The journey was a long one, but well worth it. Thirteen-year-old Delaney Kilgour and his grandmother, Karen Young, set out from Lac La Biche, a hamlet in Alberta, Canada, to drive all the way to Huntsville, Alabama.
They were bound for Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, 2,000 miles away. When they finally arrived, they drove around the parking lot and stared up at the rockets. Delaney had wanted to be a rocket engineer all his life, and he and his late great-grandfather used to build rockets out of paper towel rolls. The old man said they’d never get to space, but they could still reach for the stars in their own way.
When Delaney saw those rockets reaching up into the night sky, he and his grandmother cried a bit, the way you do when your dreams come true, and decided that great-grandfather was watching over them. Delaney’s family had always watched over him. Born with a “hole in his heart,” Delaney had been a delicate child who could never play sports or run with other children until his heart surgery at age 10.
On his many visits to the Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, one of the nurses saw his skills in the Lego room and his ability to build things. She told the family about a Robotics Camp in Toronto, and it was there that Delaney learned about Space Camp. He was determined to go, somehow.
Once his doctors gave him the OK to travel, there was the practical question of money. They didn’t have much. Delaney went into action, picking up bottles and cans and milk cartons all along the roadsides near his home and recycling them for cash. He worked as a pet sitter for cats and dogs when their owners were away, and supervised kindergarten children at his school. All of the money he earned for two years went into his travel fund.
Delaney had enough for tuition for two camps — Robotics and Aviation. There was still the cost of the long trip and the hotel fees for Karen while Delaney attended camp. The communications department at the Children’s Hospital published an article about Delaney and donations came in, even from the U.S. Embassy. Still, Karen tried to keep the travel expenses at a minimum.
She took the back roads and the scenic routes, getting lost a few times but making friends along the way. One “town” was just a gas station in the middle of nowhere, but the people there helped Karen find her way. She was never afraid, she said, and strangers were kind.
Once Delaney started Space Camp on July 15, Global Ties Alabama called Karen to ask if she would come to dinner at a member’s home. An international exchange program, they host people from around the world. Through Global Ties, Karen met an Athens family who invited her to stay with them while Delaney was at camp.
As members of a First Nation (Dene) tribe, Karen and Delaney are descended from the Chipewyan people. They believe the Creator gives us the rose as well as the thorn. Space Camp was definitely a rose and so was Global Ties.
Delaney is a young man with big dreams. He’d like to work for Aerospace Canada one day, or use his engineering skills to make prosthetic devices for people. The child born with a hole in his heart has a heart for helping people. And he’s already working to save the money to come back next year.