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Father of "Hoovey" on Finding Inspiration When Everything Falls Apart
Father of "Hoovey" on Finding Inspiration When Everything Falls Apart

Father of "Hoovey" on Finding Inspiration When Everything Falls Apart

By Jacob Sahms

Jeff Elliott wrote Rebounding From Death's Door to explain the miraculous story of his son, Hoovey, never knowing that it would be adapted into a story for the big screen. Through a devestating diagnosis of cancer for a rising basketball star, the Elliott family shared their faith and determination. Now, as the basketball-centric Hoovey debuts on DVD next week, Elliott sat down with to discuss the real-life events and watching it unfold on screen. 

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You’re a firefighter and you’ve seen life and death in an instant. What was it like watching your son suffer?

You like to think that you can protect your own family, but this was an instance where you’re helpless. You put it in God’s hands and pray an awful lot. Truth to be told, it was our son who gave us the strength to get us through it. There’s a part in the movie where he says, “it’s okay, Dad. If I die, I know where I’m going.” That’s exactly what happened.

What was it like writing about the story in Rebounding From Death’s Door?

Before I was a firefighter, I was a research biologist. So it was a little different because I hadn’t written any stories. But I felt compelled to write. After Eric recovered to play college basketball and score thirty points in a championship game, other players’ parents said, “wow, everything comes so easy for your son!” We knew we had to share the story. It took me seven months to write it but it felt pretty easy to write.

How do you feel about the story’s film version?

I was pleased with it, especially the way it flowed. We’ve been traveling all over the country sharing the story. This story grabs people and inspires them. At the time, no one had done it before, come back from a brain tumor to play major college sports, or score thirty points. It’s by God’s grace, and we hope it brings people to Christ.

The only thing we had to change was how we got in route to the hospital. We were shoveling our way out of a blizzard, but we couldn’t create another scene without a huge expense. So Erik’s situation happens at the high school in the midst of the basketball scene. We actually shot the truck scene in 82 degrees in front of a green screen!

And we had to leave out one story that happened after Eric got better. There was just too much sickness. Our daughter was diagnosed with bacterial spinal meningitis. She was allergic to the first two drugs and was in the hospital longer than Eric was. She lived and had about three months of therapy to recover.

In reality, the Book of Job, has been our inspiration. Everything that happened in the movie happened in a week’s time, from tractor explosions, the freezer going, Ruth actually lost her job, etc. We felt inspired that everything could be taken away so quickly, that it could be brought back just as quickly.

What do you think of Patrick Warburton’s portrayal of you? Is what we see really like you on screen?

Oh, yes! I’m into practical jokes. I had seen him in Flicka 2 and loved his serious side. But with such a dramatic story, we needed the one-liners to offset them. His one-liners are kind of me. I thought he pulled it all together nicely.

The scene where three strangers push you out of the ditch: a dramatic interpretation or an actual event?

I don’t know if you’ve ever been stuck in snow like this, but we were in a two-wheel drive truck with snow up to the wheel well. I called my wife and she started crying. I told her tears weren’t going to help, but if she wanted to help, she could pray. She saw these three angels descend in light.

I prayed, really strongly, “Lord Jesus, please help us.” I got in the truck and tried it one more time. When the winds are forty miles per hour, it creates waves of drifts. We hit each drift with unbelievable power and made it to the plowed highway. We couldn’t recreate it quite the same way but we wanted to get across the “entertaining angels unaware.” It was the safe way to do it without it being cheesy.

I love that scene!

It turned out really good! The other scene that got cut, Dr. Kochner had come back to our town to set up a clinic. He’s a world class cancer surgeon. He saw the lights on the door of the radiology lab and saw the MRI, recognized the tumor right away. We were told later that if he hadn’t operated, that Eric wouldn’t have lived through the night.

What changed your mind about Hoovey playing basketball?

I played every sport and loved playing sports. I lived to play. I understand that desire, but when he came to us, and asked, “What difference is it if I die from the brain tumor or I die playing the sport that I love?” I realized he was absolutely right, that you take what God has given you and do your best.

Was that you on screen behind Warburton in the crowd at the game?

Yes, that’s me. Eric is in the opening scene of that game, clapping behind an opposing player. My daughter is in there too. She’s playing a nurse in the old time movies at the beginning, holding “herself” up to the window.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

I hope it inspires people, to overcome their obstacles in life. Young or old, at some point in their lives, they’re going to go through extreme obstacles. But you do have a choice in your attitude, and how you respond. I hope that they’ll make the decision to be happy in all times, because through Christ, all things are people.

What do you think it means to be faithful?

Staying in Christ through everything, through the depths and the heights. It’s easy to be faithful when things are going well, and much harder when things are not going well.

What’s next for you and your family?

I’ve watched my son become an unbelievable speaker; my wife already is! We’d love to travel around and speak, to share Hoovey. Maybe his gift is to inspire all ages, especially young adults.

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