UW Health Sports Medicine 

UW student-athletes inspire young cancer survivor

ON WISCONSIN <b>Wrestler Tyler Graff (R) with Jordan Vanstrom</b>
Wrestler Tyler Graff (R) with Jordan Vanstrom

Nov. 21, 2012

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MADISON, Wis. -- Seated comfortably in Bucky’s Locker Room (BLR) Patio in the south end zone of Camp Randall Stadium, Jordan Vanstrom took in the sights and sounds of his favorite team.

As he watched the seniors of the UW Football team celebrate the end of their playing careers at Camp Randall, the 13-year-old Badger fan was celebrating the end of something else—chemotherapy.

Just three weeks prior, Vanstrom received the news he had been waiting for—his cancer was in remission. Diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma in December 2011, Vanstrom underwent 48 weeks of chemotherapy treatments to the battle the brain tumor that threatened to impair his hearing, vision and memory.

Though the disease has taken the vision from Vanstrom’s right eye, the 13-year-old did not let the cancer win. Throughout his battle, Vastrom relied on special relationships he built with UW student-athletes and coaches to empower him during the hard times.

A native of Appleton, Wis., Vanstrom had never been to Madison before his visit to American Family Children’s Hospital to battle cancer. He quickly became a Badger fan, however, when the UW Wrestling team stopped by the hospital to visit him shortly after his diagnosis.

Senior wrestler Shane McQuade, also from Appleton, Wis., was familiar with Vanstrom, who had achieved success in youth wrestling tournaments. When McQuade heard of Vanstrom’s diagnosis, he was compelled to stop by.

“I wanted Jordan to have good news to talk about, and knew that visiting him with some guys from the team could maybe help keep his mind off things,” said McQuade.

During their visit, the team invited Vanstrom and his family to a wrestling practice. He soon became a “regular” attendee and part of the Badger Wrestling family. Coach Davis invited Vanstrom to as many tournaments and practices as he could attend and members of the wrestling team visited Vanstrom regularly during his treatments.

“Jordan's story and his spirit have served as a huge inspiration for the guys on the team,” said senior Brad Nardick. “I know Jordan is a big Badger fan but from my perspective and the perspective of the guys on our team, we're big Jordan Vanstrom fans."

The wrestling team was not the only UW team to invite Vanstrom into ‘the family.’ UW Men’s Hockey Coach Mike Eaves and the UW hockey team and UW Men’s Basketball Coach Bo Ryan have invited Vanstrom and his family to games and events.

“All of the University of Wisconsin athletes have been supportive of Jordan,” said Vanstrom’s Dad, Jeff.  “It’s just incredible that the school supports their kids getting so involved in the community.”

As Vanstrom enjoyed the view of the UW Football game from the BLR Patio, he reflected on these stories of his past but also envisioned his future—his dream to be a student in the famed UW student section. Vanstrom has been inspired by his interactions with UW student-athletes to attend the University of Wisconsin.

“Jordan has been affected by the spirit of UW Athletics and it’s a very positive thing,” said Jeff Vanstrom. “UW-Madison is uplifting in so many different ways.”

Vanstrom is one of 63 patients from the American Family Children’s Hospital that enjoyed a UW football game from the BLR Patio this season. Any patient of the children’s hospital is eligible to enter a drawing for a chance to win tickets, and nine winners were randomly selected each week. Those lucky winners were allowed to bring one guardian to enjoy "Jump Around", a visit from Bucky Badger and recognition on the videoboard. They also received memorabilia signed by the UW football players.

Wrestler Shane McQuade shares his interactions with Jordan Vanstrom in his own words:

"I first found out about Jordan’s condition when I received a phone call from another Appleton area wrestler’s mom telling me briefly about Jordan and how he was just recently diagnosed with cancer. She told me how the Vanstrom’s loved wrestling and enjoyed watching my brother win state and thought it would be cool to meet some “UW Wrestlers”.

"I got the Vanstroms number from her and called Jeff, Jordan’s Dad. I told him that I would drop by for a visit the next day. The next day after my classes, I swung by and gave a quick “Hi” to his family and asked if it was OK whether or not some more wrestlers would come by. The Vanstroms were excited by the idea. That day after practice I asked a few of the guys if they would visit Jordan if they were free, and several said “sure thing.” That night we dropped by Jordan and gave him a poster and just hung out. It was a great time for everybody despite an unfortunate situation for Jordan.

"Several of the guys, including myself, visited Jordan from time to time when he was in town at the Ronald McDonald house, practice, or just around. We could see the hope in their eyes, and it left us all with a warm feeling inside. Anytime any of us would visit or see the Vanstroms, their optimism and hope remained strong and was an inspiring experience to us every time.

"The wrestling team in general loves to give back to their communities, whether that is in Madison or all the way to their hometowns across the country. The wrestling community is a big family.

"I believe I’m not alone in saying that we all have big dreams, big goals, and big futures ahead of us and we are constantly trying to inspire, motivate not just ourselves, but the others we meet in our lives. Jordan’s story is great because not only was he inspired by us, but we have been inspired by him."

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