Retired bus driver Ellis Hill didn’t have the money to fly to Brazil to watch his son, shot putter Darrell Hill.
“I was content with just staying home and getting a good bag of popcorn and watching him on TV,” he said.
Traffic restrictions and a slow drive to Willock’s hotel in New Jersey left plenty of time for conversation.
Eventually talk turned to the Olympics. Willock said she knew one of the swimmers competing. Hill did her one better and told her his son, who was a track and field star at Penn State, was in the competitions.
Then Willock asked Hill if he was able to go.
“When he told me he couldn’t go to the Olympics in Rio, I just wondered how I would feel as a parent of athletes,” Willock said.
Within minutes, Willock asked Hill whether he would go if she got him plane tickets.
Hill was stunned.
“I said, ‘Whoa, I don’t even know you,'” Hill said. “She said, ‘No, no, I believe it was meant for you and I to meet because I just missed my flight.'”
A GoFundMe page was set up, and “literally within two days, we’d raised the funds,” said Willock, who works at a concierge service arranging travel and accommodation for patients participating in clinical trials across the world.
Over 150 people had donated $8,200 by the time Willock closed the Send Darrell’s Dad to Rio fundraiser — some of them friends and classmates of Hill’s son, but most complete strangers.
As well as booking flights and making hotel reservations, Hill had to apply for a passport. It will be his first trip abroad.
Willock said she’s happy to be able “to help a stranger who’s no longer a stranger.”
“I’m sure we’ll be friends for life now,” she said.
Hill heads to Rio on Monday. His son celebrates his 23rd birthday Wednesday and competes on Thursday.
“A lot of Americans are getting gold, and I hope he’s one of them,” he said.
Associated Press writer Teresa Crawford in Chicago contributed to this report.