UW-L wrestling finds motivation, inspiration in 5-year-old super - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

UW-L wrestling finds motivation, inspiration in 5-year-old super fan

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Will has been in remission since October 2014. Will has been in remission since October 2014.
La Crosse, WI (WXOW) - If you look around the wrestling room at UW-L's Mitchell Hall, you'll see sources of motivation hanging on walls, sitting on shelves, and written on the whiteboard. But it's what you hear that is making all the difference this season.

They say there's no giggling in college wrestling, but you can't help but overlook that unwritten rule when 5-year-old Will Nordeen enters the room. He and his younger brother Charlie have visited the team on Wednesdays since the season began, playing and rough-housing with some of the best wrestlers in NCAA Division III.

This is more than just a mid-week play session though. The Nordeen family, through smiles, hugs and laughter, have proven to be the strongest source of motivation for Dave Malecek's team.

"He brings more to us than we bring to him," Malecek said. "You saw the guys in the room, they lighten up when he shows up. He comes in, everybody starts smiling, starts laughing, and kind of a stress reliever."

He's gone through way more than anything we've ever gone through, and so to see him laughing and smiling and just getting excited around our guys, that makes for a good day for us."

"He made me smile," sophomore Austin Schoen said. "The kid's a ball of energy and he just kept coming at you and coming at you. He's a fun kid to have around."

Will was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in July 2014. He finished his fifth round of chemotherapy in October, and is now in remission.

Around the time he left the hospital, the non-profit organization Team Impact paired Will with the wrestling team as a way to lift his spirits. Almost every week since then, Will, Charlie, and parents Derek and Julie have spent the early portion of practice with the team, and in doing so, have lifted the spirits of the athletes. It's a relationship that has exceeded everyone's expectations.

"Within five minutes of being in the room, you're like this is amazing," Julie Nordeen said. "I'm grinning from ear to ear when I'm here, and you meet the coaches and meet the wrestlers and you're like, this is going to be great, I'd like to come every day."

"It couldn't be a better sport for Will," Derek Nordeen said.

"We walked into the room, and this little kid that's gone through so much is running around the room," senior Eric Twohey said. "Kind of made you realize how fortunate you are for the things you have in life. We're feeling bad about having to go to practice, this kid's fighting with something way more than we could ever comprehend. It really humbled myself, made me fortunate for what I have in my life."

The wrestlers have become good friends with Charlie as well, who is right behind his brother.

"I always have Charlie. Charlie's like  my little brother," Schoen said. "He just runs over to me and I put him on my shoulders, we take a few laps right at the beginning of every practice. It's awesome."

Though the season comes to an end this weekend at the NCAA Division III Championships in Pennsylvania, both the Eagles and the Nordeens have no plans of ending this new friendship. Derek and Julie said they plan to host a party for the team as a thank you, and Malecek said Will and Charlie have become friends with his four daughters. Team Impact also created the opportunity for the Nordeens to return for a second season as part of the partnership.

"We'll still keep meeting, almost every week. It's going to be awesome," he said. "It's been a great match. We look for a long history and a long relationship with these guys."

"There's so much love of those two little guys and their whole family," Schoen said. "Our team is a family, and we're a bunch of brothers, and Malecek could be a father figure to almost all of us. They've just joined our family, and that's really hard to do unless you're a wrestler. It's crazy how close we are now."

"We would love to see them more over the summer and next year," Julie Nordeen said. "We'd like to stay in touch with some of the wrestlers who are graduating and keep tabs on them."

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