Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blake Koch goes pink – In honor of his mom

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Blake and Angie Koch
Credit:DayStar.com

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Many professional sports teams are donning their pink gear in support of the effort, but the personal stories are what make this cause even more honorable to support.


Blake Koch, contender for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year, holds breast cancer awareness near and dear to his heart. His mother Angie has battled the horrible disease twice now and thankfully can say she is a survivor.


For the second time this year, Koch’s No. 81 DayStar.com car for MacDonald Motorsports will be a pink tribute car in honor of all women battling breast cancer, fueled by Blake’s desire to support his mother.


I had the extreme privilege to speak with Blake, his mother Angie and wife Shannon before this exciting weekend for them. As you may remember, Blake is not the only Koch racing this weekend, Shannon is competing in the Better Half Dash on Saturday.


Angie and Blake Koch sit down to share “The Journey”
Amanda Ebersole (AE): Is it hard for you to be coming forward and telling such a personal side to your life?


Blake Koch (BK): No, not so much. I do not have a problem to share my stories or talk about things that are personal because you never know how things can effect someone else’s life, so I try not to be too personal about anything.


AE: You are strong in your faith, I know for you and your family to deal with the diagnosis and treatments of cancer had to be difficult. How did you find the inner strength, through your faith, to deal with so much?


BK: Faith is probably 100 percent of how I have gotten through all of this. Knowing that God has a plan and he slowly reveals it to us, to which my mom, dealing with her breast cancer issues and is now a survivor, can talk to people about her struggles now that it happened. She is able to help others who are currently going through it. I am racing in NASCAR because of God’s opportunities for me. We are able to put breast cancer awareness in front of millions of people and probably would not have if my mom did not have breast cancer. There are so many ways to look at it, just the fact that I put my life in God’s hands and completely trust in the decisions and plans he wants to make. His will be done is always my prayer, so no matter what that looks like I have to have faith that it will be for a certain reason.
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Blake's No.81 DayStar.com breast cancer awareness car. (With mom Angie)
Credit: DayStar.com

AE: In May of this year, you also ran a pink car and your mom was by your side for that race. What does it mean to you to have her there to support you as you head to the track this weekend?


BK: It was great the first time and it will be great this time also. It’s a repeat of the first time at Charlotte in May when we had our pink breast cancer car. Daystar was releasing the CD "Set Free" and it is based on people going through life-changing illnesses. It really fit the picture, with my mom being there, having breast cancer and her story and the song. The car this time is perfect timing because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and my mom just had her last reconstructive surgery last month, so right now she is fully recovered. It is cool to have the car again as she is fully recovered to compare to last time when she was still coming off her double mastectomy.  

AE: I guess that makes you reflect and see how far she has come?  

BK: Yes absolutely! Just the timing of everything and how that looks is something I try not to miss. The first breast cancer race, she just had major surgery, and this race she is 100 percent recovered. It is pretty cool how God works!


AE: I know this is a big weekend for you, not just because of the breast cancer tribute car but because your wife Shannon is driving in the Better Half Dash on Saturday. What kind of nerves do you have watching her strap into a car, since the shoe is on the other foot?


BK: I did get a little nervous watching her! We went and practiced, we had practice days and I got pretty nervous just seeing her take off in that car that she could get hurt in and is going fast enough to get hurt. She is smart and has been watching me race for a long time and listens to the radios, I just hope she makes the right decisions but I just hope she has fun. This is for charity and it is to support some great causes. If Shannon wins, her support is going to Motor Racing Outreach (MRO), which is our traveling church and is very important to us.


A mother and a survivor


The woman behind the cause so near and dear to Blake’s heart, Angie, also answered a few questions about her ordeal.


AE: Opening up and telling such a personal story to NASCAR fans especially, is the hope that you can maybe touch that one person also battling with the same situation?


Angie Koch (AK): I do not mind telling my story because I hope I can touch somebody’s life or answer a question they have when you are dealing with breast cancer, chemotherapy and losing your hair. I do not mind talking about it at all.


AE: In what way did your faith help you through your battle with breast cancer?


AK: A lot of prayer definitely did help, being with my family and my son Blake and he prayed for me and we prayed together. That just really helped.


AE: After watching your video, I understand that Blake shaved his head in a show of support after you lost your hair from chemotherapy. How important was a token of support like that for you at such a hard time?


AK: That was very sweet that he did that for me, to show me that I am not alone. It was very touching and cute that he did that for me.


AE: This weekend, for the second time, Blake is honoring you with a pink race car. As the mother of a NASCAR driver, how do you feel with such a large show of support?


AK: I love it that Daystar, Blake and MacDonald Motorsports have done this not only for me but for all the other women out there that are battling breast cancer, have battled or for those who did not survive. It is just a huge, huge honor that they are doing this.  

AE: I guess as a mother, it has to be a very proud moment?  

AK: Oh my gosh, I am so proud. It’s a little overwhelming, having all this going on and knowing that it is for me. So it is overwhelming and it just warms my heart.


AE: My most important question for you: Many people have someone they know who has breast cancer. Often the case is that someone does not know what to do or say to someone battling such an illness. In your opinion, what is the best thing to do/say to someone with cancer?


AK: I know that the most common thing is that people do not know what to do or say and sometimes you do not get those phone calls you are waiting to receive. In my personal opinion, send a really nice card to the person or just talk to them. Say hi, they just want someone to talk to and know they are praying for and care about you and what you are going through. Just don’t be quiet and not call – just call, it does not matter what you say! Send a card, I loved receiving cards.


'Better half' takes to the track



Rounding out my Koch family interviews, I once again got to speak to Shannon. I spoke to Shannon just weeks ago, after being announced that she was participating in the Better Half Dash. (Read the interview here: Shannon and Blake Koch: A Love Story) Now just two days away, I spoke to Shannon as the nerves fire up.


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All ready for the Better Half  Dash!
Courtesy of Shannon Koch

AE: Are you ready?


Shannon Koch (SK): I am as ready as I will ever be I guess! I am super nervous!!!


AE: How has everything gone with practice, will you be ready when the green flag drops on Saturday afternoon?


SK: Yeah, we know what to do, its just hard to do – we were practicing by ourselves on the track forever and it has been drilled in our head the line we have to run, when to get off the gas, when to lift and all that. Its hard when there are 14 other girls running the same line, so we will see what happens during the race.


AE: I guess now you understand what Blake goes through each week?


SK: Yes! (laughs) I give him tons more credit now that I know how it works.


AE: Has Blake helped you prepare?


SK: Yeah, he walked me through the track and showed me where to lift. These cars only have rear brakes so if we use the brakes, we will spin out, it is kind of hard to process that if I cannot the brakes as I go into the corner. It works though, you lift and get back on and he has been a huge help.


AE: Scoop out your competition – who is the ladies to watch for?


SK: Wendy Venturini will definitely be a hard one to beat. Jami McDowell is really fast, all the girls are really surprisingly good! (As the male better halves will sit grinning ear to ear saying that is my woman!) It will be tough and really exciting, we do not qualify, we just draw numbers for our starting positions.


AE: Now to tie the whole weekend together; You are driving a car identical to Blake?


SK: Yes, it is just really exciting!


Tune into the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Friday, October 14 at 7:30 to see Blake’s No. 81 car hit the track in the Dollar General 300 Miles of Courage.


A special thank you to Blake, Angie and Shannon Koch for speaking to me on such a personal topic – I am honored to share your story.


NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two weekly columns with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless.Amanda also expanded her area of coverage to include exclusive interviews, brought straight to the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews click here.. Feel free to follow and contact Amanda via Twitter.

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