BY BROOKSI HUDSON
SUMMERVILLE — Fourteen years ago Rick Lloyd was facing serious health problems, and the idea of adopting a newborn child was the furthest thing from his mind. But when he first saw the blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby girl, he knew that life was calling him to a new mission.
Rick, a parishioner at St. Theresa the Little Flower, had retired from the U.S. Air Force a couple of years earlier and had plans to rest and relax, but fate would take him elsewhere.
“The day Renee was born I was in the hospital with heart problems and had coded twice, but when I came to and heard that my granddaughter had been born, I knew God wasn’t finished with me yet,” he said.
“God had a job for me to do and that was to take care of this little baby girl,” said Rick.
Rick has been a father to his stepgranddaughter, Renee, since the day before her first birthday, making many sacrifices to ensure that her dreams are realized. Rick made the decision to adopt Renee after her mother, a troubled teen and Rick’s stepdaughter, was sent to prison for a series of law violations. He and his now ex-wife raised the child together, until she decided four years ago to sign away her adoptive rights to Rick.
“I was told that as stepgrandfather there was no way that South Carolina would award me sole custody, but here we are,” Rick said. He added that he wouldn’t trade being a father to Renee for all the material things in the world.
“I firmly believe that every child deserves a chance at a life,” he said. “It is the responsibility of adults, whether they are related by blood or not, to give them that life.”
Aside from the talk of clothes and boys, Renee is no ordinary teenager. She is training full-time for the 2010 Olympic Games. The gifted figure skater first discovered her talent when she strapped on her first pair of skates at age seven.
“I just signed her up for ice skating to get her involved in something,” said Rick. “She was so natural with skates on, and she was out-skating everyone in her public sessions.”
Rick made the decision to enroll Renee in private lessons and has watched her develop into a regionally recognized athlete with international dreams. Renee’s coach is Leslie Chabot, a 30-year veteran of the sport who has been responsible for the formation of several international champions. His devotion to her dream is so intense that he pulled her out of the classroom and began home schooling the high school freshman.
“We are on the road so much that I made the decision to home school Renee,” said Rick. “It’s not easy and I have definitely bitten off more than I can chew some days, but it’s worth it.”
With so many responsibilities on his plate, the 67-year-old single father began to understand the importance of returning to the Catholic faith of his youth and began attending Mass once again. He and Renee enrolled in the RCIA program at St. Theresa and were baptized together into the church at Easter 2003.
“It was so neat to be baptized with Renee,” said the doting father. “Something was missing in our lives and I found it in the Catholic Church.”
The parishioner responsible for Renee’s catechesis was Marlene Martin, who met with the then-12-year-old once a week for one-on-one instruction.
“I was asked to do this personalized instruction because of Renee’s training schedule, and I was happy to do it,” said the 67-year-old mother of five. “I was very impressed with Renee’s understanding and maturity level. We developed a relationship and I think that she grew to trust me in her life.”
Martin said that she was very proud on the day that Renee and Rick were baptized into the faith, and she hopes that Renee’s strict training schedule won’t interfere with her spiritual development.
Martin said that her experience with Renee was a blessing.
“Rick was always very involved and made sure that Renee was succeeding in her RCIA training,” she said. “And as with most things, I found that I received a lot more than I feel that I gave.”
Renee said that Martin was an important part of her step into the Catholic faith.
Despite all of the usual responsibilities and concerns that plague the life of a teenager, Renee maintains the drive for competition and excellence that only comes from inside.
The teenager trains six days a week, year around. “I get tired and I even hate it sometimes, but the drive to be the best keeps me going,” she said.
Renee spends two days a week with a personal trainer and skates for at least six hours each day. She also tries to stick to a special training diet, but as with most teens she tends to rebel.
“I am supposed to eat a special diet with all the right carbs and proteins, but I have such a big sweet tooth that it doesn’t always work out that way,” she said.
Renee said that she is proud that she has become a force to be reckoned with in the intermediate level of the skating world.
“I am so proud of the fact that people get a little bit nervous knowing that I will be competing in an event,” she said. “And I am never satisfied with second place. I want to be the best.”
It is this drive that will provide the fuel to land Renee at the Olympics. And despite the 60-plus medals and trophies she has won, she won’t rest until she has won an Olympic medal.
“None of those medals really meant that much because I haven’t even begun to challenge myself yet,” she said. “My next big competition is the Junior Nationals in Colorado this year. I really want to win that one.”
Rick said that when he chose to pursue Renee’s dream he never imagined that the financial load would be so heavy. He estimates that at this stage he is spending anywhere from $14,000 to $17,000 annually.
“Things haven’t even started to get expensive yet,” he said. “When she starts winning big competitions we are going to be spending much more than this.”
But Rick is holding out for that day when sponsorship kicks in.
“Eventually she will have expenses covered, but until that day I will continue to do what I can to take care of my little girl,” he said.
“It’s hard, I won’t lie,” said Rick, who lives off his Air Force retirement check. He has heart and lung problems, and poor health. “But I can’t go anywhere until I can be sure that Renee will be okay.”
“God has given me a mission and I will see to it that I complete it.”