SOUTH FORT MYERS, Fla. A 7-year-old girl made a lasting connection with a hero in uniform Saturday during a Boston Red Sox open house at JetBlue Park.
But the hero wasn’t wearing a baseball uniform.
Makenna Woodburn gave up her place in line for an autograph from Boston Red Sox players at the team’s open house and walked up to U.S. Army reservist Olyvia Russell, who was at the event in her camouflage uniform, and asked her to autograph a baseball.
“She said, ‘I’m not a player,’ and she asked if I still wanted her to sign it, and I said yes,” Makenna said. “Because she’s the hero instead of baseball players.”
The moment gave Russell “one of the weirdest best feelings ever,” she said.
“I was shaking, but I was like, ‘Of course I’ll sign your ball,'” Russell said.
Russell is in her first year with the Reserves and works as a 92 Alpha, a position that entails supervising and performing management or warehouse functions to maintain equipment records and parts. She acknowledged her relatively low position on the military totem pole as she marveled at the unexpected attention from Makenna.
“It’s crazy that she gave up meeting a celebrity just to talk to a soldier,” Russell said. “And I mean I’m in the Reserve, so what I do is important, but there’s men and women overseas who are risking their lives every day, and it’s just really nice that she recognizes people like them. I’m just truly thankful for that.”
The ball instantly became one of Makenna’s most treasured possessions.
“I want to save my allowance for a case, and on Wednesday, I’m going to take it to school with me for show and tell,” she said.
Russell and the Woodburns didn’t get each other’s contact information, but other open house attendees documented the moment on social media. Makenna’s mother made a post about it on a Facebook group, and Russell commented, allowing them to reconnect and set up a lunch meeting.
“I think Lyv has a best friend for life,” said Angie Woodburn, Makenna’s mother. “She was planning last night, [and] she wants me to make them best-friend shirts.”
The exchange was seemingly just as thrilling for Woodburn as it was for her daughter and Russell.
“My eyes just filled with tears and my heart was just overflowing,” Woodburn said. “She’s an incredible kid, and she amazes me with the way she thinks and the things she appreciates and the things she realizes at such a young age.”