2023 Eric Augustyn Free Ride
Israel "Izzy" Vega
My name is Israel Vega, but everyone calls me Izzy.
I was born premature, the doctors didn't think I would survive, due to this I had many health conditions growing up. Including a hole in my heart and later being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Most of my young life was spent in and out of the hospital. At the age of 4 my parents separated, causing me and my brothers to be moved down to Yuma, Arizona. Shortly after moving my youngest brother Levi had passed away leaving our family sad and disheartened. At this time we would move in with our grandparents and after a few rough years we were finally able to buy our own home.
Then at the age of 10 my hips began causing me intolerable pain I was rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia. The only course of action was surgery that included pins being imbedded into the joint and socket of the hips. This left me wheelchair bound for just over a year. One year of not being able to walk, hangout with friends, or just enjoy the life of a normal child. Through this I remained optimistic; believing I've always been this way, one to look at the bright side of things. I was determined to walk again but not without months of excruciatingly painful physical therapy.
Things finally began to feel normal again, or so I thought. In reality the medical bills put my mother in a financial hole in which she had no way to dig herself out of. I've always been interested in ways that make money whether it was making/selling bracelets at school ( which apparently is a nono) to selling my prized bakugan collection or convincing my brother to help me pick up old railroad spikes at the train tracks behind our house to take to the scrap yard (Another nono).
Even through great effort our family lost our home due to medical expenses and the housing crisis in 2008 causing us to live with our grandparents again. Now age 13 we were visiting our father for the summer. This allowed me to learn how to work on cars at his body shop. Late in the month of July of that summer our mother called telling us that now we would be living with our dad from now on, since unbeknownst to us she was dealing with her own health conditions. In that 30 min phone call our friends school and really the life we had known was gone. A million thoughts ran through my mind, we weren't supposed to stay, we were just visiting, I wondered why this was happening. I remained optimistic as I saw this as a new adventure/opportunity. We now lived in Worland Wyoming a town with a population of less than 5000. The beginning of that school year was tough, my brother was starting his first year of high school and I was entering the 7th grade. We were going to be in separate schools for the first time, but it didn't take long before we found our rhythm. We made new friends and began helping our dad at his body shop after school. I don't believe anything has ever made me as excited as working on cars. I was hooked! It wasn't all sunshine though as I continued to grow despite what doctors expected. Growing over a foot had now caused issues with the pins in my hips. Now I had to repeat the process of surgery, being wheelchair bound for a second time, but before I knew it I was in physical therapy learning to walk again for the third time in my life. Now was my first year of high school and i was able to get my hardship license which allowed me to drive myself to school. It was at this time my uncle gifted me a 65 VW beetle and I was determined to make it as cool as possible. So naturally I cut off the roof and got rid of the fenders. I had made it my own with custom headlights, taillights, exhaust and a set of torque thrust wheels. I painted it black with red scallops. It was on this VW that I honed my bodywork and painting skills. I poured my anger at life being unfair, the tears of not seeing my mother in years into this project.
I've always remained optimistic that thigs would get better and from my experience that is true. I figured after my second surgery that I wouldn't let anything hold me back. I focused my attention and energy towards the automotive industry looking to start another project. I convinced my dad to let me fix up his 68 F-100 it was lowered with a faded purple paint job that had been sitting out in a field by our house for around 10 years. Coincidently it was the pickup he had built when he and my mother were still together. With that i set out to restore it to its former glory from getting it running to sanding it down and repainting it purple. My shop teacher impressed with the interesting vehicles that I showed up in that clearly stood out to him in a parking lot full of 3/4 ton pickups with horse trailers. He suggested that I join skills USA, which I did, though they didn't offer the high school option for body work and paint, I entered the mechanic class where I placed 3rd at state, I guess there's not too much competition in the state with the lowest population. Still, I was proud of my accomplishment, determined to get better. I graduated high school and decided to do my own thing going all in and renting a single bay in a shop outside of town. I spent the little money I did have on tools and equipment, I offered services at half the going rate of other local shops to drum up business. I was able to get by the stress of not knowing when the next job would come or how I was going to pay lights rent and heat, I remained persistent. Knowing I had not yet faced a challenge I could not overcome.2 years later I was in a better place, and everything was going well staying busy at my shop with customer cars and personal projects. My next project was a drag car for me and my brother that we could race at the new drag strip in Greybull Wyoming.
We found a ratty 68 corvette with a 4speed and built a 383 stroker to drop in it. In that car we had endless fun but I knew we could go faster. So, we shoehorned in a supercharged big block and now we were really ready to go to the races. Then Covid happened as my older brother finished his last year in college, he set out to help our grandparents who had recently moved to Oregon. With our grandpa's health declining knowing it would be a lot for our grandma to handle as she was still working full time. We knew we had to help for all the things they'd done for us. I shut the shop down for some time so I could make my way out there and be with them. Some say it was the medicine that helped our grandpa get better but i say it was my well-timed jokes and can-do attitude that made the difference. It was time to come home as i said goodbye to my grandparents and brother. It was hard getting back to work with all that had happened, but I was comforted in knowing my brother was with them.
A year later my mother also moved to Oregon to be with our grandparents as well. With my brother not enjoying the work he was doing, I asked if he would like to come work at my shop with me. I had recently started selling some classic cars knowing his computer skills would be a great help and that's what we did. From selling a 70 nova to a guy out of Kentucky to selling a Pontiac Catalina to a lady in Virginia. All the way to selling a 61 Corvair wagon to Matts Offroad Recovery, it was a surreal experience to sell a car to a major youtuber. Thats when we came across bring a trailer and had the perfect car to auction off an original 1963.5 ford falcon sprint boasting a number matching 260 V8 and a 4-speed. The auction went well so we listed a 67 VW beetle baja bug that I had just finished building. Through my entire life it seems to be one thing after another, but I've never let that get into my head. Because yes life is hard but if you can focus on the good things and stay resilient in the hard times things will always get better. Even though I know my struggles aren't over and I will have to undergo surgery once more I stay optimistic about my future. As I sit here writing this I think of my older brother, he is the one who insisted I apply for this seeing everything I've been through when in all reality I believe he has been the one that has had the harder time because while I had many struggles to overcome, he has always been with me. I've always been given much attention because of my medical needs he never once complained that he couldn't do or have something because of me.
With that I hope you consider us; we are the kind of individuals who believe in:
"If you can lookup you can get up".- Les Brown