Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
There were times last fall when Georgia’s inside linebacker coach Kirk Olivadotti got to do some bonding with his four-year-old daughter, Kasyn, at midnight — or sometimes even later.
Before you assume that something is out of sorts with this family, you must know about Kasyn’s challenge. She was diagnosed with leukemia a little more than a year ago, and the powerful medications she was taking caused her to venture off a normal sleep cycle.
Kirk would come in from a long day at the office — starting out at first light, or before — working a 16-hour day, and Kasyn would often be awake. He would take her into the kitchen and fix cereal for her or make her a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Suddenly, the fatigue of his coaching routine evolved into renewed energy and inspiration. His daughter fought for her life at Egleston Hospital at Emory for months in the spring/summer of 2011. Every opportunity to spend time with Kasyn was a joyful occasion. When a linebacker made a play that helped Georgia win a game, Kirk was appreciative and grateful, but nothing could compare to coming home at midnight and seeing Kasyn put her arms around his neck and hang out with him in the kitchen.
Both Kirk and his wife, Keely, lived day-to-day most of last year, and they are grateful that they have come this far with Kasyn. And while she still has a heavy dosage of medicine to take each week, there is hope for a cure and a normal life.
“Technically,” Kirk begins explaining, “she is in remission, and we are hoping she will be cancer free in a couple of years.”
Kirk and Keely marvel at the positive attitude Kasyn has.
“She knows she has cancer,” Kirk added, “but she knows that she can win the fight.”
Kasyn takes a chemotherapy pill every day and smiles her way through tough Tuesdays. That is the day she has to take as many as nine pills.
“We are humbled and grateful,” Kirk said last week after coming off the road for the annual evaluation of high-school prospects. “First there was the shock, and then we just became numb. But the thing that gave us the most encouragement was the faith and confidence of the wonderful staff at Egleston Hospital. If we were going to have a challenge that we’ve had, we are thankful that it happened with us being close to such a wonderful facility and staff.”
All last summer, Kasyn was hospitalized, with Keely literally living at the hospital with her daughter.
All the while, there was Kasyn’s two-year-old brother, Kruz, who needed attention too.
“We made it somehow,” Kirk said with a smile. “My parents (Tom and Karen) and Keely’s parents (Keith and Cathy Stewart) all pitched in. They would take turns coming and spending time with us to assist Keely and to help look after Kruz.”
Then there were the coaches wives who reached out to the Olivadottis, offering assistance on an ongoing basis.
“Everybody has been great to us,” Kirk said. “And we are appreciative. Keely had to bear the brunt of the ordeal, both physically and emotionally. I don’t think we could have made it without the help and support of so many friends. (Athens) is right hospitable and caring.”
June and July offer more family time with the coaches. Kirk will take advantage of that option to see his family with a normal routine since the first of August means those 16- and 18-hour work days will return. He won’t mind the grind, and he won’t complain about the long hours. When you know your family’s health is not an issue, it makes any job more enjoyable.
For Kirk, there still will be something to worry about on the practice field. Like a linebacker blowing an assignment, missing a tackle or giving up a big play. That, however, is trumped by Kasyn’s healthy smile.