OSU football: Cowboy super fan Olivia Hamilton is grown up, cancer free and still a big fan
Ask Olivia Hamilton about her memories of Oklahoma State's magical football season in 2011, and she goes silent.
Where to start?
What to say?
"It was amazing," she finally musters.
It certainly was for the Cowboys, who won the Big 12 title, nearly played for the national title but instead beat Stanford and Andrew Luck in an instant classic in the Fiesta Bowl. The special season was kickstarted by a huge come-from-behind road win at Texas A&M, the former conference foe OSU will play for the first time since in the Texas Bowl.
But for Hamilton, that season's splendor was about so much more than what happened on the field. She had cancer in those days. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It caused a tumor the size of an orange near her heart and led to more than two years of radiation and chemo.
During her treatments, she met Cowboy receiver Justin Blackmon and started a friendship that expanded to darn near the entire team.
Olivia was a fourth grader then.
Now, she's a high school senior.
Yes, the little girl with the big smile who became an OSU super fan and had her story told far and wide is all grown up. The smile remains. So does the adorable giggle. But her perspective on that special season has matured.
"It was just really awesome to get away from everything I was going through," she said. "Just time away from being in the hospital or getting treatment."
Her Cowboy connection began the winter before. She was invited to a men's basketball game as a guest of OSU Coaches vs. Cancer, and she was randomly paired with Blackmon. They bonded and vowed to stay in touch.
That summer, Blackmon visited her in the hospital a couple of times, and when Olivia was invited to OSU's football game against Tulsa, she made sure to leave one of her pink silicone bracelets in his locker before the game.
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When she saw him after the game, he was wearing the bracelet.
Olivia got to go to several other games that season, but Bedlam stands out.
"We kicked OU's butt," she said, then giggled.
She was watching that night from one of the women's basketball offices in Gallagher-Iba Arena, and when Cowboy fans started rushing the field, Olivia begged her dad to take her down to the field. Finally, he relented.
Then while the Hamiltons were waiting later outside the stadium for the players to come out, a man approached Olivia.
"Are you Olivia Hamilton?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said.
"Can I have your autograph?"
He told the Hamiltons he had heard Olivia's story and had become a fan of hers.
Was her first autograph a good one?
"Probably not," she said, laughing. "It wasn't in cursive."
She never thought of herself as a celebrity. Never thought of that season as something temporary or fleeting either. Even after Blackmon and other players who became friends left Stillwater, they remained important to her.
Does she still keep in touch?
The question prompts halting emotions. Words stop as tears fall.
She still talks on social media with Orie Lemon and Andrew McGee, Cowboy defenders both. Cowboy receiver Tracy Moore is another regular in her life; because she lives in Sperry and he lives in Tulsa, they've been able to see each other a couple of times in the past few years.
But her relationship with Blackmon is more complicated.
"I still talk to Justin every now and then," she said, her voice wavering. "It's kind of ... "
"I try not to bug him a lot. But sometimes it'll just be one day, and he'll just randomly text me."
Blackmon's struggles since his OSU days have been well-documented. Arrests. Suspensions. A promising football career has been completely derailed as he made more appearances in court than he ever did on an NFL sideline.
Blackmon has largely disappeared from public view, but on occasion, he reaches out to Olivia.
"It feels good to know ... ," she said, but then the tears came back.
Blackmon was there for her when life was rough, and now, she tries to be there for him in his ups and downs. But she admits it's hard, not just because of Blackmon's life but because of hers.
She is a busy high school student. She has played volleyball, and now, she is a manager for the girls basketball team at Sperry, a tiny town only 20 minutes north of downtown Tulsa. She has worked hard to keep a grade point average above 3.0.
Even though it's been nearly eight years since she's had any treatment for cancer — last January, she officially became cancer free — she still deals with residual effects of all that radiation and chemo. There are issues with her bones. She gets tired easily.
But nothing is overly concerning to her doctors.
"Just trying to live a normal teenage life," she said.
These days, that includes all the stuff that comes with being in your last year of high school. Senior pictures. Prom plans. And of course, college.
Olivia doesn't yet know what she wants to major in, so she's thinking about going to Tulsa Community College for a couple of years to get her basics. By then, she figures she'll have decided on a career path.
But regardless of what she decides, she already has a dream school.
One day, Olivia Hamilton wants to go to Oklahoma State.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.