The community rallies to help send Lexi Weeks' family to watch her compete at the Rio Olympics.
Lexi Weeks is representing the United States in the pole vault in Rio de Janeiro next week, and her hometown of Cabot has turned out to do its part. Roughly 165 donors — almost all with some tie to the city — came together recently to raise $15,706 to help send Weeks' parents, Brent and Amy; and her twin sister, fellow pole vaulter Tori, to Brazil to watch their Olympian compete in person. The family will leave Saturday and arrive in Rio on Sunday. The pole vault prelims are Tuesday, Aug. 16; the finals will be Friday, Aug. 19. They will head home the next day. It's been a whirlwind few weeks for the whole family, but the generosity of their neighbors may have been the most emotional part. Dwight Daugherty, who teaches AP physics and chemistry at Cabot High School — where he taught all five Weeks children, including the twins' three older brothers — contacted Brent Weeksshortly after Lexi unexpectedly qualified for the U.S. team. "He said they wanted to start a Go Fund Me-type site, and I said, 'I don't know if I can accept that kind of money,'" Brent Weeks said. "We were looking at $20,000-25,000. He said, 'You have to. The community is going to want to do it. People want to participate. "So I called my best friend, Paul Osborne (from Cabot), and told him what was going on. He said, 'You have to accept it; people would be insulted if you didn't, and this way everybody can have a piece of it. "'Get over your pride and do it.'" So Brent Weeks called Daugherty the next day with the OK. But Daugherty had already started the process through a YouCaring website, which he said featured lower administrative costs. Based on an early estimate by a travel agent, the original goal was $20,000, but the family insisted on economizing as much as possible, so the goal was revised down to $15,000. It took just seven days and six hours to reach the goal. "We ended up with $15,706 before I could get it shut off," Daugherty said. The Weeks family say they have been touched beyond words by their neighbors' generosity. "If it weren't for that, there's no way my sister and my parents would be able to make the trip," Lexi Weeks said. "It's so overwhelming how generous our community was. We were blown away. It's just so crazy to have the community come behind us and support us in that way." Added Brent: "We are completely humbled and overwhelmed with emotion. People in Cabot are just good people. It's a good community to raise a family. We want the people to know we are very, very grateful for what they've given us. We are stunned by it." Daugherty recalled Brent Weeks' initial hesitation. "He still feels very uncomfortable taking charity, but he said there was no way they could afford to go with three people," Daugherty said. "He said they'd been saving for 2020 in Tokyo just in case, but this was a bit of a surprise. "They've been very, very gracious. Brent said, 'You give me the cheapest airfare and the cheapest motel in the safest part of town.'" Daugherty said that hotel, where the three will stay in one room with three twin beds, wound up costing $600 per night. Daugherty, who said he took the lead in the fundraising project after seeing the idea from a post on a local website, also checked with the University of Arkansas NCAA compliance office. Lexi and Tori will head to Fayetteville to start their sophomore year shortly after their return from Rio. "The NCAA said anything they don't spend has to be returned or go to a charity, and most people give to another charity," Daugherty said. "So we listed our local scholarship fund here at the school, the Cabot Scholarship Foundation. From that, we funded $110,000 last year in local scholarships, mostly academic. The teachers and employees have a payroll deduction plan, and we give almost $20,000 out of our paychecks every year." So any leftover money will go there. A booth in front of Walmart on a Saturday collected almost $700. McDonald's donated $2,000. Dr. James Hertzog, a local optometrist, made a matching pledge of up to $1,000, "but he only had to match $660 because I cut it off once we made our goal," Daugherty said. An early donation of $500 came from one of Daugherty's former students, Jarrod Burns, now an engineer in Texas. "He doesn't even know the Weeks family, but he wants to support the citizens here," Daugherty said. "We had several other $500 donations, and that just stunned me. I was expecting donations of $20 or $30." Lexi had gotten her passport earlier this year in preparation for a different international meet, but after the fundraiser, the rest of the family had theirs expedited. "We are going as cheaply as we can go," Brent Weeks said. "Think how humbling this is — people gave us money they could've spent on groceries. People gave money that probably a lot of them didn't have. You can't go on a fancy vacation with that. We are taking minimal clothes and going cheap because this is not our money." Lexi won SEC and NCAA indoor and outdoor pole vault titles as a freshman, but her parents didn't go to the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., in June. "We talked about it, but we thought it was basically a practice meet — a chance to get on a national stage and vault," Brent Weeks said. "If you think your daughter's got a good chance, you book in advance. If you don't think she's got a chance, you work 80 hours a week and you don't go." Instead, he and Amy watched the Trials at their son Tyler and daughter-in-law April's home. "Amy never thought she would make it, and I thought there was a very slim chance she would qualify," Brent said. "When she won that (third and final qualifying) spot, we were just beside ourselves. There was just a lot of screaming, lots of crying, absolutely crazy. Then we sat there looking at each other just dumbfounded. Amy went out and took a walk. We just could not believe it. "We came home afterward and just sat down and looked at each other." Last week, the family watched the opening ceremonies from Rio. They recorded the evening, and Brent said they were able to catch a glimpse of their girl. "I've got a screen grab of that," he said. In a text from Rio on Sunday, Lexi called the opening ceremonies "amazing." "Something I'll never forget," she said. "It was a very long day, with lots of sitting and lots of standing, but walking out into the stadium was incredible, something every athlete dreams of. Then the lighting of the torch and the fireworks at the end were magical!!!" She said that Team USA was training at a naval base away from the Olympic Village in preparing for its competition. "It's very nice," she said of the facility. "I did a short run practice last night and just a workout this morning, but we will be training out there up until we compete." The pole vault competition will certainly be followed in Cabot and all over Arkansas. Daugherty said Cabot High School would have televisions set up for a watch party With so much bad news in the headlines recently, people have gravitated to this story. Daugherty summed up the attraction. "This family is a great family, and those two little girls — they've got five wonderful kids, but Lexi and Tori are both incredible athletes and incredible people. My daughter said one time, 'You know, you'd like to dislike them — they're beautiful, smart, athletic — but you can't because they're too nice.'"