Trip to UF Swamp a 'super' success for Brandon teen
It was as if God gave a wink and a nod to plans for a Brandon teen to enjoy an extraordinary weekend at the University of Florida, the college she would have attended were it not for unfathomable tragedy.
In a chance meeting early Friday afternoon, star Gator quarterback Tim Tebow knelt beside her wheelchair, welcoming her to homecoming.
"I think somebody up above was looking down on us today," said Steve Stock, the Tampa native who arranged for a dream homecoming weekend for the girl. "It could not have gone more perfectly."
Stock, the president of Guy Harvey Inc., a major sponsor of homecoming this year, had read her story months back and felt compelled to do something special for the 19-year-old, left in a wheelchair, unable to walk, talk or see after a brutal rape and beating in 2007.
He and members of Florida Blue Key, the student organization that produces Gator Growl, an extravagant homecoming pep rally, decided to give her and her family a tour of Florida Field following the Gator parade.
Head football coach Urban Meyer just happened to be there.
Moments after Stock related the girl's story to him, the coach headed for the nearby Gator locker room shouting for his star quarterback.
Tebow, who said he was in the cold tub at the time, quickly regrouped and ran to meet her.
He spoke with her at length, signed Gator gear for her to take home and posed for dozens of photographs.
"When [Stock] told the coach her story, it really touched his heart," said Tebow, a Heisman Trophy winner often referred to by the Gator faithful as Superman.
"It's also an amazing story how she and her family are working to get past this tragedy. It's a miracle she's here and alive," Tebow said, adding that he was happy to be part of the moment.
After the football team was introduced to the crowd at The Swamp during Growl Friday night, Tebow was back by her side.
He spent about 30 minutes chatting to her and others who'd arranged the gathering, personalizing an autographed football helmet donated to her by Tampa memorabilia businessman Marty Bladen, signing autographs and posing for photos.
Bladen got to share in the moment as did Florida Blue Key sponsorship director Andrew Winner, who had worked to make it all come together.
"It was such a blessing," Winner said of the locker room encounter with Tebow and Meyer. "It could not have gone more perfectly."
"She's been so happy through all of this," the teen's mother said. "She's been just happy and full of emotion."
The young woman and her family will attend the football game today between Florida and Arkansas.
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