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Tim Tebow came into their life, and never left

 
Boomer Hornbeck of Naples, Fla., has battled cerebral palsy and undergone surgery after surgery in the hopes of allowing him to one day walk. Inspired by Tim Tebow, and encouraged by his relationship with him, Hornbeck has become a motivational speaker.
Boomer Hornbeck of Naples, Fla., has battled cerebral palsy and undergone surgery after surgery in the hopes of allowing him to one day walk. Inspired by Tim Tebow, and encouraged by his relationship with him, Hornbeck has become a motivational speaker.
Published Aug. 17, 2017

There are a lot of stories about Tim Tebow connecting with people during his life, Tebow inspiring them and Tebow being inspired.

And a lot of times, when they meet, they stay met.

And pay it forward.

Which brings us to Boomer and Kelly.

Boomer is 15. Kelly is 27.

"Tim still inspires me," Boomer said. "We stay in touch."

"Timmy means so much in my life," Kelly said.

I came across them eight years ago, while writing a story about the end of Tebow's college career and how his legacy would carry beyond football.

Stories from the heart.

◘ ◘ ◘

Boomer Hornbeck — Boomer is his actual first name — was 7 when I wrote about him. He had battled cerebral palsy and undergone surgery after surgery in the hopes of allowing him to one day walk. "Never complaining, always smiling," his mother, Brooke, said at the time.

After one surgery, Boomer was placed in a body cast. Brooke didn't know how he handled the pain or the therapy that followed, but the whole time Boomer said he wanted to meet Tim Tebow. Brooke is a Florida graduate. Boomer insisted that his body cast be painted orange and blue.

The Hornbecks lived in Atlanta at the time, but had once lived in Naples, where Brooke's father was chairman of an annual charity banquet. One year, Florida coach Urban Meyer was the keynote speaker. Boomer told Meyer to say hello to Tim Tebow.

"Say, 'Hi,' yourself," Meyer said.

It was an invitation.

So, the day before the 2009 season, Boomer came to Gainesville to meet Tebow. Tim complimented Boomer on his walking, then pushed him in his wheelchair around the football stadium. The next day, he wheeled Boomer out for pregame warm-ups. Everyone wanted to know. Who was that lucky boy with Tim Tebow? It was the other way around.

"He's an inspiration," Tebow said.

They hooked up later in the season. Tebow sent Boomer and Brooke tickets to another home game. Boomer attended the team meal and team chapel with Tebow. Later, he went to the SEC title game and the Sugar Bowl. The game in New Orleans was Tebow's final college game. It was also the last time Boomer Hornbeck ever used a wheelchair.

"I just decided," Boomer said.

The story didn't end there.

◘ ◘ ◘

Kelly Faughnan, from Clifton, Va., was born with health issues. Her hearing was damaged. She later underwent surgery for a brain tumor. She suffered from uncontrollable tremors. Her mom and dad, Janet and Jim, took her to the best doctors. But the tremors persisted. Still do. But Kelly is special.

She met Tim Tebow in 2009. When Kelly underwent brain surgery in 2008, she and her sister, Katie, devised a plan to go to Orlando the following December, partly to Disney World, but really to sneak a peek at the ESPN college football awards show — and to meet Tebow. Janet and Jim booked the trip, but told Kelly meeting Tebow would be difficult.

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But Tebow spotted then 20-year-old Kelly wearing an "I Love Timmy" pin as he entered a restaurant for a banquet. He asked to meet Kelly. They got to talking. And talking. Tebow was inspired by her.

Finally, he asked, "Kelly, are you busy tomorrow night?"

Kelly was overwhelmed.

"Want to be my date to the college football awards?"

So, it happened. Kelly and her mom found the perfect dress — silver, spaghetti straps. Everyone wanted to know. Who was that lucky girl walking with Tim Tebow on the red carpet?

"It made her feel like Cinderella for a night," Jim Faughnan said.

"It was amazing to be with Timmy," Kelly said.

The story didn't end there.

◘ ◘ ◘

Boomer Horneck and his mother moved back to Naples a few years ago. He is a sophomore at Naples High School. He has undergone 23 surgeries in his life. He doesn't play sports, but he gets around and has become a motivational speaker. He recently spoke to the Naples High football team.

Boomer and Tim keep in touch. Boomer sent Tim a text on Monday, Tim's 30th birthday. Tim always gets back to him. Boomer wants to attend Florida, like Tim, and law school.

"I want to live a life of faith," Boomer said. "I want to pass that on. Tim is still my role model. I strive to be like him every day."

◘ ◘ ◘

Then there's Kelly.

Tim invited her to football games when he was with the NFL's Denver Broncos, in Baltimore and in Denver. The Faughnans went as a family. Tim couldn't pay enough attention to Kelly. The family was on the field before the games. Tim kept sending Broncos teammates over to meet them. In Denver, Kelly's hotel room was filled with gifts, including a Bible signed by Tim.

That's when she decided.

"She wanted to raise money for Tim's W15H program in his foundation." Jim Faughnan said.

"I wanted other boys and girls to feel the way that I did," Kelly said.

So, she organized a charity golf tournament in her hometown, the proceeds going directly to The Tim Tebow Foundation's W15H program. The tournament has raised $117,000 in five years. Last October, Tebow attended the event.

Kelly has attended the Tebow's annual golf fundraiser at TPC Sawgrass in Tebow's hometown of Jacksonville. Two years ago, Kelly's family was there when she was surprised with the Tebow foundation's Platform of Purpose Award, given to the person who uses his or her platform to give back. There was video of Kelly's tournament on big screens. Her story was told. Tebow's college coach, Urban Meyer, escorted her on stage.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the house," Jim Faughnan said.

◘ ◘ ◘

So, we've caught you up with Boomer and Kelly. Two people who met Tim Tebow and stayed met. Who carried on and paid it forward.

"There are a lot of us," Boomer said.

Tebow's World.

"He's just Timmy to me," Kelly said.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly