During my short career as a golf professional, I met a lot of great people. One of those people (or group of people) is the Caldwell Family. Mark Caldwell is retired from the Washoe County Sherriff's Office, and was working at the golf course when I started working there. We became friends fast and worked together for 5 years. During that time, my wife, Janelle and I learned that we were going to have a baby.
During Janelle's pregnancy, I experienced all of the fears of having a healthy baby. At the same time, Mark's granddaughter, Olivia was fighting brain cancer, and passed away. I will never forget that day that Mark came into the bag room with the news. It broke my heart and really hit home, having a baby of my own on the way. I wanted to do something but had no idea what or how. Golf pros aren't the highest paid people in the world, and I wanted to create awareness for the horrible disease and help out these kids who deserve a fighting chance. Mark's daughter in law, and Olivia's mother Katie, had beat me to it and founded the Olivia Caldwell Foundation.
At this time, my wife Janelle had been roping me into doing races with her for years. We had done triathlons and numerous running events together. I figured the next race for me that I hadn't completed was a full ironman. Katie was living in Wyoming, so I chose the Ironman Coeur d'Alene with the hopes that everyone would be able to go to the race, with the neutral location of Idaho. I had never met Katie before, so I told Mark what my plans were and he got me and Katie connected.
Janelle, Katie, and I got together via phone and emails to brainstorm how to raise funds and the Race for Olivia was born. Katie started a Face book page and I formulated a training plan. Janelle was the brains behind all of the content and fundraising, while I swam, biked, and ran, over and over, and over. Our goal, by the end of the race, was to have raised one dollar for every mile that I trained. Over the next year, I had traveled over 3,000 miles and raised over $7,000 from people all over the country. It was eye opening how much support we were getting.
As if training for a full ironman wasn't enough, that year brought many more challenges. One of my mentors in the Marine Corps had committed suicide, we had to put our beloved Saint Bernard down, and being a father and husband is always priority number one. So, life is simply busy. Through all of the hard times, and spending my days off work completing eight hour bike rides, I had one thing in the back of my mind - none of these struggles is as hard as losing a child. That is what kept me going. People need to fight for these children who cannot fight for themselves.
About eight weeks from the race, I landed in the emergency room with epididymitis. For those that do not know what this is, I will let you look it up. I was given mild antibiotics because apparently what they wanted to give me, would weaken my tendons, and there is a history of it rupturing achilles tendons. Being a less effective drug, the doctors were unsure if it would work. If it didn't, I would've had to switch to the other drug for treatment, and not be able to finish what I had started. That would have been devastating. After 11 months of training, to be forced to stop. Luckily, the medicine worked and I was able to use the two weeks to rest and recover. The last few weeks of training went by fast and it was time to head to Idaho.
The morning of the race was early, cold and dark. I headed to the start with my family and friends that had travelled with me to be a part of this. Everyone was wearing Race for Olivia shirts that we had created as another way to raise funds. This made it easy for me to see them, hearing them was not a problem as they were screaming every time I went by. The 2.1 mile swim was a breeze. Probably my best event, and I was very fresh and rested. Next came the 112 mile bike ride. Cycling is my nemesis, and just happens to be the longest part. But not too far into it, I rounded a corner, looked up and saw Katie, whom I had never met, for the first time. I instantly knew who it was and got a spark of energy. I can't explain all of the things that happen mentally on a ride that long, but it was like the twilight zone. Ironman Coeur d'Alene has a high percentage of people who do not finish, and I experienced why during that day. As I was riding, I saw people rolling around on the side of the street, and many just sitting there in defeat. There were many times that I wanted to turn around and quit. Each time that thought popped up in my head I thought of Bella. I could not bear to face my 3 year old daughter and tell her that I quit. I pressed on, and the pain was over later that afternoon.
Next came the full marathon. That was the easy part. Running has always been my strength. The challenging part of the run was more of a mental challenge than anything. When the sun went down, I realized I had been out there literally all day. Bella knew I needed something and ran out on the course as I passed her, to give me a big hug. There was another surge of energy. The run was three laps, each being around nine miles. So while I was out there, everyone you saw would ask what lap you were on. Man was I jealous of the people who got to turn right to the finish as I turned left for laps two and three. During that run, I was ingesting everything from straight salt to Coke a Cola. Just as I was about to turn right to the finish, someone handed me a Red Bull. I could hear the music and everyone cheering about one eighth of a mile away. Almost home.
Crossing the finish line was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I had so many people that supported me through the last year there. I immediately went and hugged Janelle and Bella. Mark and the other employees from the golf course were there. Finally, I then got to meet Katie. We hugged and had a special moment, that being the first time we had ever met.
Now that it has been a few years since that day, many things have changed. Janelle and I have another beautiful daughter named Chloe and we have another psychotic dog named Happy. I'm not sure if Bella really remembers that day, or the purpose behind it, but I hope I set an example for her that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I also hope she always follows through on her word. But most of all I hope she will always try to make a difference in this world with whatever she feels passionate about. As for myself and Janelle, we are still doing races, nothing as extreme as before we had two children, but we still stay active. I hope my efforts in the Race for Olivia, brought awareness to the foundation. You don't need to do an ironman, or anything physical for that matter. I challenge you to find what you are good at, be creative, and use that skill to better the world. As they say in the Ironman community, "Anything is possible."
It’s time to hit the books! First days of school are popping up across Wyoming in our different districts and that comes with cheers, tears, fears and sometimes all of the above for parents and kids. I hope everyone had a wonderful summer break and I also hope to give a few helpful tips on how to have a successful school year, especially if you have a child with a chronic illness or medically complex condition that can make school time tricky.
#1 - Embrace Your Child’s School Team
As sports, clubs and extra activities start back up, we all know that having a good team makes the experience and the effort go the extra mile! Our schools are filled with excellent teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, administrators and staff that are ready to be a good influence on your student’s life for the next nine months. Having strong, open communication with those within your child’s school that can be supportive while your child learns and grows and deals with his or her illness will be a major win for you all. If your child’s medical needs affect his or her school experience, having the right people in the know about specific needs, absences, and extra support will not only bring understanding for the staff, it will prop your student up to be successful. Start making your A Team on day 1 if you haven’t already!
#2 504 Plans
If your child needs a few accommodations or protections during the school year to ensure they are getting what they need without feeling like they are being punished, a 504 plan could be a great option! This is a free service for all children with documentation of a medical and/or mental health disability. Does your child struggle to see the white board or to hear the instructions from the teacher? Need to have timed breaks to visit the nurse to check blood sugars? Visits with the guidance counselor? A 504 Plan can help put these needs in place to help the student receive the support they need while at school. A 504 Plan does not change the education standards that your student needs to meet according to his or her grade level. It allows your student to have the seat in the classroom they need to ensure they are receiving the instruction they need to understand and complete their work. It makes sure that your child can keep up with their medical check ins with the nurse and not miss out on critical class time. It helps your child process and deal with the issues at hand in order to be able to focus on learning. If you think this may be a benefit to your child, contact your teacher, principal, school nurse or guidance counselor to start the process. If you’d like support behind the scenes or help setting up those meetings with the appropriate staff members, I’d be happy to help you! I can even attend your 504 plan meeting if that would be the most helpful for you.
Individual Education Plan. These plans are also free for families and require a formal multidisciplinary psych or neuropsych evaluation by school personnel. These plans can alter the education standards to set your child up for his or her greatest success. There are different categories of disability according to IDEA. They are Other Health Impairment (OHI), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Specific Learning Disability (SLD). You can talk to your school psychologist about these different categories to learn more about where your child might benefit from a plan to help him or her in school. Chronic illnesses and medically complex diagnoses do not need to hold your child back! Our schools are ready to help your child achieve the greatest success possible in his or her education. I would be happy to help connect you to staff personnel if you’d like to start a conversation about an I.E.P.
#4 Food Fuels the Mind
Sometimes our medical bills can make other costs of living more challenging to provide for our children. If you are struggling financially because of your child’s healthcare needs, you may be able to provide school meals for him or her in another way! Free and reduced meals are available for children that meet a certain economic guideline. But did you know that even if you do not meet that guideline on paper but are still struggling financially from your child’s medical bills, you can talk to your school principal about receiving free and reduced meals for your student? Having a good breakfast and lunch will help your student through their school day. If this is a challenge to provide at the moment, please don’t hesitate to talk to your school’s principal for more information about how to sign your child up for free and reduced school meals so that he or she can be bright and alert in class! If you would like more information or want support approaching your child’s principal, please reach out to me.
#5 Send your child with love!
School can be an exciting and nerve wracking experience for your child, especially if they have a chronic illness or medically complex condition that can set them apart from their peers. Remind your child that they are loved and accepted! Allow them space to process their feelings and expectations with you about the new school year - and throughout it. Encourage your child to make new friendships and strengthen old ones. Let him or her know that there are safe adults at school that are willing to listen and be supportive in good times and hard times. And have fun! School is a wonderful opportunity for your child to discover the world we live in and find lasting interests that could shape careers.
Happy back to school everyone! If there are other areas that you may want to be supported in for your child/family as you balance school with a medical diagnosis, I would be happy to walk beside you as we search out good resource options for your family. You can call me at the office at 307-333-1273, email me at email@example.com, or find us on social media and our website!
There is a lot of planning that goes into a successful fundraiser golf tournament. From the first day of planning a few months in advance to the week after the tournament and everything in between it takes a team of people to ensure no details are left incomplete. I wanted to give you a sneak peek into what goes on the day of our golf tournament.
As much as it takes our full staff to ensure the tournament goes off without a hitch, it certainly wouldn't be possible without a dedicated board of directors volunteering their time and we feel like we have the best board around to make sure the job gets done. Our board and staff start solidifying dates with the venue and other vital companies as much as a year in advance. We have some amazing companies in Casper that see the value in supporting OCF and we greatly appreciate their willingness to save the date for us. As the day of the tournament rolls around, it’s time to put all of the planning pieces into action!
We start the day bright and early to get everything set up before the first golfers arrive to check in. This year we did a double shotgun start with a morning and afternoon flight. We have a registration area where golfers check in, receive their gift (customized OCF golf towel and poker chip), and purchase any tickets (50/50 golf ball drop, golf helper packages to give them a leg up on their score, and extra tickets for our raffle giveaway).
This is where we coordinate with the golf pros about any last minute changes are made if there are any player replacements or no shows.
We also offer a sneak peek at the silent and live auction items. It takes a team of volunteers in the morning to set up the items to look attractive and create a good flow.
After the morning flight starts we prep for the afternoon shotgun and get to go around the course ensuring everyone is happy and mingle with the guests.
Now it’s time for the second flight to check in and we go through the same process as the morning. Once these golfers are off on the course it’s time to break down registration and move and set up the auction items to the banquet tent!
The golf course event staff are a great help with setting up the banquet so it looks beautiful. We just added a few decorations and coordinated the auction items.
After all the golfing is done, we get to move onto arguably the most fun part of the tournament- the banquet!
Guests arrive for a cocktail reception where they get to chat and start bidding on silent auction items. As dinner kicks off the guests enjoy speeches from our Founder/CEO and board members to remind them of the impact they are making by supporting the event. It is so important to connect the mission of the Olivia Caldwell Foundation back to the reason we are all gathered at the tournament.
This was the first year we did a golf ball drop and it was a blast. Not only did golfers have the opportunity to purchase a 50/50 numbered golf ball but it was open to the public as well. We put all of the purchased numbers into a bucket that was hoisted into the air by a crane. They were released and plummeted to the ground at a target. The golf ball closest to the target was chosen as the winner to split the cash pot 50/50 with OCF. The winner graciously donated the proceeds back.
After the golf ball drop, the live auction kicked off. We started with a Mission Live Auction that allowed guests to donate in such a way that 100% of the proceeds benefit pediatric cancer research and our Pediatric Specialty Clinic. It is pretty amazing how generous our golfers are and we are so grateful for all of the support they provide. The second part of the Live Auction involves auctioning off our larger packages. This is where the energy in the tent goes up. People are bidding against each other in hopes of winning some fun vacations, golf packages and other unique items.
After all of the scheduled events take place the rest of the evening is spent enjoying each other’s company and thanking everyone for all of their hard work and support.
The beauty of a golf tournament vs other fundraising events we host is that there are moments of down time. Most events we are on full speed the entire time but when the golfers are off on the course the staff and board have a short span of time to decompress and enjoy the wonderful weather and guests!
Overall the golf tournament was a huge success. We cannot thank our volunteers enough for ensuring this event went smoothly and for our supporters and their drive to ensure children battling cancer and other serious diseases have the best possible chance and surviving and thriving. We look forward to seeing what’s possible for next year’s tournament!
I have spent a little time reflecting on the work I’ve been able to be a part of as the Patient Advocate the past 6 months and wanted to share a few things that struck me.
Since the launching of the Patient Advocacy Program at the end of January through the end of July, I have been able to serve 75 cases for families! Each family has been unique in their circumstances. Some parents had a sudden illness come upon one of their children. Some experienced a premature birth. Some had been dealing with a chronic illness or medically complex diagnosis with a child for years. Because the landscape is so diverse for our families, it has been clear that the research I do into resources around the state should be as broad as possible. I have needed to call on food banks, Wyoming Health Department programs, counselors, rent assistance (through foundations and federally funded programs), hotels for appointments, summer camps for children with similar illnesses and their families, and even college courses for parents needing to know how to care for their child when they return home from the hospital. Every family is unique and it matters to me to care for the whole family in their medical journey.
It has been amazing to see the chain of connections that bring a family to me! I have worked with social workers and other hospital personnel on behalf of families that I have never spoken to and that has been a great experience. Wyoming takes care of their own, but we do it fairly quietly. Being able to know more local resources around the state has been a huge help to families while they are still at an out of state hospital in need of support now or when they arrive home. It is pretty awesome to be able to pass along to the hospital personnel to make those connections a possibility! It is an incredible process every time to talk to these local resources and see their care and compassion to do whatever they can to help. We live in a pretty wonderful state!
It is also amazing to see how friends and family members will reach out on behalf of their loved ones that need support while their child is sick. I know that it can be hard to ask for help personally, so to have people in our lives who will start that process by reaching out for us can be a lot easier to receive a phone call instead of making one. I have had the privilege of hearing from a school nurse, friends, and other non profits that care for the child who is ill and their family and want them to find as much support as possible. Because they reached out to me, I could reach out to mom and/or dad. In those conversations, we were usually able to come up with a specific need(s) and go from there to help them on their way.
Some families have only needed one resource and they are ready to jet forward. Others have needed several resources at one time. And still others have had a very challenging road that has built into a more long term support team as their child’s illness continues to make waves for their lives. One thing that I have really enjoyed seeing is that no matter where a family is at, no matter what sort of needs they have, and no matter how long it takes, these families LOVE each other and are so committed to making it through the best that they can. I am so proud of how the families I have served have selflessly given so much to ensure that their family is being taken care of in difficult circumstances. I truly count it an honor to walk alongside them for however long they want me on their team!
If you know of anyone who has a child with a chronic illness or medically complex diagnosis, please consider reaching out to me or sending them my way. If you are that mom or dad, please do the same! It is amazing to see what resources we have in Wyoming for the families who need it. You can call me at 307-333-1273 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.