Guest Blog Written By: Mark Caldwell (Olivia’s Paternal Grandfather)
A little over four years ago a friend of mine whom I worked with at a country club in Reno said these words to me. Eric Dye was a former Marine who had seen duty overseas in Iraq and was home following his dream of becoming a golf professional.
That summer he was working with the retired ‘grunts’ and assorted high-school & college students on the outside staff working for minimum wage, tips and free golf.
At the time he was also dating a wonderful young lady, Janelle Dorangricchia, a physical fitness trainer at St. Mary’s Hospital in Reno.
Earlier that year our son, Brett, and daughter-in-law, Katie had delivered twin grand babies to us, Wyatt and Olivia. We met the babies in the spring in Wyoming and obviously we were both proud grand parents. I obviously shared pictures and stories about the grand babies with those at work, especially since both were born premature and had come home on oxygen.
Then, in July of 2012, Brett and Katie got the devastating news that Olivia had been diagnosed with systemic pediatric brain cancer. Thankfully both Cindy & I were able to travel to Denver where Olivia was being treated and be there to support Brett & Katie for over three weeks.
Upon returning to work, everyone . . . staff and club members . . . were asking how they could help Brett & Katie. The head pro at the time, Ward Sutton, said he and the assistant pro would conduct a ‘100-hole golf marathon’ for Brett & Katie to raise money from anyone who wished to donate. Words cannot convey how humbled I was by the staff and member’s generosity when Ward handed me over $2,000 cash a week or so later.
Through that winter there were multiple trips for both Cindy & I to Wyoming and Colorado to help Brett and Katie while Olivia went through on-going treatments. These lasted until the following spring when it was determined that Olivia’s cancer was gone!’
I shared this news with those at work and everyone around me was greatly pleased by the good news. In the meantime Eric had completed his qualifications to begin training ‘inside’ as a golf professional. He was also getting into endurance training and beginning to run long distances. His girlfriend, Janelle, had also become pregnant and Eric was beyond happy with the news.
I distinctly remember two instances from that spring/summer. The first was when Brett, Katie and the babies travelled back to Reno so that family and friends there could ‘meet the twins.’ It was a great time, including having the babies baptized in the same church both Katie and Brett had attended when they lived in Reno.
However Olivia was also seen to be having more ‘startles’ and contact was made with the doctors in Colorado. Upon returning home to Wyoming, the first thing they did was to have Olivia checked. Unfortunately bad news was received when it was determined that Olivia’s cancer had returned ‘with a vengeance!’ More frequent chemo treatments were begun and everyone hoped for the best.
The second instance that summer I recall was when we went to a ‘gender reveal’ party for Eric & Janelle with family & friends. When it was determined that Janelle would be having a girl, everyone was ecstatic with the news. However I also remember a look in Eric’s eyes when Cindy & I congratulated him. It was a sorrowful look for us instead of a happy, joyful look which should have been there.
In October of 2013 we received the news that Olivia’s cancer was unmanageable and she was being sent home on hospice care. The family gathered together in Rawlins, Wyoming and prepared for the end, which came on October, 22nd.
However, out of the pain and sorrow, a positive note was struck when Brett and Katie decided to form a foundation to raise funds to fight the ravages of pediatric brain cancer through donations to the medical research team at Children’s Hospital Colorado. A month or two later, the Olivia Caldwell Foundation was formed.
When I told those at work of the formation of the foundation, everyone was supportive and inquired as to how to donate to a cause that could help in the fight against childhood brain cancer. I did note a far-away look though in Eric’s eyes and saw he seemed to be reflective and quiet. At the time Janelle had given birth to their daughter, Bella, and the news relating to Olivia always seemed to hit Eric harder than others.
A short time later he caught me alone and told me that one day he would be training for an Iron Man competition and that he would raise funds through his training and donate it all to the Olivia Caldwell Foundation! Mind you, Eric had never met Brett nor Katie and thus either of our grand children, Wyatt nor Olivia.
That is when Eric uttered the words . . . “I give you my word!’
When the time came to begin his training regimen, Eric contacted me and I got him in touch with our Katie, who was coordinating much of the fundraising efforts for the foundation. Both Eric and Janelle had ideas to get donations through the training and were excited about getting started.
For over a year Eric trained for the Iron Man in Coeur d’Alene Idaho this past August. Thought his training he logged miles running, swimming and biking and raised funds for the foundation through the miles logged. We kept abreast of the training and the donations through his on-going blog on the foundation website. One blog in particular had both Cindy & I in awe of his efforts. This was when he had competed in the Lake Tahoe Triathlon and he described how his body felt . . . and more importantly what was going through his mind as he competed. I could not fathom the inner strength it took to complete the endurance race and was humbled by his on-going efforts.
Trips were planned to Idaho to support Eric when he competed in the Iron Man. We were able to see him biking and making the transition to the marathon run. Thankfully the course was laid out to see him numerous times in both venues. The last I saw him during the run I watched Eric run by and saw the absolute pain his body must be experiencing. After he had passed I yelled out ‘Olivia loves ya man!’ Instantly his right arm shot up with his fist clenched and he seemed to gain a step.
After almost 16 hours of swimming, biking and running Eric completed his journey to support our little angel’s foundation . . . after raising almost $6,000 through his training. Watching him cross the finish line was amazing. After hugging Janelle and Bella, whose own personal sacrifices for over a year while Eric trained was phenomenal, Eric was suddenly standing in front of me.
Overcome with emotion all I could do is to hug him to me as the tears began to flow for both of us! ‘Thank you, thank you’ was all I could say for his sacrifice on behalf of Olivia’s memory as well as having doubled his fund raising efforts for the foundation. For both Cindy and I his journey is truly remarkable and we are forever grateful to he, Janelle and Bella.
His word was kept . . . and I am proud to call him friend!
The Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research in memory of Olivia Caldwell, who passed away from brain cancer at 20 months old in October 2013. To date we have given $155,000 to pediatric cancer research. You can learn more and donate by visiting www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org.