With her short, brown hair neatly coifed above her studded ears, you notice Elizabeth Barwick's toothy smile before the slight limp in her right step.
Elizabeth, 16, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy a few months after she was born.
"At first, we thought she was a healthy baby. We didn't know she had CP until she was 4 months old," said mom Joyce Barwick. A trip to the pediatrician and a CAT scan revealed the problem.
"The left side of her brain had not developed," Barwick said. "It was weeks before I stopped crying myself to sleep."
For the next 12 years Elizabeth withstood weekly visits to occupational, physical and speech therapists, several intense surgeries and constant care.
Meanwhile, conventional school wasn't working. "I just love to learn," Elizabeth said. But her teachers weren't challenging her, Barwick said. She had to be pulled from an area school and put into Sumter Academy, where teachers could school her one-on-one.
But for one weekend in October, Elizabeth kept up with her peers at a camp called Victory Junction Gang in Randleman, N.C. There, kids ages 16-21 with genetic disorders did the typical camp activities: crafts, fishing and sports, along with NASCAR-themed events.
"It was fun," Elizabeth said. "We did crafts; we raced. I got to jack up a car."
The camp also gave Elizabeth the chance to meet new friends, a luxury she doesn't have with her one-on-one schooling.
"One was from North Carolina and one was from Tennessee," she said.
The camp was started in 2004 by racing legend Kyle Petty in memory of his son Adam, who died in a 2000 racing crash. The camp is aimed at those with special needs as well as those who have a chronic disease or disorder. "They have a stage night where the kids can pick out a talent and it doesn't matter how they do it, everybody applauds them," Barwick said. "For one night, they are special."
The camp also afforded Elizabeth a chance to meet and have her picture taken with Kyle and Richard Petty.
Elizabeth has always been special, Barwick said. From the moment she was born two months early the blessings have outweighed the struggles, even throughout the rocky teenage years, she said.
And Barwick said she would be the first to tell you Elizabeth is the typical teenager.
On any given day, Elizabeth flops on her bed listening to the latest Carrie Underwood CD or surfs music videos on YouTube. Plastered on the walls of this teenager's room are posters of popular Disney show character Hannah Montana and star of High School Musical and heartthrob Zac Efron. "Some people look at her and think she is a burden," Barwick said. "To me she is a blessing.
"It's been a struggle sometimes through the years," Barwick said. "To be honest, we have new problems each day that arises.
"But she's good for "I-love-yous," Barwick added. "She'll tell you a thousand times a day."