When a woman realized her Uber driver was an Olympic dad, she decided to send him to Rio.

Ellis Hill had never driven his Uber across the river before.

Ellis Hill (right) and Liz Willock. Photo by Ellis Hill and Liz Willock/GoFundMe.


However, shuttling a passenger over the bridge to New Jersey was just the latest in a series of firsts for the Philadelphia resident in July. His son Darrell, a Penn State track and field star, had just made the U.S. Olympic team for shot put on his first try.

Ellis never really thought about joining him in Rio de Janeiro. Traveling to South America, he explained, was simply more than he could afford.

"It wasn't in the cards at all," Ellis told Upworthy. "I was thinking about getting a good bag of popcorn and sitting down to watch it on TV."

But his passenger on that Uber trip, Liz Willock, had other ideas.

"I was just crushed because any good parent would want to see their son or daughter compete as Olympian," Willock told Upworthy. "I said, 'Ellis, you're an Olympic father! You need to go.'"

Willock, who works for a company that transports medical patients to and from clinical trials, quickly realized she could use her professional connections and experience to fund and plan a trip to Rio for him.

After consulting with Ellis' son Darrell, Willock launched a GoFundMe campaign to send the Olympian's father to Rio.

The effort raised $8,200, easily exceeding its $7,500 goal.

Willock credits the efforts of dozens of strangers for helping make the fundraiser a success, including a United Airlines pilot who donated airline miles to cover Ellis' flight to Brazil and the family of Joe Kovacs, Darrell's teammate, who were the first to donate and plan to meet Ellis when he arrives in the city.

Ellis, who has never traveled out of the country before, said that he's "ecstatic" to have the opportunity to watch his son compete in the games.

"This is really a big deal in our family right now," he said.


Darrell's cheering section back home includes his mother, siblings, grandparents, and friends from all over the country — including Ellis' new colleagues at Uber, among whom he's become a celebrity.

Though he doesn't expect to see Darrell until after he competes, Ellis explained that getting to soak in his son's success is its own reward.

The Olympic rings in Rio. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images.

"It's just an awesome experience for a kid to put forth the effort and stick to it over the years, and actually train ... and get it on the first time around," he said.

While he would be thrilled if Darrell were to come home with a medal, Ellis said he'll be impressed regardless.

"The family and friends are extremely happy, and we're just waiting for him to stay focused and put forth the best effort he possibly can for himself."

True

When Molly Reeser was a student at Michigan State University, she took a job mucking horse stalls to help pay for classes. While she was there, she met a 10-year-old girl named Casey, who was being treated for cancer, and — because both were animal lovers — they became fast friends.

Two years later, Casey died of cancer.

"Everyone at the barn wanted to do something to honor her memory," Molly remembers. A lot of suggestions were thrown out, but Molly knew that there was a bigger, more enduring way to do it.

"I saw firsthand how horses helped Casey and her family escape from the difficult and terrifying times they were enduring. I knew that there must be other families who could benefit from horses in the way she and her family had."

Molly approached the barn owners and asked if they would be open to letting her hold a one-day event. She wanted to bring pediatric cancer patients to the farm, where they could enjoy the horses and peaceful setting. They agreed, and with the help of her closest friends and the "emergency" credit card her parents had given her, Molly created her first Camp Casey. She worked with the local hospital where Casey had been a patient and invited 20 patients, their siblings and their parents.

The event was a huge success — and it was originally meant to be just that: a one-day thing. But, Molly says, "I believe Casey had other plans."

One week after the event, Molly received a letter from a five-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He had been at Camp Casey and said it was "the best day of his life."

"[After that], I knew that we had to pull it off again," Molly says. And they did. Every month for the next few years, they threw a Camp Casey. And when Molly graduated, she did the most terrifying thing she had ever done and told her parents that she would be waitressing for a year to see if it might be possible to turn Camp Casey into an actual nonprofit organization. That year of waitressing turned into six, but in the end she was able to pull it off: by 2010, Camp Casey became a non-profit with a paid staff.

"I am grateful for all the ways I've experienced good luck in my life and, therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to give back. It brings me tremendous joy to see people, animals, or things coming together to create goodness in a world that can often be filled with hardships."

Camp Casey serves 1500 children under the age of 18 each year in Michigan. "The organization looks different than when it started," Molly says. "We now operate four cost-free programs that bring accessible horseback riding and recreational services to children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening illnesses."

Keep Reading Show less