A Meeting of Champions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay greets Chloe Alexander, a Riley Champion who overcame Ewing’s Sarcoma.
Riley Champions
Twelve-year-old Chloe Alexander is waiting in line, smiling, inching her way closer to 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“Chloe! Here’s your hat,” her mother, Jerri Lynn Alexander, shouts across the room, tossing a white Indy 500 cap. It glides across a table and stops within an arm’s reach of Chloe.

Hat in hand, Chloe makes her way to Hunter-Reay and smiles for a picture. But she forgets to have him sign the hat. So she waits while seven other children meet the driver, then returns to get the autograph. Although Chloe isn’t a huge racing fan—she’s been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one other time—she chose meeting Hunter-Reay over a trip to Holiday World with the student council from her school.

Hunter-Reay met with several children and their families on Wednesday at the Speedway. Hunter-Reay is sponsored by Butterball, and as part of this deal, the company has agreed to make donations to Hunter-Reay’s charity “Racing for Cancer,” including a portion of Butterball sales from Kroger stores. This year, they partnered with Riley Champions, an initiative that raises awareness and funds for the Indianapolis children’s hospital, to provide a memorable experience for kids in the program.

Out of 80 nominees, Chloe was one of a handful picked by the Riley Children’s Foundation to be a Riley Champion in 2016, based on her commitment to giving back to others. A lot of the nominees do fundraising on their own—Chloe has sold t-shirts—in addition to sharing their stories at Dance Marathons across the state that support Riley. Chloe has participated in two of those.

She wants to do all she can to help the kids currently staying at Riley, because she knows what it’s like to be stuck in a hospital bed, wishing she were someplace else.

Chloe was 10 years old when she found out she had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer that mainly affects children. It started as a pain in her left shin. Then it moved to her lower back. And then to her right leg. Her mother chalked it up to growing pains. Or maybe shin splints. After all, Chloe was involved in gymnastics, dance, and softball. Jerri Lynn didn’t let herself get too worried, but the pain soon started affecting Chloe’s daily life. “Chloe had some trouble kicking over on her back walkovers with one of her legs,” Jerri Lynn remembers a woman telling her after one of Chloe’s gymnastics practices. “She kept complaining about some leg pain.”

While Hunter-Reay was on his way to winning the Indy 500, Chloe and her mom were struggling to find the source of her alternating pain. They saw a chiropractor, and doctors took an X-ray and checked for blood clots. It didn’t seem like anything was wrong. But Chloe was still in pain, and it was getting worse. Jerri Lynn scheduled a consultation with a specialist at Riley Hospital. Chloe had to go in before the appointment because her pain became too much to bear.

After several scans, doctors found a mass on the base of her spine: A golf ball–sized tumor, pressing on her nerves. Chloe went straight into surgery, where they removed most of the mass.

A few days later, doctors confirmed a diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma. Jerri Lynn was numb. Her daughter had cancer. Chloe began a year of treatment, 36 weeks of chemotherapy and 33 days of radiation. She lost all of her hair just 10 days after her first dose of chemo.

Chloe missed an entire year of school, and missed her friends more than anything. But she never let it steal her positivity. She says a lot of great doctors helped her get through it. Plus she got to meet Garth Brooks and IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball, who both visited the Child Life center at Riley while she was there. And as part of the Riley Champions program, she’s been able to attend Colts and Pacers games.

When Chloe completed her treatment, all of the scans performed to detect cancer were done again. The results brought good news: After a year of battling the disease, Chloe had won. She was in remission.

Chloe has been in remission for nine months now, and it’s hard to tell she ever had to endure the treatment she did. She bounces around the Riley Champions’ meet-and-greet and chats with all the friends she’s met through the program. Jerri Lynn says the program has given Chloe a lot of opportunities she wouldn’t have had otherwise, and she feels blessed to be a part of it. After a fun day filled with gift bags and free food in a private suite at the IMS, Chloe can now add Indy 500 winner Hunter-Reay to the list of celebrities she’s encountered since facing adversity and persevering.

One Champion meeting another.