Autistic woman loses Sparky, lifelong pikachu companion, at Disneyland
By Matthew Piper
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Sep 12 2013 03:50PM
A 15-year bond between Tracie Dolim and her Sparky was in peril even before it could begin.
It was love at first sight when Tracie, now 23, saw the yellow pikachu doll in a claw crane machine near Fort Union Boulevard. But if you’ve ever put your wallet on the claw crane diet, you know: It’s not as easy as it looks.
Tracie tried not once, not twice, but roughly 20 times to spring Sparky from his Plexiglas prison, without success.
By coincidence, a claw crane maintenance worker came by, witnessed her persistence, and rewarded it by pulling Sparky out of the machine through non-mechanical means. Sparky was free to live with the Dolims forever. Or, at least until now.
On Sept. 2, Sparky went missing while Tracie was at Disneyland, and she wants desperately to get him back. The autistic Sandy woman has carried Sparky in her arms practically everywhere since about seventh grade, especially after she dropped him in the sea while whale watching in Oregon and the boat’s captain yelled, "Pikachu overboard!"
"He’s kind of like a brother or best friend," she says. "I know that sounds odd, but while I can make friends easily, I just cannot seem to keep it up."
Tracie doesn’t know where she left him, but she noticed he was gone when she got up off a bench to go somewhere else. Flustered, she thought briefly about retracing her steps but instead approached a Disneyland staff member, who told her she didn’t have time to go looking for a stuffed animal.
From there on, it was despair. All Tracie could think to do was call her mom — about 30 minutes away — and sit under a railroad bridge while crying. Finally a park employee saw her and helped her to guest services.
"Sparky gives her a focal point," said Rochelle, adding that her daughter has difficulty with sensory processing and gets overwhelmed easily. "When she’s in a crowd, that’s her anchor."
But there was no Sparky, and there hasn’t been since. Rochelle says that Disneyland officials have gone above and beyond, posting Sparky’s photo to lost and found and checking in regularly, but "Right now, it doesn’t look good."
So they have taken to the Internet, posting a photo on a Help Find Sparky Facebook page that shows Tracie holding a sign that describes him thusly: "Sparky is about the size of a basketball, bright yellow, black eyes and the fabric on his cheeks has been well loved!"
Rochelle says the support she’s received has been inspiring, and it has made Tracie realize how many people care about her. Autistic adults often don’t get the help that autistic children receive, Rochelle says.
Tracie says that even if you can’t help find Sparky, she has a request:
"To anyone, whether they were at Disneyland or not, if they have found a stuffed animal, to give it [to lost and found]. You don’t know what child or special-needs person that belongs to."