‘Ollie Strong’: ‘Human Etch-A-Sketch’ runs through Niles for local child battling cancer

Published 6:52 pm Saturday, May 18, 2024

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NILES — Community members gathered at Riverfront Park Saturday morning – decked out in “Ollie Strong” t-shirts – to honor and support Ollie Gauthier, a local child battling cancer. 

Iowa resident Rik Zortman, known as the “Human Etch-A-Sketch,” ran through downtown Niles using GPS to spell the words “Twins” and “Gabe,” in honor of Ollie twin brother, Gabe. Ollie has been battling medulloblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer and his brother Gabe is one of his biggest supporters. 

“Thank you so much to everyone who came out today, we appreciate it,” said Ollie and Gabe’s father, Jerimee Gauthier. “Ollie’s a fighter and I appreciate all you guys coming out here to support him and what he’s going through.”

Organized by local veterans, community leaders, first responders, educators, schools, athletic teams and families, the event featured dozens of free donuts as well as free coffee provided by the Niles Biggby location. 

“I just felt compelled to help in any way that I possibly could,” said Jamie Roberts of Niles Biggby. “If I was in that situation, there was a family member or even just myself, I would want the community to come together and I think it’s absolutely amazing. If there was any way that I could be a part of it and help, I just wanted to.”

Donations were collected on site and can also be made at local Fifth Third Bank branches to the “Ollie Strong” account. More than 40 community members came out to show support and more than $500 was raised for the event.

Zortman has been featured on ESPN and has run in twenty-six states, two foreign countries and every county in Iowa. He has run more than 1,700 consecutive days for similar causes. Zortman met Gauthier and his family a few years ago and was happy to celebrate Ollie and Gabe while raising funds to help with medical bills.

“It was nice to see Ollie again,” Zortman said. “I know he’s struggling with everything. He needs all the support he can get. I don’t know where his journey is going to take him so all the support here is great and hopefully, he can turn around and make a full recovery.”

Several of Ollie’s teachers and staff at Buchanan Middle School were on hand for the event, including Principal Shelby Beasley.

“Any time that we can get together as a community to wrap our arms around a family in need is an immediate calling for us,” she said. “To be able to be here this morning means the world to me because it’s a Saturday morning and I get to have extra time with (Ollie and Gabe).”

“These two boys are some of the best little humans that you’d ever meet,” she said. “They’re smart as a whip and very, very intelligent but their senses of humor and their personalities are what really make it. They are so much fun and I’ve loved watching them grow and getting to know them.”

Buchanan Middle School has been supporting Ollie and Gabe throughout the school year through its Spirit Wear sale, wearing green every Wednesday in support of “Ollie Strong” and making cards and posters.

“It’s amazing how just this one young man and his awesome twin brother have created a bigger purpose for all of our middle school kids who sometimes get a bad rap,” “The teachers and the whole student population have opened their hearts to this guy and we would do anything for him.”