Nancy O’Dell is a busy woman.
She’s the co-host of Access Hollywood, a published author and a devoted mom to her toddler, Ashby, and her two stepsons Tyler and Carson, but she also carves out dozens of hours each month to a number of charities, including the ALS division of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Nancy recently launched the Betty’s Battle foundation with the MDA, a foundation in honor of her beloved mother Betty, who passed away from ALS in June 2008. With the launch of Betty’s Battle, Nancy has been working to educate people on ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — and to raise funds for support services and research to help find treatments and hopefully, a cure for those with ALS.
And it has been Nancy’s tireless crusade as MDA’s National ALS Ambassador for the last two years that led the organization to honor her over the weekend at MDA’s 4th Annual Augie’s Quest Tradition of Hope Gala in Los Angeles.
At the event, which was attended by Nancy’s friends and celebrities, including “Dancing With the Stars’” professionals Karina Smirnoff and Dmitry Chaplin, former “American Idol” contender Michael Johns, “Days of Our Lives” star Alison Sweeney and which featured a special video message from superstar Jamie Foxx, Nancy was presented with the Augie’s Quest Champion for ALS Award.
But when Nancy first got word from Augie Nieto, for whom the honor is named, she was left feeling a little uncomfortable.
“When Augie called and told me they wanted to honor me, I said I didn’t feel as if I was worthy compared to what he has done. Augie is fighting ALS himself and has done such tremendous work in the battle against this horrific disease and I feel like my work has just begun,” Nancy said. “It’s something I need to do … and I don’t need to be honored… It’s something I have to do for the beautiful mother, which my mom was.”
Nancy was prompted into doing her ALS work after learning her beloved mother, Betty, had been diagnosed with the disease in 2008.
Having lost someone so very close due to ALS, taking on the fight for Nancy is sometimes hard.
“It’s been really tough… Every time I go to an event like that I get emotional and it brings back a lot of difficult memories of my mom having to go through ALS and trying to fight the disease,” Nancy said. “It’s such an awful disease, but I know I’m meant to do this. I know it’s something my mom would want me to do.
“I think you have to find something good out of something so bad,” she continued. “So I will do whatever I can to help with research, to hopefully find a cure so that other families won’t have to go through what my family went through in dealing with the monster that ALS is.”
But at Saturday’s event, there were wonderful memories too, memories which started the night before.
The evening before the event (coincidentally on what would have been her mother’s 76th birthday), Nancy was picking out a DVD to watch with her daughter. Ashby was insistent that the two watch “Bambi” and it was a part from the beginning of the film that provided inspiration and some poignant quotes for Nancy’s speech at the MDA event.
“It was the dream sequence from ‘Bambi’ where Bambi says to his mother, ‘I miss you so much.’ She replies with ‘Everything’s going to be OK. Everything happens for a reason. In the forest things die and new things sprout and it may not be the same as it was before, but it’s new and wonderful just the same,’” Nancy recounted. “I started bawling. It was like, ‘OK, that’s my mom speaking to me.’”
The day of the event was made even more special by Nancy’s friends, who donated time out of their busy schedules to appear at the fundraising gala.
Karina, whom Nancy met during her brief stint before her injury earlier this year on “Dancing With the Stars”, brought along pal Dmitry Chaplin and the two performed a beautiful number for those in attendance.
Michael, who was also celebrating his birthday the same day as the event, and who has been busy promoting his new album, “Hold Back My Heart,” pushed back his own plans to come and play a song at the event.
Jamie Foxx was busy with his show at the Nokia Theatre, but he postponed his rehearsal for his concert in order to record a special video message played at the event.
And Nancy’s close friend Alison helped present the award before Nancy found out a special guest was taking the stage.
“On top of all that, my husband Keith [Zubchevich] surprised me. He came and presented the award and said the most unbelievably sweet things. Alison was the one I thought was presenting and after she said a few kind words, she proceeded with, ‘We have a surprise for Nancy,’ and my husband came out,” Nancy recalled. “He started tearing up as he was speaking and then that made me start crying… It made me realize what a lucky girl I am that he’s my husband and he’s been there for me and been so supportive through this whole battle.”
But while sometimes it can be hard on Nancy because of her own loss, she also finds great joy in knowing she is helping to encourage others to join the fight.
It makes me feel good to know that I might possibly be helping in finding a cure and that we can raise funds for necessary research,” she said.
And through it all, Nancy feels Betty is on her side.
“I feel like she’s with me in when people come up to me to talk about ALS,” Nancy said. “She always thought of others and she would be so happy to know that people are being helped. She would be beyond thrilled. It feels like I have a little angel on my shoulder and that is just what she was… an angel of a mother.”
For more information on Betty’s Battle, Click HERE.