopes she is laying the groundwork for a successful career in NASCAR, but knows it will take some time.
"... It's very competitive this year. Not that it's not been competitive, but it's definitely stepped up a notch or two," Sutton said of the Truck Series. "But we're a new team and we're learning and we'll get there."
She had one definitive comment before strapping on her helmet and heading out onto the track for Friday's morning practice session.
"I want to show the country that when I put on my helmet, I'm just a
driver," she said. "I have MS, and I'm a woman, but I won't let either
stand in my way."
Copyright © 2004, The News Journal