Family enters road rally to raise funds

  • Friday, June 13, 2014

Leslie Cantu/Journal Scene Lucas and Kayla with their mom Michelle Helferich.

As parents of a child with Down syndrome, Michelle and Joe Helferich have done a lot of fundraising races.

But an email from the LuMind Foundation about its Race for Research caught Michelle Helferich’s eye as something unusual.

The inaugural race, happening next week in North Carolina, is no walk or marathon. Billed as a “road rally,” the three-day event will feature teams driving their cars to NASCAR landmarks and then participating in scavenger hunts.

Oh – and the cars will be covered in NASCAR-inspired vinyl.

“It just seemed like a fun fund- raiser, “ Helferich said.

The NASCAR element is a bonus for her husband, a NASCAR fan.

NASCAR driver David Ragan and his wife are honorary co-chairs of the race; Ragan’s brother has Down syndrome.

The Helferiches, the “official” team, will be accompanied by Kayla, 10, who has Down syndrome, and Lucas, 6.

Kayla is a rising fifth-grader and Lucas a rising first-grader at Fort Dorchester Elementary School.

For Kayla, the allure of the road race is what comes at the end of the night: a hotel room. She loves staying at hotels, her mom said.

Kayla has some experience with travel. Three years ago, she traveled to Chicago to win a “most beautiful eyes” contest sponsored by Prevent Blindness America.

Her winnings included a $25,000 college scholarship.

Helping people with Down syndrome reach for future opportunities is what the Race for Research is about.

Down syndrome is one of the most common genetic conditions yet one of the least-funded for research, Helferich said.

As research interest in Down syndrome has grown, however, people are realizing that people with Down syndrome can do a lot more than they had been credited with, she said.

The money raised by the road race will go toward cognition research so people with Down syndrome can improve learning, memory and speech, and through those improvements go further in school, become more employable and avoid early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Even a 15 percent improvement could make a huge difference in people’s lives, Helferich said.

All that, of course, is far in the future for Kayla. What’s ahead for now is a great family trip having fun on the road. And hotel rooms.

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