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McDonald's Celebrates the Spirit of the Olympics with Darius and Hana #FriendsWin

Darius Ziabakhsh and Hana Allen have never met.
 
But they share so much in common that they’re sure to be friends soon. Especially when they recently found out they’re being sent by McDonald’s to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
 
“Is that not cool?!?” said Hana’s mom, Heather Allen of Pleasant Hill, Missouri. “It killed me to have to keep it a secret from her for so long!”

Darius, 9, and Hana, 12, share many of the same conditions they’ve had since birth, including rare combinations of defects with their hearts and other internal issues. Both have had multiple surgeries – including right after birth. And both have traveled far from home to stay many times at Ronald McDonald House Charities® (RMHC®) of Greater Cincinnati, near the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
 
They have same doctors, too.
 
“I still don’t believe it. I’m pinching myself,” said Tracy Smith, Darius’ mom of Vernon, N.J. “This will be a memory he will have for life, a memory he can talk about and be proud of his whole life.”
 
Darius and Hana are among four pairs of children who have met at, or stayed at, a Ronald McDonald House® throughout the country. They are being sent by McDonald's to participate in the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games on August 5 in Rio de Janeiro.  McDonald's Corporation is the founding mission partner of RMHC, and McDonald’s invited RMHC alumni children to participate in the Opening Ceremony at the 2016 Olympic Games. 
 
The children are part of the global McDonald’s Olympics Kids Program, which celebrates the spirit of friendship – a key message of the Olympic movement. Nearly 100 children aged 8 to 12 years old from around the world are involved.
 
McDonald’s has sent children to the Olympics before, but this is the first year the children will participate in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. U.S. Olympic gymnasts Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci and their 9-year old son, U.S. Olympic swimmer Dara Torres and her 9-year old daughter, and U.S. Olympic soccer player Julie Foudy and her 9-year old daughter and 8-year old son are among the athletes that will join these children and their families in Rio.
 
The two moms can’t wait for their children to meet each other.
 
Despite their conditions, both children are active in school and athletics. “If you were looking at him, you wouldn’t know anything is wrong,” said Darius’ mom. He plays soccer – “his whole life is soccer,” Tracy said, laughing. And he’s a good student. “His doctors are very big on quality of life, and he leads as normal a life as possible.” 
Hana rides horses, does archery and has been on a swim team.  When they lived in New Mexico before moving to Missouri, Hana showed goats in local contests. “The only thing she’s been told she can’t do is play rugby like her big sister,” said mom, Heather, with a bit of relief.
 
When Hana was on the swim team she had to have surgery and was in Cincinnati for two months. “The team didn’t even know anything was wrong with her!” said Heather. “She’s just a cool, normal kid.”
 
Both families have become huge supporters of RMHC as a result of their wonderful experiences at the house in Cincinnati and other houses they’ve stayed at.
 
Darius’ father, Mehdi Ziabakhsh, and his brother CJ do events at school to raise money for RMHC and every year they cook a big traditional Thanksgiving dinner for an RMHC house in New York. “We raise the money and spend all of it to buy food,” said Tracy. “It keeps us motivated and keeps our heads grounded. We give back when we can.”
 
And both children see the same doctor. He has moved his practice to Denver, Colorado, so both families will be staying at one of the RMHC houses there in the future.
 
The moms said that their special kids were shocked, and so excited, when they found out about the trip to Rio. “She was speechless!” said Hana’s mom, Heather. “We’re not really a big sports family. But when it comes to the Olympics, we watch everything we can. Our family loves the Olympics.”
 
Now Hana and her mom, and Darius and his mom will get to see it in person. And they’re sure to wind up as friends.
 
“I know for a fact that Darius and Hana will be beyond happy with each other,” said Tracy.
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