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A half pint with a big heart: Blugold wrestler Samuel Sedelbauer

| Denise Olson (story); Jesse Yang (video)

Samuel Sedelbauer likes nothing more than challenging his UW-Eau Claire wrestling teammates to take-downs, pins and dodgeball slams during their team practices.

Chase and Sam Melton — cousins who grew up wrestling together in Spooner — are among the Blugolds who always accept Sedelbauer’s challenges because they know there is much they can learn from their energetic teammate.

Typical college athletes pushing each other to get better at the sport they love?

Sort of.

The Meltons are full-time UW-Eau Claire students, but Sedelbauer is a 10-year-old fourth-grader from Hixton who has a form of muscular dystrophy, along with a passion for wrestling.

Thanks to Team IMPACT, a national organization that matches children who have serious or chronic illnesses with college sports teams, Sedelbauer joined the Blugold wrestling team in October 2019.

The experience has been life-changing for all the athletes.

Joining the family of wrestlers

Samuel Sedelbauer singing day for wrestling team

Samuel Sedelbauer and his father, Gary (far left), along with Coach Timothy Fader and the Blugold wrestling team, marked his official start on the team with a media signing day in October 2019.

In May 2019 Blugold head wrestling coach Timothy Fader looked into the prospect of the team taking on a youngster through the Team IMPACT organization. It seemed like a great idea to him, and an opportunity for his team to share their love of the sport with a child who might not otherwise get to know much about wrestling.

Samuel’s parents, Gary and Betsy Sedelbauer, were aware of Team IMPACT through medical conferences they have attended, and educational and networking opportunities they have maintained since Samuel’s diagnosis at age 5.

“My wife heard last summer that UW-Eau Claire was looking for a Team IMPACT kid, and we thought, hey, let’s do it,” Gary said.  

Fader, however, knew 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. “There was unanimous approval, and we formed the Team IMPACT group of nine wrestlers who would put their energy into making it happen.”

Two of the nine appointed coordinators for Team IMPACT were Chase and Sam Melton, along with seven others who created a plan for working with Samuel. According to regional Team IMPACT case manager Molly Lane, the Blugolds 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,” she said. “They have incorporated Samuel into their practices by choosing fun warm-up activities for him to participate in, including playing musical chairs. 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.”  

Samuel Sedelbauer and his brother WIlliam

Samuel Sedelbauer and his older brother, William, enjoy attending the home meets at McPhee, where they both have the chance to interact with the team and take in the meets from the mat.

Coach Fader is thrilled to see the joy that the program has brought to Samuel, whose smile and giggle are contagious with the team, and the mutual relationships that have formed are priceless in his view.

“That is the biggest benefit I have seen — it went from a possibility that seemed like a great idea to actual follow through and amazing relationships being formed. He has given our guys a real reminder as well: Life can be hard, but you can always be grateful.”

Fader's sentiments were echoed by Sam Melton, a sophomore elementary education major.

“The biggest thing Sam has done is to just encourage us all to take advantage of every opportunity,” he said. “We can get down sometimes because it’s a tough sport, but he reminds us to keep coming out and giving it our best. Some people don’t have the opportunity we do, so we keep moving forward.”

Part of the Team IMPACT mission is to create an “empowering and future-oriented program” that builds healthy social and emotional development for the young participants. Chase Melton, a first-year kinesiology major, is very happy to be part of accomplishing that mission for Samuel, who still has one more season to be a member of the Blugold wrestling team ... or rather, family.

“He’s already been with us through a lot, so in the future being able to say he was a part of the wrestling family will be awesome,” Chase said.  

To learn more about Team IMPACT and how the program works with teams and families, visit the Team IMPACT website

To learn more about Duchenne muscular dystrophy, visit the Muscular Dystrophy Association website for details about Samuel's condition.