Erika Newcome had her life flipped upside down on June 2, 2016 when she was diagnosed with stage 4 Sarcoma (Inflammatory Myofibroblastic Tumor) Cancer and given only a 20% survival rate. The now 22-year-old race car driver was forced to give up many things in her life, including her love for racing.
Newcome previously competed in a Sportsman Late Model Series at her home track, Columbus Motor Speedway. Until she was required to hang up the helmet to fight a more important battle.
Newcome’s battle off the track began when she developed a pain in her shoulder and just didn’t feel like herself. She went through physical therapy hoping to rid herself of the pain, but it only continued to worsen until she was recommended to have an ultrasound.
Following that ultrasound, the specialists working with her found a blood clot in the jugular vein in her neck. The discovery of the clot lead to further findings of cancer in the forms of tumors on nearly every organ in her 21-year-old body.
Despite the odds being against her, she fought the fight of all fights and was recently given a clean bill of health and informed that she could return to one of the things she loved the most. The journey wasn’t an easy one for someone with a large personality and a feisty attitude.
“I am excited to regain some sort of sense of normalcy because I am, well I was, 21 years old throughout this process and it was very difficult for me to have people treat me like a piece of glass. It was very frustrating,” Newcome told Speed51.com. “But throughout this whole journey I’ve become the women I aspired to be, and taking a year away from racing even helped me academically flourish.”
While away from racing, Newcome continued to attend school full-time at the University of Akron (OH) pursuing a double major in communication and business.
With a clean bill of health, she can now turn some of her focus on getting back behind the wheel with a whole new outlook and appreciation for the sport.
“I am really nervous, but I am really excited. Right now, I mean, when I got diagnosed everything kind of halted and it was very unexpected and I really took what I had in racing for granted,” she explained. “Like (Dale Earnhardt) Jr. said recently, I would show up for practices and was ready for it to be over and didn’t really want to be there and now everything is so bittersweet and I am so excited. My parents are over the moon excited, especially my dad. But we are all just really excited and I just cannot wait to be back at the race track.”
During her fight, the racing world rallied around the Pickerington, Ohio driver with immense support.
Newcome was part of the 2015 NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine at Langley Speedway (VA) where she met fellow Ohio driver, Ali Kern. Rev Racing showed their support for Newcome by running “#33Strong” stickers on their cars and driver Ali Kern changed her numbers to Newcome’s pink No. 33 for a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Columbus Motor Speedway (OH).
Being diagnosed with cancer at the young age of 21, was a surprise for Newcome; however, winning her battle was nearly as unrealistic as the diagnosis itself.
“It was really relieving when I found out I beat this. When I was diagnosed, I was given a fifteen to twenty-percent chance to live and I, survived thanks to modern medicine. I was beyond thankful, but I was really skeptical,” she explained. “I kept thinking ‘No, there has to be something else wrong with me. There just has to be more, you know?’ I was skeptical, it was all so exciting and it didn’t seem real. It took about a week for everything to become a reality, and for me to announce my comeback to the racing community.
The skepticism has since faded and the excitement has returned as the date has been set for Erika to suit back up and climb back behind the wheel of her race car. Her first race as a cancer survivor is set for June 18 at Kil-Kare Speedway (OH) with the 2017 Vore’s Welding CRA Late Model Sportsman Series.
-By Hannah Newhouse, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Jack Clay Photography