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Lakewood Ranch baseball players' act of kindness a beacon of light

Breast cancer survivor surprised with roses from Lakewood Ranch High baseball players.

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Under pitch-black conditions, even the smallest light source — the flicker of a flame — can have a major impact. 

It is in that spirit I bring you a story of kindness and hope.

National and world news has had a tendency to be bleak. Important, but bleak nonetheless. Consuming it all day can take a toll. 

The Lakewood Ranch High baseball players did something that acts as a counterbalance to all that. The story is moving shows the power that benevolence at any scale can have. 

Lakewood Ranch resident Chris Olander had been diagnosed with breast cancer and on Feb. 21 underwent a double mastectomy as part of her treatment plan. The initial surgery went well, but Olander developed pulmonary embolisms on Feb. 27 as a complication.

Those had to be treated as well and the entire ordeal has left Olander understandably exhausted. Sean Olander said March 11 that his wife still has trouble speaking without needing to catch her breath. Her outlook is good, but with much recovery time ahead of her, she could use all the good thoughts anyone is willing to share. 

Lakewood Ranch High sophomore Andy Schroeder gives Chris Olander a rose as she stands next to Sean Olander.
Lakewood Ranch High sophomore Andy Schroeder gives Chris Olander a rose as she stands next to Sean Olander.

A few family friends decided to do more. Angela Combs, one of Olander's closest friends and neighbors, has a son, Ryan Combs, who is a senior on the Lakewood Ranch baseball team. Ryan Combs is friends with the Olanders' son, Austin Olander, a junior on the Cardinal Mooney High baseball team. Because of those relationships — and knowing that Chris Olander was feeling down from all the surgery — the Combs family wanted to do something nice. They decided to use flowers to provide a little surprise and lift her spirits.

If the Combs family decided to give the flowers to Olander directly, that would have been nice. Then again, if they could get more people involved, that would be even better. Suddenly Ryan Combs had an idea. 

"I thought it would be big to do something with my (baseball) team," Ryan Combs said. "I put a message in our team group on Snapchat and told them what happened and that we wanted to give her roses. I asked if they would help. Everyone was in right away."

On March 3, Chris Olander opened the door to find Ryan Combs holding a rose. He handed it to her.

The rest of the Mustangs, who were standing behind him, followed suit. Some of them knew Austin Olander from travel ball and youth ball. Others did not. It didn't matter. They all showed up. 

Sean Olander — who was also present, but aware of what the team was planning — said his wife was overcome with emotion. She tried to say thank you to the boys even though she could barely gather her breath to speak. One look at the photos from the moment will tell you that Chris Olander was moved. 

"It was overwhelming for her," Sean Olander said. "She actually felt bad because she had a hard time saying 'thank you' but she was so appreciative. It definitely lifted her spirits. The main thing she took from it was how good-hearted those kids are."

Other than handing out roses, the team also made a trifold poster board wishing Chris Olander well and signed it with their names, attaching a pink breast cancer ribbon in the corner. Ryan Combs said seeing the Olander's reactions made the gesture more than worth it. Even the kids who did not previously know Chris Olander felt great about helping to brighten someone's day, Combs said. 

Chris Olander was so moved by the gesture that she contacted Lakewood Ranch High to tell the administration about the school's great baseball players. She also made a donation to the program. 

"Chris' main thing is, there are people who have it a lot worse than her or are going through similar procedures," Sean Olander said. "This really isn't about her in her mind, it's about the baseball team and the people who put this thing together. It was just a few minutes out of their day but it meant so much. The support overall that she has received from the baseball community has been amazing, from Mooney and Lakewood Ranch and Braden River and Parrish (Community) and beyond. The world needs more families like that." 

I could not agree more. I'm sure there are other athletes in the Lakewood Ranch area that have done similar good deeds. We should lift those deeds up, too. The world is hard enough as it is. Together, with a little kindness, we can make it better. 

Ryan Combs said it better than I could. 

"I hope that people do similar things for others in need," Ryan Combs said. "I think this shows that people do actually care about others and what happens in life. It felt amazing to make even a small difference." 

In all of this, baseball can begin to feel a bit trivial, but it is the sport that brought all of these people together. Lakewood Ranch High (3-2) and Cardinal Mooney High (3-4) play each other at 7 p.m. April 13 at Lakewood Ranch High.



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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