"I feel really grateful and overcome," Ellis Hill tells PEOPLE of Liz Willock's good deed
A Pennsylvania Uber driver’s dream of traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to see his son compete in the Olympic Games is coming true thanks to a chance encounter with a determined passenger.
During an hour-long ride in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, passenger Liz Willock and driver Ellis Hill covered a lot of conversational territory. When they got to the Olympics, Hill proudly explained that his son, Darrell Hill, would be representing Team USA in shot put.
“When I told her about my son she was really amazed, but when she asked me if I was going over there to watch him, I said I really couldn’t afford it,” Hill, a retired bus driver, tells PEOPLE.
That news broke Willock’s heart.
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“It was devastating to hear that,” Willock tells PEOPLE. “Here’s this wonderful man who has a close relationship with his son and I know any parent would want to see their son or daughter compete at the Olympics, but it was very understandable how that could be out of reach.”
Then Willock had an idea.
As a sales leader at a concierge service that arranges travel and accommodations for people seeking clinical trials around the world, she felt she had all the contacts and resources she needed to make Hill’s trip happen.
“She asked me, ‘If I could get you a ticket would you go?’ ” Hill recalls. “And I said, ‘Oh my goodness I don’t even know you!'”
“She said, ‘No. I believe you and I were fated to meet and I’m going to try to make this happen,’ ” Hill continues.
The pair exchanged information and the next day, Willock created a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $7,500 to send Hill to Rio to cheer for his son.
The donations poured in and the campaign reached its goal in just two days. Hill was leaving church when a local news station called to tell him he would be heading to Rio.
“I was ecstatic,” Hill says. “I feel really grateful and overcome by the knowledge that there are good people out there.”
The campaign’s success gave Willock the same feeling.
“There has been so much sadness and violence in the news lately and this really restored my faith in humanity,” Willock says. “We had over 150 people contribute and I think Ellis knew maybe 10 of them. The rest were strangers.”
Now, Hill and Willock are talking “about every half hour,” Willock says, as the proud father prepares to watch his son compete on the world’s biggest stage.
“I haven’t seen my son in a couple months because he’s been training,” Hill explains. “I cant wait to see him and encourage him in person and let him know I’m 100 percent in his corner.”
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When asked what it meant to have a total stranger take it upon herself to make his dream come true, Hill laughs.
“Liz was only a stranger for 5 minutes,” he says. “We talk all the time now and I know we’re going to be friends for a long time.”
To learn more about all Olympic hopefuls, visit teamusa.org. The Rio Olympics begin Aug. 5 on NBC.