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Edison's Oliver Falvey transformed by mother's death to inspire others

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Oliver Falvey, alongside his sister Emerson, stood and listened as their mother Jill delivered her dying wish.

As she lay on her deathbed, Jill, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer in 2015, wanted her kids to behave for their soon-to-be-single father, Jake.

Jill eventually died in 2020, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, after years of fighting the cancer. She lost her battle just after Oliver’s Edison High School baseball season abruptly ended five games in. And the year prior, Oliver’s freshman season was cut short after a growth-plate injury in his arm required surgery.

Throughout their last days together, Oliver and Jill would always make time to watch their favorite show, “This is Us,” together despite Jill succumbing to her illness while in home hospice during the pandemic.

Oliver took that final message from his mom to heart. He has grown into an admirable son and brother, a great teammate and an inspiration to his community in the years since. Oliver has been selected as the Tulsa World’s 2022 Mike Brown Inspirational Athlete of the Year for his comeback story.

“I think he’ll prosper (in life) because he’s already shown there’s an internal toughness to him like his mom,” said Jake Falvey, Oliver’s dad. “Toughness is quietly facing adversity and challenges and never putting your hands up. Because that’s the one thing his mom asked.”

On the Falveys’ final night as a family of four, they knew the end was close. Oliver wanted to stay at their home in Tulsa, although Emerson was going to stay with the family’s best friends in Ardmore.

When Oliver woke up the next morning, however, he decided it would be best to be with his little sister during the tough time.

“She needed him really bad,” Jake said. “Emerson idolizes him. Oliver had to keep on keeping on because the person in the house watching him the most was Emerson. That’s his number one fan.”

According to Jake, patrons at Edison’s baseball games could hear Emerson, who’s now 14, cheer on Oliver from “a mile away.”

“The No. 1 person he inspires is his sister,” Jake said. “And that inspires me.”

Jake, who’s the Dean of Students at Edison High, has been an educator for long enough to understand how tragic events can be tough for children. Oliver and Emerson were 12 and 8, respectively, when their mom was diagnosed with cancer.

All Jake wanted was for his kids to stay on the right path toward future success. Fortunately, parenting Oliver was easy, Jake said.

When Oliver received the news of Jill’s cancer in 2015, he was speechless at first. But just minutes later, he shifted his focus to the next steps in helping his mom recover.

“I remember sitting there going, ‘Wow. I don’t know how I would’ve taken that at 12,’” Jake said. “But here he is asking what kind of cancer it is instead.”

In 2018, just before Oliver’s freshman year of high school, the Falveys, along with Jill’s parents, moved to Tulsa after spending much of their kids’ lives in Ardmore — Jill’s hometown, and where Jake was the head principal.

The move was for some additional privacy, as most in the community knew about their situation.

“We knew the family of four was going to eventually become a family of three,” Jake said. “High school principal probably wasn’t going to support us knowing I was probably going to become a single dad. … Everybody in the community knew, and people were very good, but everybody knew the whole story.

“That’s why this award is so neat, because his teammates knew, some of the people at his school knew. We moved up here to kind of like, (restart).”

Going into his senior year, Oliver wanted to improve his footwork and his positional versatility.

During Oliver’s quest to build muscle like never before, Jake told him the frequent Whataburger runs at night wouldn’t help his athletic ability.

Oliver responded by changing his regular eating habits and working out, sometimes even hitting the gym twice daily, at both school and the YMCA. The result was a 45-pound weight loss that made him look like a completely different person.

“It was like one of those things where you almost don’t recognize him,” said Ty Gunter, Oliver’s coach at Edison High. “I remember doing a double take and I looked at him like, ‘Holy cow, he’s an absolute machine.’”

It would’ve been easy for Oliver to give up after playing just five games as a sophomore and none during his freshman year. But after a solid junior year, Oliver realized he needed to make some more changes if he wanted to fulfill his dream of playing college baseball despite his missed time.

Oliver batted .437 with 35 RBIs and 11 doubles this past season after intensifying his training, and Gunter saw a night-and-day difference in his middle-of-the-order hitter.

“I think he kind of realized, ‘Hey, I won’t get to have all this forever,’” Gunter said. “Nothing’s guaranteed. He started showing more of a, ‘I want to give this everything I’ve got because I don’t know how long I’m gonna have.”

Oliver’s transition between his junior and senior year helped him land a post-graduate year at The Winchendon School in Massachusetts, where he hopes to catch up on the innings he missed and land a spot on a college roster in the future.

Oliver landing at the preparatory school, which has produced 50 college players since 2019, lays the foundation for the future of Edison’s baseball program, according to Gunter, who’s now at Holland Hall.

“Doing what he did just kind of showed the rest of the Edison baseball boys they can do this and go earn the right to play somewhere,” Gunter said.

Along with his physical maturity, Oliver also developed into a team leader. Oliver struck a balance of keeping things light in the dugout, while also being competitive when he needed to. He would crack jokes at the start of practice before turning serious during training and games.

Oliver’s infectious personality eased the conversations he had with the underclassmen on the team when he had to get onto them as a senior leader.

“Him doing what he does set the standard of what Edison baseball should be,” Gunter said. “With just everything he went through and how he performed.”

Throughout Jill’s struggle with cancer, Oliver was there every step of the way, just as he was with Emerson as an older brother, and with his teammates at Edison.

The Falveys spent nearly every minute together during the quarantine period of the COVID-19 pandemic as Jill’s condition worsened. The few depressing months for many around the world brought a few advantages for the Falveys.

“It was the most difficult time of our life, but probably the most rewarding for us because we were able to spend 24-7 with her,” Jake said.

In the years after, Oliver set himself up for future success and aided his family when needed. With baseball, he found the niche that helped him get through the difficult times. He became exactly what Jill, in her final hours, told her son she wanted him to be.

“They didn’t have a lot of years, but they had an everyday life that was pretty remarkable,” Jake said. “I don’t think they could’ve been any closer.

“He’s a good kid. He’s shown the ability to stand up and go through tough times.”

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