Cailin Ryan has worn several homemade Halloween costumes over the years, but only her Gritty getup brought her face to face with a superstar.
And she didn't just get a photo-op. She got a viral dance-off with her favorite orange rascal at a Philadelphia Flyers preseason game.
"I honestly had tears in my eyes because I knew that she has talked about Gritty every day," Cailin's mom Patti said. "She loves him. I knew it was going to be a really special moment for her and she saw Gritty and just took off and I was like, yes!"
Eight-year-old Cailin made the request for the costume shortly after Gritty made his grand debut a year ago, and Patti got to work, first trying to source the materials around town before ordering the supplies online.
It took Patti about two weeks to make the furry sleeves, legs, and headpiece. Pool noodles gave lift to the head and gave Cailin Gritty's signature belly.
But unlike Halloween costumes of the past, the Gritty costume has been getting a lot of wear over the last year.
"I can't even tell you how many times she's worn it," Patti said. "She saw Gritty go down that zip line at the Stadium Series. She went to a camp where they had a zip line and they let her dress up as Gritty this summer to go down this zip line. She's ridden a horse as Gritty. She wears it to school as much as they will allow her."
And whenever she's around other kids, Cailin acts as sort of a mini Gritty, giving out high-fives and being a creature of the people just like the Flyers mascot.
Cailin sees a lot of herself in Gritty. At first he was just a big funny beast, then when he stepped out onto the ice for the first time at Wells Fargo Center and took a spill before popping back up, she became enamored.
"She said, 'That's me. When I fall down, I get back up and I don't let anybody make fun of me. I love Gritty because he was able to do that,'" Patti said. "And when people were making fun of Gritty, she got so upset, she said they shouldn't do that. Gritty is just Gritty and he's awesome and we shouldn't be making fun of him."
Cailin began playing hockey with the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation last year and was born into Flyers superfandom. Cailin's dad, Sean, is a disabled military veteran who was a firefighter in the Air Force and a Philadelphia native. Because he's a die hard Flyers fan, so are Patti, who is originally from Wyoming, and their two kids, Cailin and 14-year-old Connor. They followed the Flyers any way they could as they moved around, and have been settled in Philadelphia for about four years.
They aren't usually able to get to Flyers game, but got tickets through Snider Hockey, which set up the magical moment that photographer Heather Barry captured.
"It's exactly how I knew she was going to feel," Patti said. "She was so excited and so nervous and awestruck, and I told her to shake her little belly and that was it."