I always thought the hardest job I’d ever have would be spending a lifetime getting to the Olympics. That is, until I became a parent. Then the Olympics seemed tiny by comparison. As a parent, you haven’t only invested your time, energy, strength, and mind—you’ve also invested your heart. And there are often times your heart is stretched to its very limits because you couldn’t imagine caring—or worrying—about anything more. Never was this more apparent to me than when I first met the O’Rears.
It was November 2001 and, as a recent Olympic gold medalist, I was asked to bring an Olympic torch down to a little girl in Texas. She had been selected to carry the flame in the 2002 Olympic torch relay, but the doctors believed she might not make it to her official date. It was only weeks after 9/11 and, like many Americans, I was terrified to get on an airplane. I had boarded the plane bound for Texas and was nearly hyperventilating. I seriously questioned if I should get off the aircraft. Ashley O’Rear was just a name at that point, but there was something powerful compelling me to stay on that plane and meet this young lady and her family.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it was truly a decision that changed my life. I not only met an incredibly special little girl with the strength, courage, and passion of a saint, I met a family that would easily go to the ends of the earth for their children. I could tell by the look in Ashley’s father’s eyes that this sick little girl was his angel. I understood that this was what an invested heart was all about.
The connection with the O’Rears lasted long after I walked out their front door on that impressionable day. Paul has become an inspiration, a role model, and most importantly, a friend. It takes a brave and caring man to share the raw emotions and ultimate lessons learned as a result of the biggest loss most anyone could imagine enduring. I’ve always been moved at how Paul can reach right into your chest and pull at your heartstrings. Both Paul and his poignant narrative will touch, comfort, and inspire anyone who has been through heartache.
People often marvel at what I handled on one snowy, competitive day in front of the world. Now being a mom, with an invested heart, I know this is nothing compared to what Paul has handled quietly in the small town of Waxahachie, Texas.
Olympic Gold Medalist
Best-selling Author of When Turtles Fly
Ashley with Olympic gold medalist Nikki Stone