SC teen builds future after losing mom to cancer - FOX Carolina 21

SC teen builds future after losing mom to cancer

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TJ Holka works on his re-engineered bike. (File/FOX Carolina) TJ Holka works on his re-engineered bike. (File/FOX Carolina)
CLINTON, SC (FOX Carolina) -

One Upstate boy lost his mother to breast cancer, and it completely changed his life. Now as that boy becomes a man, he's overcoming incredible odds on a path to success.

TJ Holka spent hours upon hours on his creation - a bike that, for lack of better words, has been "pimped out" with a motor.

"The mountain bike was, you know, meant to be a cheap mountain bike, and the other one was meant to be a moped, and I wound up taking that and combining it into something," Holka said.

Holka worked on all of it himself, without manuals or help.

To say the least , the fact that an 18-year-old could do this on his own is impressive. One might even dare to say with the know-how, his future is bright. But the fact that he is at this point in his life is something truly special.

Old photos and home movies of Holka show him with a happy, almost idyllic childhood.

"Everything you could ever want. A pool in the backyard, a couple of animals, a couple of friends down the road; it was good," Holka said.

But that was before cancer would take his mother's life and his father left.

"My mom basically played the role of both parents growing up," Holka said.

A second bout of cancer would claim his mother's life. Holka said his mother's breast cancer spread throughout her body.

"I wanted to believe that she was going to be OK, but deep down inside I knew I was probably going to lose her," said Holka. "I could tell, things just got worse."

Those who know Holka know that he came from having everything to being at rock bottom, which meant many things for him, including staying with different guardians and admitting to sometimes acting out with bad behavior.

By most indications, he could have easily become a statistic - but he didn't.

"I tried to fix my problems rather than fight them or avoid them, rather than most other people who try to hide them or turn to other things," Holka said.

Losing a mother at such a young age is something that can't easily be fixed. Holka's older sister who went through it all with him said it wasn't easy.

"He was always a little bit shy and reserved, and really kind of clingy," said Ashley Holka. "One day he grew up, grew out of his shell and grew two feet."

Holka started striking out on his own, fine tuning things, including his senior project at Clinton High School - a newly engineered bike.

"There's nothing you can't accomplish if you apply yourself and put forth the effort, and TJ is special in that he's done that," said Holka's manager, John Woodside. "A lot of people would just give up and quit."

Holka put in the work, detail and sheer effort into making a ride he says will be his own and will be fuel efficient is his future.

Many who know Holka said his past has not gotten him down, but in fact it makes him stronger and is likely to lead him to success.

"I think 10 years from now he's going to be an engineer, and he'll be sending me lots of money because I'll still be in medical school," said Ashley Holka.

And there's one person many know would be proud - his mother.

"I'm sure she'd feel the way that everyone else does," said Robin Cazavilan, with the Thornwell Home for Children. "I think everyone who has a heart to be here has very nurturing and maternal towards him, and we're all very proud of him, and I'm sure she would be also."

After high school graduation, Holka plans to attend Clemson University and pursue an engineering degree.

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