I promise to someday write a full-fledged story about quarter midget car racing, because it looks like great fun. But this story, while set in that world, is about family — in particular, a sister looking out for her brother.
The brother is Jeremy Grim, a 36-year-old from Orefield who was, almost literally, never sick a day in his life until odd things started happening to him a couple of years ago: a facial paralysis called Bell's palsy, chronic joint pains, weakness.
They would come and go. Eventually, though, they became persistent enough for doctors to order blood tests, and these revealed something quite startling. Jeremy, a 1994 Parkland High School graduate, had leukemia.
Not only that — he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of blood cancer far more common in young children than in grown men.
"I was never really even in a hospital before," Jeremy told me as we stood behind the Schnecksville Fire Company on Tuesday night, where members of the Keystone State Quarter Midget Race Club were preparing for their weekly races and, this time, something extra — a fundraiser for Jeremy.
The sister in this story is Jessica Grim, 31, who is donating bone marrow to her brother in an effort to kill the cancer. This is something eight rounds of chemotherapy failed to accomplish. Jeremy said the bone marrow transplant, scheduled for Aug. 9 at Jeanes Hospital in Philadelphia, "is basically the last resort."
This whole story is a family affair. Jeremy's father, Larry Grim, is a co-founder and vice president of the race club and helped build the track. Jeremy and Jessica and their brother, Justin, all spent a good portion of their childhoods racing the tiny cars. The racing community as a whole is very tight, with families growing close over the course of seasons.
The woman who organized the fundraiser is Alicia Kumernitsky of Coplay, Jeremy's cousin by marriage. She reached out to dozens of businesses to donate items for a raffle, and got a terrific response, with scores of raffle prizes lining folding tables outside the track.
"A million people donated," she said, rattling off a few: Stew'sTire of Schnecksville, where her husband, Eric, works; the Lehigh Valley IronPigs; the Blue Mountain Quarter Midget Racing Club in Berlinsville, where Jeremy and Jessica raced as kids; Charlie The Pool Man, who presumably tends pools, and The Coil Men, who install beer systems.
The money is meant to help Jessica as much as Jeremy. She lives in Wisconsin and to undergo the procedure, she had to take unpaid time off from work and buy a round-trip plane ticket. Money from the raffle will help defray those expenses.
"We don't get to see her often so it's a shame it has to be for something like this," Kumernitsky said.
Jessica herself is eager to get the procedure done. Years ago she attended a music festival in Tennessee and saw a booth sponsored by a bone marrow registry organization.
"My uncle, who was also my godfather, died of cancer," she told me. "So I registered."
That entailed having her mouth swabbed for DNA and filling out some paperwork. There was every chance she could have gone the rest of her life without being a marrow match for anyone. She certainly never expected to be a match for her own brother — her healthy, never-sick-a-day brother.
After the transplant, Jeremy will have to spend about a month at the hospital in isolation, and a few more weeks recovering at home.
After that, he will undoubtedly be back at the race track on Tuesday nights. Among family.
•Want to help Jeremy and Jessica? Email Alicia Kumeritsky at email@example.com