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High-end cars bring hope for childhood cancer patients
Rides to Remember pic 1
Austin Mabry waits his turn to choose a high-end car for a trip around the track at Atlanta Motorsports Park over the weekend. - photo by Amy French Dawson County News

Austin Mabry had completed two of his three in-car driving sessions needed to get his driver's license when the process was abruptly set aside.

The teenage boy with expensive taste was looking forward to getting behind the wheel on his own when he was diagnosed with a rare soft tissue sarcoma in September of 2015.

"Our world was turned upside-down," said Lisa Mabry. "You don't think it will happen to you."

The now 18-year-old Mabry is without one of his legs, hip and part of his pelvis as a result of the treatment of the rare form of cancer.

There are still plans for Mabry to eventually drive and whether or not he is able to drive a traditional vehicle or a specially equipped one is yet to be determined due to sciatic nerve damage from his surgeries, according to Lisa.

On Saturday, the Mabry family-Austin, Lisa, dad Danny and brother Taylor-got to spend the morning at Atlanta Motorsports Park for the 12th annual Rides to Remember.

The event brings together childhood cancer patients, like Mabry, along with their siblings and some very high end machines.

"This is the kind of thing I always enjoy seeing," Mabry said. "I've always enjoyed cars."

Car enthusiasts-also with expensive tastes-from all around the Atlanta area descend on AMP in Dawsonville to give the patients enthralling rides around the track reaching speeds of up to 90 miles per hour.

"We probably could've went pretty fast, but the car in front of us was a little slow," Mabry said with a grin about his first turn in a Ferrari.

"There is the one I want to go in next," he said eyeing a Cobra as the cars pulled through for the next set of rides.

The event was born years ago when a family member from the Ferrari Maserati of Atlanta dealership was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.

"That inspired all of us to come up with a way to give back to the kids," said General Manager Will Campbell who gets choked up talking about it and its impact on the families of the cancer-stricken kids who participate.

"Here we are 12 years later, with 180 kids and just under 500 people. It's the biggest one we've ever done," he said. "There are people helping or driving that have been involved every year since the first year."

Campbell said that the group recognized early on the importance of including siblings as they frequently get forgotten once a diagnosis is delivered.

"It's a fun day for the child with cancer but it's also a fun day for their siblings and their families," said Nancy Burrow, special events and communications manager for Camp Sunshine.

Local sponsors partner with the dealership to raise funds through the event for organizations including CURE Childhood Cancer, Camp Sunshine and Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities.

"Community support is vital for us to be able to support the families that we do," said Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities Director of Special Events Caroline Tate.

Families that are 50 miles or further away from a treatment center are able to stay in Ronald McDonald House for little to no cost. The Mabrys have been residents on and off over 15 months as Austin received treatment at Scottish Rite.

"For an 18-year-old to ride in one of these cars is amazing," Tate said.

Families are able to participate in activities like a mobile video game theater, bubble station, face painting, balloon art and the like while they wait their turn to hit the track.

"Treatment is terrible. It's hard. It hurts, but for them to just get to get away from it for a day, it's fantastic," said Mark Myers who is the director of communications for CURE Childhood Cancer.

The kids get to peruse row after row of exotic vehicles and make their choice.

Mabry's second ride was in a $100,000+ Maserati Granturismo.

His dad, Danny, managed a back seat spot for the ride.
Mabry has now been cancer-free for 16 months and crossed the stage to get his diploma at Franklin County High School last month. There was not a dry eye in the place according to his mom.

Mabry's goal was to use his walker and take the diploma himself-and he did.

He said he looks forward to starting school at a technical school this fall to knock out his core classes before moving on from there.