Tony Dobrowolski | Out of the Pages: Kindness and Olympic dreams


PITTSFIELD — The Olympic Games are supposed to be about the purity of athletic competition. But in reality, they're a business that's as big as any other large enterprise.

One of the interesting things about the Summer Games in Rio de Janiero is the discrepancy in financial backgrounds between some of the U.S. athletes.

One the one hand, we have highly paid athletes playing professional basketball representing the U.S. men's and women's hoop teams whose status, apparently, means they can't stay in the Olympic Village with the rest of their teammates.

The two teams are bunked on a luxury yacht docked in Rio de Janeiro across town from the Olympic complex. U.S.A. Basketball says the secluded living quarters are all about "security", but I don't buy it. To me, this whole set-up reeks of privilege. Michael Phelps is staying in the Olympic Village. Who's more recognizable than him?

Yet, on the other side, we have another U.S. Olympian who recently graduated from college and couldn't afford to fly his father to Rio to watch him compete.

Unfortunately, this juxtaposition of athletes and their financial circumstances at the Summer Games in Rio reminds me too much of the income inequalities that we face here at home on a daily basis.

But that's a column for another day. This one is about how a chance encounter between Ellis Hill, the father of U.S. shotputter Darrell Hill, and a Chicago businesswoman allowed father to follow son to Rio.

Ellis Hill is a retired bus driver living in Pennsylvania who works as a Uber driver to earn some extra cash.

On July 26, he happened to pick up Chicao businesswoman Liz Pampel Willock who was traveling to Philadelphia. On the ride into Philly, he told her how badly he wanted to see his son, who had recently graduated from Penn State, compete in the summer games.

Willock took note. At first, she tried to get her company to buy Ellis Hill a plane ticket to the Summer Olympic Games, but when that didn't work out she approached Darrell and asked him if he would be interested in setting up a GoFundMe page to raise the money, according to the Delaware County Daily Times.

"I'm not somebody who likes to ask people for money," Darrell Hill told the newspaper, "but I talked to my dad and asked him, 'Is this something you really want? Do you really want to come?' And he said, "Yeah," and I said, 'well, let's do it and I started the account."

Darrell Hill isn't the first Olympic athlete to try crowdfunding. Unlike teams from other countries, the U.S. Olympic team is not supported by the federal government. As a nonprofit, the U.S. Olympic Committee depends a lot on private donations and scholarships.

Some of the more well-known Olympians, like Phelps, have large endorsement deals that can help with their expenses. Others receive stipends from the federations that govern their sports. But a lot of them end up in Darrell Hill's position. For example, the Santa Clara Aquamaids Club, which has sent many synchronized swimmers to the Olympics, runs its own bingo hall to solicit financial support.

The goal on Hill's GoFundMe page was to raise $7,500. But so many people were taken with the idea that $8,200 was donated within three days.

One person donated $1,500, but the majority of the 152 donations on Hill's GoFundMe page were in the $10 to $50 range. Here are some of the comments that donors posted: "Enjoy your trip Dad"; "I wish you and your son happiness"; "Truly hope you get to see him in person"; "Just saw your story on the news and had to help out"; "This is something that has to happen."

Never underestimate the kindness of strangers. I'm sure Darrell and Ellis Hill never will again.


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