WBHS celebrates with Elijah Oltmanns

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Cancer survivor Elijah Oltmanns celebrated the end of his chemotherapy treatments at a pep rally at William Byrd High School. Traditionally, cancer patients ring a bell three times to celebrate when their treatments are complete. Elijah rang a gong.
WBHS sophomore Elijah Oltmanns is shown with his family at the pep rally William Byrd High School held for him at the end of his years of chemotherapy, which began in eighth grade.

Elijah Oltmanns was an eighth grader at William Byrd Middle School in October 2014 when he was first diagnosed with T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma cancer. The school, led by then-Principal Tammy Newcomb, threw a party to show that he had the full support of the school before he started treatments.

The entire student body and staff, along with Elijah and his family, dressed in lime green (the color that represents lymphoma) with green cupcakes served up for all. At that time, he was a member of the WBMS football team and performed with the regular and jazz bands.

Over two difficult years later, William Byrd High School held its own celebration for Elijah— now a sophomore— as he completed his chemotherapy treatments in February. Cancer survivors traditionally ring a bell three times to signify that their arduous treatments have ended. Elijah rang a gong instead. (He happens to play percussion with the Marching Terriers, the William Byrd Symphonic Band, and the Percussion Ensemble.)

For the February 10 pep rally at WBHS, the gym was decorated with posters, banners, and streamers. Students again dressed in green. The William Byrd band led the festivities. The cheerleaders formed a cheer tunnel for him to walk through. A video of Elijah’s challenging journey was shown, compiled by Roanoke County Schools Community Relations Specialist Chuck Lionberger.

Elijah was escorted to the gong in the center of the gym by the Terrier mascot. His parents, Heather and Todd Oltmanns, along with siblings, other family members, and friends were there to celebrate as well.

Roanoke County Schools Superintendent Dr. Greg Killough congratulated him along with Newcomb, who is now the principal at WBHS. Other cancer survivors were asked to join him, including teacher Barbara McGrath and administrative assistant Vicky Carrell.

A party is ahead at the Vinton War Memorial this month to celebrate again with the Virginia Tech football team.

His mother said the Virginia Tech team has adopted Elijah and made him an official teammate due to a non-profit organization called Team Impact, which matches young people with special needs to college sports teams. “It gives the kids encouragement and the sports team gets to see how others push through pain and hardships just to survive– to never give up.

“Elijah loves this,” his mother said. “He is a huge Virginia Tech fan. Joey Slye, their kicker, and Elijah have become close. In 2014, the year Elijah was diagnosed, earlier that same year Joey’s brother (who I think was 20 years old) passed away from cancer. Elijah and Joey are forming a very special bond.”

Photos of the entire celebration for Elijah at William Byrd are available in the Photo Gallery on the Roanoke County Public Schools website at www.rcs.k12.va.us.