Friday, May 28, 2010

Derek Esquibel with K-1 Racing Coach Tim Breig above


By Diana L. Chapman

Last summer, as Derek Esquibel lay in the hospital for 28 days suffering from agonizing pain stabbing at his abdomen like an icepick, one thing that made him feel better was watching car races on TV with his mom and dad.

“I’d watch a race or two and feel like I was getting well,” said the aspiring race car driver and San Pedro High School sophomore. “It would really lift my spirits. And my dad would tell me when I got out of the hospital, he’d take me to K1,” an indoor go-kart track in Torrance.

His mind brimmed with ideas—despite the raw abscess in his bowels, an on-and-off fever that reached 103 degrees, and the loss of 20 pounds. About 1.4 million Americans—150,000 of them children—are afflicted with this embarrassing and dangerous disease. At the hospital, Derek vowed that no one, especially a child, should suffer like this. He decided to become part of the solution in the “race against Crohn’s disease.”

Three hospitals, four near surgeries and many intense medications later, Derek decided to go public with his chronic illness, peddling his first fund-raising events at K1, where his passion shined as one of the speediest drivers. He ranked 32 out of 880,000 K-1 drivers. His first event – with all proceeds going to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America – will be Saturday, June 12, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Jo Bender, a foundation spokeswoman, said she’s delighted with Derek’s efforts because most people with Crohn’s try to hide the disease. But more children are stepping forward.

“It’s not a glamorous disease whatsoever,” Bender said. “We are trying to raise awareness. With awareness comes money. Oftentimes, children are our biggest advocates. They are very brave. We have had a hard time trying to get celebrities to sign on.”

This is the first racing event Bender knows of that benefits the foundation. She noted that Scott Speed – a professional driver who also has Crohn’s – has stepped up to support the group.

Derek says he drew courage from Speed’s story after reading his autobiography.

Diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2005, two days before his 11th birthday, Derek often kept himself preoccupied with racing as it drove away the negative aspects of the disease – especially stress. Crohn’s often attacks the intestinal track and can lead to intense abdominal pain, bloody stools, weight loss, fevers and an immune system that erroneously attacks the intestinal lining, triggering complications that can be life‑threatening.

His father, Gil, a Los Angeles police officer, took turns with his mother, Jean, spending the night with their youngest child at the hospital. Gil takes him to as many races as possible, including the Long Beach Grand Prix, where he watched Boris Said, a professional racer and part owner of the six K1 tracks.

“I enjoyed being able to watch you battle the Corvette,” Derek wrote to Said when requesting K1’s participation in the fundraiser. “As you probably already know, a driver needs two things: talent behind the wheel and marketability. I have the confidence to talk to people and the willingness to learn more and expand my knowledge ... This is a great way to show people that I will not let Crohn’s disease slow me down, on or off the track.”

Although Derek didn’t hear back from Said personally, managers at the Torrance K1 track, having come to know the 16-year-old and his deep-rooted love of racing, wished the corporate office would permit him to launch the fundraiser. When Derek first called the corporate office, employees there didn’t take him seriously because, after all, he was a kid.

When his mother called, she was told it would cost $2,000 per hour to use the track as a fundraiser – defeating the whole purpose. Jean queried back: Would it be okay if Derek handed out fliers advertising that K1 would donate $5 (per race?) to fight Crohn’s disease for each racer who brought in the flier?

A few phone calls later, K1 agreed.

“I had read his letter (to Said) and it really touched me,” explained Daniel Santos, one of the general managers at the Torrance track, who was delighted that K1 agreed. “He’s a strong kid for everything he’s going through. It’s good because he never gives up. He’s got something going for him. He believes in himself.”

As for Derek’s racing skills, Santos said: “You don’t see too many kids able to drive, but he’s got it in him. He has a lot of talent and not a lot of attitude.”

Fliers for Derek’s fundraiser – which could become an annual event at all six K1 tracks – can be found online at or The track is at 19038 S.Vermont Ave., Torrance (near 190th Street).

Prior to his diagnosis, his mother said, Derek was “an old soul” as her eyes filled with tears because of how proud she is of his determination to fight Crohn’s and raise funds.

“Last summer when he got so sick, it really threw us for a loop,” Jean said. “We didn’t understand the magnitude of it. You never think it’s going to be your kid. It was an eye-opening experience for Derek and our whole family. You don’t know what will trigger it.

“But you can’t live your life in fear. And that’s the whole purpose of this fundraiser.”