OTTERLY HEARTWARMING: Otter mascot brings smiles and joy to kids battling cancer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - He’s over 6 feet tall, kind of furry, and certainly very funny.
That’s why it comes naturally for him to bring smiles and laughter to kids facing some tough odds. In fact, you could say a local mascot named Olly Otter is doing some work that is simply “otter” this world.
In mid-March, Olly crashed a “Beat Cancer Celebration” for 11-year-old cancer survivor Emily Prince of Hopkins, South Carolina. Emily defeated bone cancer in a little over a year’s time, with the love and support of her family, dedicated health professionals, and friends like Olly.
Olly’s arrival at Emily’s party was a surprise. The two have developed quite a friendship throughout Emily’s cancer journey.
Tabitha Prince is Emily’s mom. When talking about the trials of the past 18 months with Emily’s diagnosis and recovery, she admitted, “If I could have traded places with her in a heartbeat I would have.”
“We’ve lost a few friends which is never good,” Tabitha said. “Especially those at such young ages. No kid should ever really have to do this.”
While Emily lost part of her leg in her battle against bone cancer, Olly was there to offer love and support.
“He’ll send Emily a text and ask how she’s doing...for the day,” Tabitha said. “Or if he knows we’re in chemo he’ll write ‘Hey we’re praying for you.’”
Olly calls kids like Emily, who are facing difficult situations “warriors.”
Eliza Kull is 14 years old, and another one of Olly’s Warriors. Diagnosed in 2019 with a bone cancer similar to Emily’s, she has since defeated. ”In March of 2020, I had scans and I’m cancer-free,” Eliza said.
Olly was there during Eliza’s fight and visited her at the hospital. Eliza was at Emily’s party along with other children who are fighting cancer, as well as nurses who are assisting them in that fight. They all know Olly and appreciate what he brings to sometimes dark situations.
“He brings a lot of entertainment and spark,” Eliza said.
“He’s a mess.” Tabitha joked. “All the kids love Olly.”
On this day, Olly brought his Nerf gun for a giant Nerf gunfight in the driveway. He danced with Emily and zipped her around the property in the golf cart. All the while, hamming it up with the partygoers.
Some of Olly’s hijinks are “otterly” hilarious.
”I’m always laughing too at his antics. It doesn’t get old,” says Brittany Ballentine, Olly’s sidekick.
She explains the mission of Olly Otter as an effort “just to bring a smile. Let (kids) have some laughter and some joy.”
Ballentine says Olly Otter came to life 6 years ago to promote family fun, meaningful play, and memorable moments.
”Those are the things that children remember and look back on in years to come,” Ballentine said.
The life-affirming idea has taken on a life of its own, as Olly helps raise sponsorships for families of kids battling cancer and other diseases. His schedule is packed with events for families, making house calls which he calls “Ollygrams.”
Life’s battles are a little less scary with a friend by your side, bringing the light of a smile in the darkest of nights.
For the kids and families who are fortunate to know this furry friend, Olly Otter is a friend for life.
Olly is the first in a new series titled “Hidden Heroes.” If you know of somebody like Olly who is deserving of the title “Hidden Hero”, let us know!
It can be a coach, a volunteer, a step-parent, a teacher, a health care worker, or a pastor. Everyone knows a hidden hero. We’d like to meet them too!
Send your nominations to Greg Adaline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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