Steve Young, of Patrick Springs, Virginia, wanted to do something to help a camp for sick children, but he didn’t know what to do until a higher power gave him direction.
“The Lord put it in my heart and I decided to go ahead and do what I could,” said the 58-year old retiree. “Some people do other things for a good cause – I’ve walked out of my comfort zone.”
Young said God told him to go walking seven years ago. Since then, he’s trekked more than 25,000 miles along highways and byways in the U.S. – telling people all the way about the North Carolina children’s camp.
“It’s brought awareness to the camp,” he said. “I’ve been interviewed by hundreds of newspapers and 25 to 30 TV and radio stations.”
Grace Baptist Church Pastor Caleb Barkley ensured that The Pocahontas Times would be added to Young’s long list of interviewers. Last Friday, the pastor was southbound on Route 28, returning home from work at Green Bank Elementary School. He saw Young hiking down the road with a large backpack and a cardboard sign strapped to the pack that read, “Hebrews 13:2.”
Barkley stopped to see if the hiker needed any help.
“I saw the backpack and I thought it was a hiker from the Allegheny Trail,” he said.
Young said he doesn’t solicit rides, but he doesn’t turn them down, either.
After Barkley learned why Young was walking, he offered the hiker a place to rest for a day or two. Young accepted the pastor’s hospitality and talked about Victory Junction Camp during church services on Sunday.
The Virginia backpacker has accomplished his goal through many similar encounters.
While washing his clothes in a laundromat in Watertown, New York, Young met a pastor who invited him to stay. During that visit, he met with 10th Mountain Division soldiers from nearby Fort Drum, who jokingly told him their backpacks were much larger and heavier than his.
“I told them that might be true, but I bet they never walked for a year straight with that pack on their back.”
During a stop for a meal at a Burger King in Illinois, Young met former Congressman and gospel singer David Phelps, who arranged for local interviews. During a walk through New Mexico, he met outdoor TV show host Doc Rolston, who helped publicize the camp. A weekend visit with a 60-member church in North Carolina resulted in a $1,200 donation to Camp Victory Junction.
Young grew up in South Florida, where he worked as an auto body repairman, welder and machinist. Although living in an urban area, he always considered himself a country boy. He inherited a love of working on cars and racing from his father, who worked for the Postal Service.
From the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, Young built race cars and raced in the All Pro Series, which sometimes attracted superstar drivers from the NASCAR circuit, such as Rusty Wallace and Kyle Petty.
“Those guys would usually win,” said Young. “We said, ‘hey, those guys are here to take our paycheck.’”
Winning an All Pro Series race netted around $5,000, according to Young.
Young learned about Victory Junction Camp through his connections with the racing community. The camp was the brainchild of Kyle Petty, the same brilliant racer who Young raced against two times in the All Pro Series.
A fixture on the NASCAR circuit for more than 25 years, Kyle followed in the footsteps of his father, Richard, and grandfather, Lee. Recognized as a genuine philanthropist, Kyle Petty has dedicated much of his time away from the track to helping others. The annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America has donated more than $15 million to worthy organizations.
In October 2000, the Petty family partnered with another hard-working philanthropist, actor Paul Newman, to launch their most ambitious project to-date, Victory Junction Camp. The camp was founded in honor of Kyle’s son, Adam Petty, who died in May 2000 during practice for a NASCAR race.
According to the camp’s website: “The mission of Victory Junction is to enrich the lives of children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses by providing life-changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun and empowering, in a safe and medically-sound environment, at no cost to campers and their families. The program offers a week of exhilarating, challenging and nurturing fun under comprehensive, but unobtrusive, 24-hour medical supervision. Activities include arts and crafts, woodshop, an adventure course, archery, swimming, boating, fishing, horseback riding, music and theater, and a special NASCAR-themed program area complete with race cars, racing simulators, and racing gear.”
Since its opening in 2004, the camp has provided a fun and exciting camp experience for hundreds of sick kids.
In 2008, Young moved to the Virginia countryside in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“I honestly wish I had moved much sooner,” he said.
As he walked out of Marlinton toward Virginia last Monday, Young was on the home stretch of what likely will be his final long-distance walk.
“My ex-wife and daughter are not real happy with me, because of safety reasons,” he said. “They understand my heart, they just want me to do shorter walks.”
Young’s worried daughter persuaded him to carry a cell phone on his last two walks.
The Virginia hiker spent a total of 86 months walking on five walks. His first and longest hike, started in 2007, covered 24 states and nearly 12 months. Young wrote a book about his experiences, “One Man’s Journey of Hope and Faith,” which will be published soon. For more information on Victory Junction Camp, see victoryjunction.org.
About that sign on his backpack? Hebrews 13:2 reads: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”