County Star News Shamrock
A leap of faith turns to gift of grace – by CANDY FERRIS, Managing Editor
When I was given this assignment, it was once again a day when I was super busy and didn’t want to stop doing what I was doing to go interview a man who was broken down at Best Western Plus Shamrock Inn and Suites Motel who was driving across country for a cause. But, as usual, once again, God had other plans for me.
I was introduced to John Nikas from Huntington Beach, California, who was on his way to Monterey, California, after a 14-day road trip beginning August 15, 2011, to Charleston, South Carolina. His mission, he explained, was two-fold. A friend had recently been diagnosed with cancer and John was helping to raise money for the cause, but also more importantly, to show people across the United States that it IS possible to do the improbably and impossible despite the problems they encounter along the way.
You say there’s nothing hard in raising money for a cause or asking someone for a donation other than possible pride getting in the way of asking. You are right, but please take time to read the rest of the story.
John, who will be 41 in two weeks, took on the most challenging endeavor I have ever heard about. A retired vintage race car driver with no concrete plan in mind 14 days ago, Nikas took a 1953 Austin Healey 100 to the road “Driving Away Cancer”. Nikas said the car was non-running in any sort of way, rusted out, and he knew before starting his trek, the engine would not last very long. With lots of help from friends and several sponsors who donated parts, space and money to get it running, he left the Huntington Beach pier driving “Grace” (the car’s name) by police escort, by faith, and with God by his side. It was only shortly thereafter people began to hear of John’s plight and leap of faith, and encouraged others to follow his travels by setting up a facebook page, but it did not stop there. Along his journey, people began to ask if they could sign his car with their loved one’s name who had cancer or who had passed away with cancer. “People didn’t have any idea who I was and would ask me if I would let their small child go for a ride with me,” he stated in disbelief.
For those who don’t know, an Austin Healey is a two-seated vehicle, has no rooftop, and the motor is literally almost in your lap. With no covering, Nikas constantly traveled through severe weather along his journey. He was pelted with rain, hammered by hail, drove through freezing cold, extreme hot and everything in between. “At one time, it was so hot, plastic literally melted in the car,” John said.
While I was interviewing this incredibly excited but tired man, I learned the motor would not go any further upon his arrival in Shamrock. He told me he was waiting on a flatbed trailer to arrive from New Mexico. A 60-year old woman (whom he did not know) had called him the night before offering the trailer and also offering help to replace the blown motor in the car. Nikas explained to me that he would have to stop every 75 miles to add oil or would have to do a complete oil change to keep the car going. “The money or volunteers were always there to help replace parts, provide service or space to repair the vehicle. When the car parts broke, it was always in a safe place,” he commented.
“I began receiving phone calls with people offering services to keep me going,” he stated. I had a man call me from New York offering to fly me home.” Continuing, John went on to say, “This has been very hard for me in every way imaginable. My hair is bleached out, I am sunburned, and my hands are blistered, but it is important for people to see someone trying to do the impossible and improbable.” “I hadn’t planned or thought about how important this has become. When you see the names written on the car, the impact is amazing,” he continued.
In a touching moment for both of us, John began to tell me of mother’s who shared about their babies and children with cancer and of a 15-year-old girl who was diagnosed with desmoplastic small round cell cancer. The young lady asked if she could sign the car where she drew a horse’s head on the hood with the words, “Go With the Wind.”
At another stop, John was met by pastors from several different churches and a revival occurred right in his midst with a prayer service. “I have driven for miles and miles with no one else, no radio, anything. You have a lot of time to think. One night, the darkness enveloped me and I just began to cry,” he stated.
In a lighter moment, Nikas said that it was stated to him by one person that he “had the heart of a lion but the brain of a scarecrow”. Then in the next breath he told me, “Yesterday, there were two fires. One was just a flash but the other was pretty good”.
During the same day on Wednesday, August 17, weather beaten from extreme heat and riddled with exhaustion, somewhere east of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, John stopped to sleep for a short time. When he awoke, his head was laying on a pillow and a towel was draped over him to shield him from the sun’s exposure. As he told me of this experience, he only shrugged his shoulders to let me know that it was yet another way God was taking care of him. Neither the pillow nor the towel were part of his baggage. There was no explanation.
“People spend so much time living day to day that we fail to remember what a gift this is and have an impact,” he continued. “It’s doing something hard…those are the things you remember and look back on and be proud,” Nikas stated.
“The car is just a metaphor. This is my finest moment. We can look back and be proud with no quitting and not making it on our own. It’s having faith in God and not quitting. This is ultimately about faith and grace,” he said. With a tear in his eye, and a lot in mine, John stated, “This is so much more than I thought. The impact is so much more than I thought. It’s a lot like life…hills and valleys, beautiful views, strangers and attitudes…you just don’t know…but know you’re going to keep going. Everything is a miracle.”
As of this writing, John Nikas is now close to home. He planned no hoop-la along his way, however, his travels have since been covered by NBC’s “The Today Show” and many articles have already been written about his journey. “The only media coverage I expected was going to be by ESPN TV when I have been allowed to finish my journey on stage at the opening night of the Russo and Steele Monterey Car Auction,” he said.
Although John will finish his journey on national television, I can see his ride being far from over. The grace of God has definitely been poured out on him. He stated in a closing comment that since leaving Huntington Beach, two people who signed his car have since passed away.
In an update, the water pump went out on the car in Manteca, California, approximately 95 miles east of Monterey around 3 p.m. with an appointment on stage that evening. Did John make the show? A little later than scheduled, but yes he did. At approximately 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening August 20, John Nikas drove on stage of the Russo and Steele Monterey Car Auction in Monterey, California, withered and tired and emotions flowing.
John Nikas will probably never know the lives of the people he has touched and will continue to touch in the future, just because he took a leap of faith to do the improbable and the impossible. “You have to have faith and believe and everything will work out,” he concluded. This is one man I will never forget.