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Sisters who beat breast cancer together talk about how they became Indy 500 fans

The southern Indiana natives didn't grow up with a connection to the track. They certainly have one now.

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — The Indy 500 is almost here, and every year there are incredible stories to share from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This time, it's the love connection bringing together a local woman and racing legend, just when she needed him most.

Twin sisters Norma and Liz didn’t grow up being diehard Indy 500 fans.

“We were from Evansville," said Norma, who moved to the Indianapolis area more than 20 years ago. "We’re basketball.”

“Southern Indiana, you don’t have that connection to the track,” added Liz. 

Seeing them today, you wouldn’t know they haven't always been part of the racing world, Norma decked out in black-and-white checkered pants as they sit next to each other in a Turn 2 suite. 

“Now I get it," Liz said. "Now I get it 100%."

“I never knew I could love racing this much,” Norma added. 

It probably doesn’t hurt that last year, Norma met two-time Indy 500 champ Al Unser Jr. through her work with the Wings and Wheels Foundation, a nonprofit that funds young drivers trying to get to the next level in racing. 

Those drivers are part of the Future Star Racing Team, and Unser helps coach them. 

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“We met for lunch, and it was because I wanted to understand racing,” said Norma of how she first connected with Unser. She called her sister to share the news.

“I’m like, 'Al Unser Jr.?,'" Liz recalled asking Norma. "'The Al Unser Jr.?' She’s like ‘Yes,' oh my gosh.”

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Six months later, Norma and Unser were married. 

“I got married and everyone’s like, ‘Where’s your honeymoon?’ and I said, ‘The OR at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning,’” Norma said she told her wedding guests. 

Norma was talking about an operating room where she was set to have surgery the next day for an infection she developed after a double mastectomy in 2020, when discovering she had breast cancer. Norma had had reconstructive surgery, after which one of her implants became infected. 

Months before Norma’s diagnosis, a mammogram revealed Liz had breast cancer, too. She also had a double mastectomy, followed by chemo and radiation. 

“About the time she was having her mastectomy, I was going through chemo,” Liz said. 

It’s a fight the twins knew all too well even before facing their own battle. Their mom died from breast cancer in 2004. 

And while they’re both cancer-free now, both Norma and Liz are still looking at reconstructive surgeries. The healing is a long road. 

“I’ve had eight surgeries, all due to infection. I, too, have one implant,” said Norma. 

“She has one on the right,” she added, pointing to her sister. 

“I have one on my left, so we say we have one good pair between us,” Norma said, laughing. 

For now, these sisters are just thankful to be here. Norma is thankful to have found the love of her life in a racing champion. Liz is thankful she’s here to see it. 

“I love Al," said Liz. "He’s changed her life. He’s changed our life.”

A life that now includes enjoying the Greatest Spectacle in Racing with one of its champions. 

“She sent me a picture last year. Her first time at the track for the actual race and she’s on the car with Al, going around the track and I’m like, 'That’s the way to do it,'” Liz said, laughing.

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