Liz Willock believes she missed her flight to Philadelphia for a reason. Had she not taken a later one out of Chicago, she might not have had Ellis Hill as her Uber driver on her trip from the airport to her hotel.
And if they hadn’t met, Hill would probably not be preparing to travel to Rio de Janiero to watch his son throw shot put in the Olympics.
When Willock settled into the back seat for the long ride navigating the security and traffic from the Democratic National Convention last week, she struck up a conversation with Hill. They chatted first about his decision to drive for Uber and the work that brought her to Philadelphia. But soon the conversation changed to sports, and Willock shared that she knew someone competing in the Olympics.
Hill had one better. His son was, too.
She asked him whether he was going. He told her that he would love that, but he just couldn’t afford it. So she offered this: What if she could find a way to get him there?
“It just made me sad because any loving parent would want to see their child compete in the Olympics,” she said Friday.
She started a GoFundMe campaign – which has been a go-to site for many Olympic athletes who need money to supplement their training or to finance their families’ trips to Rio – and made a fundraising page for Hill. His son, Darrell Hill, shared it on social media, and within two days they’d exceeded the $7,500 goal she’d set for flights, hotel, meals and other travel expenses.
There remains a final loose end: Hill has never had a passport; he’s never left the country, so Willock immediately began the process to have one expedited.
But Willock has little doubt it will all work out.
“There’s been a lot of magic through this whole process,” she said. “It’s really meant to be, I believe.”
Hill plans to leave for Rio on Aug. 15. His son competes that Thursday and has already secured his dad tickets to his event. His son “is ecstatic,” Hill said.
Hill said with work responsibilities and funds being tight he never got to be one of those parents who traveled to every one of their child’s competitions. But he said he talks to his son all the time, encouraging him every step of the way.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m really excited about the trip itself, and it’s a trip I never thought I’d be able to take,” Hill said. “As things are coming together, I feel really good. I really think I’m going to get there.”
Most of the 150 people who donated were strangers moved by Hill’s story. And Uber has given him a $1,000 ride credit and a gift certificate for a meal in Rio.
Hill had only been an Uber driver for about four weeks when he met Willlock. And meeting her as reaffirmed what he’s always believed to be true about people.
“People are people, so until they do something different, you expect the best out of people,” he said. “It’s an awesome thing.”
And now, they both agreed, they’d made a new friend for life.