On Saturday, NASCAR driver Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Ford twisted into a fiery contortion in a horrifying crash at the Go Bowling 400 in Kansas. He was cut out of the car and airlifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center. His team released a statement on Sunday revealing that Almirola had fractured his T5 vertebra.
On Wednesday, three days after his release from the hospital, Almirola walked very stiffly up the red carpet with his wife, Janice, at Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex’s “Catwalk for a Cause” charity event.
He had a promise to keep.
“Catwalk for a Cause” matches NASCAR drivers with young children with various forms of cancer for the event’s feature fashion show. Devin, a 5-year-old boy battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, had been scheduled by Pollex to walk down the event’s signature runway with Almirola on Wednesday night.
“We had already met Devin a few weeks ago,” said Almirola. “And I promised that I’d be here to walk with him. So I wasn’t going to let him down.”
Almirola was in obvious pain from the wreck and had to get permission from a doctor to walk in the show.
“I can walk a little bit. ... I’ve got a broken back, and one of my vertabra is crushed in half,” he said, dryly. “Besides that, I’ll live.
“But it’s a lot easier to come here and deal with the pain, knowing what all of these kids are going through, being able to put up with a few hours of discomfort to support them.”
Almirola and Janice are especially drawn to charitable events that benefit children’s health and support systems from various medical institutions, because their daughter, Abby, contracted RSV, a respiratory illness, when she was three weeks old. The Almirolas spent a week in the NICU at Levine Children’s Hospital.
“The care that we received there, and the attention to our daughter, and all of the doctors. ... Everything was phenomenal. We have really felt that tug at our hearts for the last several years. ... We didn’t want to (stop that support) just because I broke my back!” he joked.
When Almirola and Devin’s turn to strut – or, in Almirola’s case, gingerly step – down the runway came, the crowd of 650 guests and donors’ polite clapping turned into a roar of support.
Devin is a huge Carolina Panthers fan, and so at the top of the runway the trio – Almirola, Devin and Janice – pulled Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s signature “Superman” touchdown celebration pose.
With Almirola by Devin’s side, it was all too fitting.