CONCORD, N.C. – Champions come in every walk of life - and certainly are not limited to sports.
Dr. Lisa Tolnitch, founder of the Pretty in Pink Foundation, which works to ensure quality health care to breast cancer patients in need, found a new advocate for her "champions" - the survivors she continues to help throughout North Carolina - through the Kyle Busch Foundation.
On Tuesday night, Kyle and Samantha Busch hosted the first Project Pink: Protect Your Pair Party at 5Church in Charlotte to benefit Pretty in Pink. With the racing community's support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Busches felt compelled to be involved.
While it might have been easier for the 20-somethings to simply write a check, Tolnitch was blown away by the Busches' commitment and the outpouring of support from the NASCAR community.
"We started nine years ago to help women with breast cancer, who fall through the cracks between Medicaid and insurance," said Tolnitch, a surgeon who focuses exclusively on the treatment of breast disease. "We started it with the idea that we'd take care of 10 people a year in Raleigh and we're up to 1,600 in 80 counties.
"We're like the little engine that could - then Samantha Busch contacted us and wanted to pledge to help 12 people in the Charlotte area which is unbelievable. Samantha has tremendous energy which is really great. And NASCAR has such a presence. Already we've had a lot of feedback from the car being involved in the Kansas City race last weekend. I'm sure with Kyle being involved with the Monster car in the Dollar General 300, there will be even more."
Tolnitch estimates that the average breast cancer patient will have to endure more than $300,000 over the course of treatment. While caring for her "champions," Tolnitch wanted healing to be the focus - not the burden of the catastrophic costs of cancer.
While Tuesday's Project Pink bash proved to be a tremendous success, little did the 12 "champions" attending know that their medical bills will be fully compensated by the Kyle Busch Foundation through Pretty in Pink. The families will be guests of the Busches this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the big reveal on Friday.
"We didn't want these women making the decision to put food on the table or have chemo," Samantha Busch said.
"That's just not right. They're our neighbors - from Mooresville, Charlotte, Denver - women throughout our community. And they're fighters."
In the first year of the couple's involvement, they exceeded Tolnitch's goal - twice over.
Although the Busches have not had anyone in their immediate families afflicted with the disease, it was the battle of Amy Stein, Kyle Busch Motorsports' marketing manager, that inspired the couple.
"We had to do something more and 100 percent of the credit goes to Sam for organizing this effort and becoming associated with Pretty in Pink and its cancer patients," Kyle Busch said.
The Busches enlisted support from sponsor Monster Energy. On Friday, Busch will race in a pink Toyota with Stein and fellow cancer survivor Lauren Brown's (from Monster) names over the door of the No. 54.
Tuesday night's dinner - along with a silent auction - was just the culmination of a 10-month project. In two days, apparel supporting Project Pink sold out on RowdyBusch.com.
In conjunction with KBM's open house on Thursday, a mobile mammogram screening unit and informational fair were available free to fans to promote early awareness. Nine fans took the time to be screened - including and mother and daughter from Maryville, Tenn., who heard about the offer but had never had the opportunity for a mammogram.
And this weekend, the Busches will continue the awareness exhibit at Charlotte Motor Speedway in conjunction with Toyota Racing over the weekend.
"Kyle's fans have been amazing," Samantha added. "We've been blessed - but hearing all these stories, seeing their passion, they are such tough ladies, an inspiration to us all. They are more than survivors. They are champions."