Autistic young racer gets chance at world championship

  • Ava McCollim squeezes into her soapbox derby car Thursday as her mother Heather and Stan Iglehart, Race Director of the Greater Chicago Soapbox Derby Association, watch and make adjustments to the car in his Geneva garage. The 9-year-old, who has autism, will be competing for a world championship in Akron, Ohio, in July.

      Ava McCollim squeezes into her soapbox derby car Thursday as her mother Heather and Stan Iglehart, Race Director of the Greater Chicago Soapbox Derby Association, watch and make adjustments to the car in his Geneva garage. The 9-year-old, who has autism, will be competing for a world championship in Akron, Ohio, in July. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Heather McCollim ties a tutu on daughter Ava as they prepare for her opportunity to compete for a world championship in soapbox derby racing. Visit DAILYHERALD.COM/MORE to see our original video feature about Ava from January.

      Heather McCollim ties a tutu on daughter Ava as they prepare for her opportunity to compete for a world championship in soapbox derby racing. Visit DAILYHERALD.COM/MORE to see our original video feature about Ava from January. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/23/2016 9:52 PM

Ava McCollim has a driving ambition to win, and it has taken her to the mecca of soapbox derby racing.

The South Elgin 9-year-old will race at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio, for a chance at a world championship in July. What makes the accomplishment even more special is she battles health issues including epilepsy, autism and ADHD.

 

"I was just hoping to get through the rookie year," said Ava's mother, Heather. "I didn't expect this." After finding out Ava qualified for the World Rally Stock Championship by earning enough racing points during the season, the duo went to tell her grandfather Fred McCollim. He is in hospice care and raced soapbox cars as a child in the 1940s.

"His eyes got real big and he said, 'I never thought my granddaughter would do this!'" Heather said.

Ava took up soapbox derby racing in 2015 after being turned away from other organizations because of her health issues. Racing has helped her focus and her epileptic seizures have quieted, according to her mother.

Organized soapbox racing started in Akron in the 1930s and The All American Soapbox Derby at Derby Downs is considered the ultimate destination for racers around the world. Soapbox cars are fiberglass and race side-by-side, downhill, propelled only by gravity.

This year's world championships run July 10-18.

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