Meet Samuel Sedelbauer, who just completed his first season with the wrestling program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Despite being a fourth grader, Samuel signed a letter of intent with the Blugold wrestling program in a special ceremony last fall. When he's not in school, he joins his teammates at UW-EC for workouts and dual meets, then returns to his home in Hixson, Wis. where he lives with his parents and older brother William.
Is Samuel a wrestling superstar with mat talent well beyond his age? There's more to the story ...
Five years ago, Samuel Sedelbauer was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This very rare disease -- which causes muscle weakness and loss of muscle tissue -- affects just one in 3,500 male infants.
Samuel Sedelbauer at UW-Eau Claire signing ceremony"We noticed his gross motor skills were behind what most kids," Samuel's father, Gary Sedelbauer, told WEAU-TV in Eau Claire, Wis. "We did a simple test when he was five years old, which diagnosed him with Duchenne muscular dystrophy."
In seeking information to help them care for their son, the Sedelbauers learned of an organization -- Team IMPACT -- that brings together kids diagnosed with serious medical conditions (like Duchenne muscular dystrophy) ... and college athletic programs. That's how Samuel became a member of the UW-Eau Claire wresting team.
"Team IMPACT connects children battling serious or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams, forming lifelong bonds and life-changing outcomes," according to the Massachusetts-based organization's website.
The website continues, "Through our program, a child battling illness becomes an official member of a college athletic team, attending practices, games, team dinners and more -- where they serve not only as teammates, but as inspiration."
The wrestling coach weighs in ...
Tim Fader, head wrestling coach at UW-Eau Claire, shared the story of how the Blugold mat program got involved, starting back in May 2019.
"A Team IMPACT case worker came to us and showed examples of kids participating in various sports -- lacrosse, basketball, for instance," Fader told InterMat.
Samuel Sedelbauer with his brother William"They had a person in mind in our area -- Samuel. His parents had told us that he and his brother like to tussle at home. We met him in person, and the team immediately took to him."
Fader realized that the ultimate decision and the work involved would have to come from his athletes.
"If it was going to be successful, it had to be something that the wrestlers thought was important," Fader said in a feature story produced by the university's sports media department. "There was unanimous approval, and we formed the Team IMPACT group of nine wrestlers who would put their energy into making it happen."
The Blugold wrestling program made Samuel feel like a Blugold mat star right from the start.
"Back in October 2019, we hosted some welcoming activities for Samuel and his family," Fader told InterMat. "We even conducted a 'media day' event, complete with all the elements you'd expect to see at a traditional signing day to welcome a new athlete to the school."
Samuel and the Blugolds: a winning match
During the past season, Samuel made great contributions to the Blugold program in the wrestling room ... and beyond.
"He comes to our meets," according to Fader. "He's our honorary team captain. Offers water and Gatorade to our wrestlers after their matches. Win or lose, he has a great attitude."
"He has a humongous smile. It's impossible for our guys to be in a bad mood when Samuel is around."
"I'm really proud of our wrestlers and their acceptance," Coach Fader said. "It not only benefits Samuel and his family, but also our program."
Regional Team IMPACT case manager Molly Lane concurred with coach Fader's sentiments, saying that the UW-Eau Claire team coordinators came up with a good schedule for interacting with Samuel that seems to be working out well.
"Samuel was a little shy at first, but over time has embraced his role on the team," Lane said in a statement about the Blugold wrestling/Team IMPACT partnership. "They have incorporated Samuel into their practices by choosing fun warm-up activities for him to participate in, including playing musical chairs." (Not to mention spirited dodgeball games.)
"Samuel's family has fully committed to the team as well, attending practices and as many matches as they can. The family also has welcomed the team as a part of their family, inviting the team to go sledding at their home."
Speaking for the Sedelbauers ... Samuel's father Gary offered his opinion of the program: "It's a really neat experience getting to know these guys. They're just the salt of the earth, every one of these guys. And they are like big brothers to Samuel."
One of Samuel's "big brothers" is Blugold freshman wrestler Chase Melton, who joined the UW-Eau Claire wrestling program at the same time as Samuel. "He gives you a different perspective I guess on wrestling and life," Melton told WEAU-TV. "He just brings such a positive energy and atmosphere. You could be having a tough day at school or something like that, but then to see Sammy kind of brightens up your day. The smile he has just makes you want to smile and go through practice. I don't know, a lot more joy and enthusiasm."
Tim Fader -- who has been at the helm of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire wrestling program for five years -- can't say enough good things about the Blugolds' partnership with Team IMPACT.
"It benefits Samuel, his family, and our program. I can't recommend this program enough. I hope a lot of other wrestling programs take advantage of this opportunity."
The 411 on Team IMPACT
Kiernan McGeehan of Team IMPACT told InterMat that the organization works with colleges of all types and sizes, in 49 of 50 states.
McGeehan offers a unique perspective on the organization ... now as a case manager with Team IMPACT, and prior to that, as a college student-athlete.
"Student-athletes can see the value of the program," McGeehan told InterMat. "I was involved in the Team IMPACT program as a member of the swim team at Xavier University in Cincinnati."
"Coach approached me and three other members of the team as seniors. It was an incredible experience for all of us who were involved."
"A staff of case managers at Team IMPACT help foster the partnership between the family, the young person, the sports program, and the school," McGeehan continued. "It's a two-year, two-season program that incorporates the high points of a collegiate sports career, from the signing of a letter of intent, to the conclusion of their participation at the school with special activities, such as a team banquet, senior awards ceremony, or a pizza party."
McGeehan explained that those who seek to be involved in the program can get the ball rolling, so to speak: Families can apply to participate by contacting Team IMPACT ... or college sports programs can reach out to Team IMPACT to let them know they would like to sponsor a young person in need. In some cases -- such as UW-Eau Claire -- it was a result of separate efforts that came together. For example, in the case of Samuel, his family reached out to Team IMPACT ... while, on another path, the Blugold women's gymnastics program had contacted the organization, seeking to sponsor a youngster.
"We were aware that the Sedelbauers had reached out to Team IMPACT," according to McGeehan. "The family lives not very far from Eau Claire. We also knew that the school's gymnastics program was wanting to get involved in the program. In speaking to the gymnastics coach, we shared the Sedelbauers's situation. She thought the wrestling program would be interested.
"It's common to have multiple matches at a single college. It's a great way for a college athletic program to demonstrate that it is active within the community."
"We all know what it means to feel isolated at some point of our lives," McGeehan said. "Team IMPACT can help young people overcome social isolation that can be a result of battling serious or chronic illnesses, thanks to being involved with a college sports team. For example, the draft day signing ceremony -- a staple element of welcoming individuals to the program -- helps the participants feel a part of something positive. And student-athletes immediately see the value of participating in the program."
Check out two-minute video about Samuel and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire wrestling team.
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