Compensation for this post was provided by the Steel Market Development Institute via MSB New Media. All opinions expressed in this piece are my own.
by Kari Apted, Guest Contributor
I had 2 unexpected realizations after the Steel Market Development Institute invited me and 3 other ambassadors to attend the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 NASCAR race last weekend.
First unexpected realization: NASCAR is a whole lot more entertaining than I thought it would be.
Second unexpected realization: I owe my husband’s life to the strength of steel.
Deployed to Iraq at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, my husband Donnie spent most of his days driving this truck along dusty desert roads north of his base at Tallil.
Back on the homefront with our 2 little boys, the news pelted me with stories of roadside bombs and IEDs killing and maiming our soldiers. I battled constant fear of something happening to my husband. Finding peace in the midst of our year apart was a moment-by-moment discipline as difficult to grasp as a handful of sand.
It was definitely a life-defining trial by fire.
When he came home—when he finally, blessedly came home—we waited for him in a gymnasium at 3 a.m. I’ll never forget the choking pride I felt as these brave men and women marched in formation in front of us. I’ll never forget the joy that erupted as their commander released them into our waiting arms.
I’ll never forget the shock of seeing my quiet, stoic 6 year old dissolve into sobs as he leapt onto the beloved daddy he wasn’t sure he’d ever see again.
Later that evening, Donnie asked me to hold out my hand. Into it, he dumped a small pile of jagged metal shards.
And then he told me what he hadn’t mentioned the entire time he was gone, about the IED that was fired at them, how he’d rolled under his truck as a shield, how he’d picked up these fragments that littered the ground after the blast was over.
That steel-enforced truck kept him from being injured, or worse. And thankfully, to this day, steel continues to protect troops placed in harm’s way.
We now have 4 children—one adopted, another home-grown—and though PTSD has become part of our new, post-war normal, we’re working through it and forging on together. Family weekends like the one we enjoyed at Atlanta Motor Speedway help us create new, happy memories that outweigh the difficulties of our past.
And if, like us, you’ve never experienced NASCAR, let me tell you: you’re missing out on a whole lot of fun! From the Saturday morning pit tour to Sunday evening’s checkered flag, we were astounded by the skill and technology behind NASCAR.
One of my favorite parts was witnessing the lightning-quick precision of the pit crews performing their magic. I was also amazed by the power of the cars’ engines revving, how even our chests vibrated as they zoomed by. The excitement in the stands was palpable as drivers overtook one another and when there was a 6-car pile-up just minutes before the end of the race, it was a relief to see that the steel-framed cars did what they were supposed to do and protected the drivers.
And who can forget holding this replica of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 trophy?
New friendships were formed between the ambassadors who attended and our gracious hosts from SMDI.
Click here for links to their weekend recaps, to see who won SMDI’s #StrongLikeSteel photo contest and to learn more about the many ways that #SteelMatters.
Kari Apted is a freelance writer and homeschooling mother of four who hails from Atlanta. She and her retired military husband, Donnie, have been married for over 20 years. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she enjoys reading, painting and traveling.