Washburn volleyball keeps making dreams come true for young girl with MS
It's a friendship that happened by chance.
"As soon as she saw the girls she just ran running, arms open,” Lisa Welsh, mother of 4-year-old Madison Welsh, said. "Madison was a completely healthy child as we knew it, and she woke up one morning and she wasn't able to use her right arm whatsoever, completely paralyzed."
At just three years old, Madison was diagnosed with pediatric multiple sclerosis.
"She's been in and out of the hospital, she's had lesions on her brain, and she went through physical and occupational therapy for about nine months,” Lisa said.
Through the Make-A-Wish foundation last year, children were paired with teams in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Division II volleyball championships in Madison’s hometown of Pittsburgh.
The Washburn players, fighting for a championship, and Madison, fighting for her health, were matched.
"We were paired up with the Washburn volleyball team, and from that point on, they immediately connected,” Lisa said.
"It's easy for us to give our hearts to a little girl like that,” Allison Sadler, a junior on the team, said. “But she let us in immediately, so we knew we couldn't just leave her when we left Pittsburgh."
The team raised money to fly Madison and her family to Topeka for a weekend reunion — including, of course, a behind-the-scenes look at the Topeka Zoo.
"She just embodies what a strong girl is,” Taylor Antonowich, a sophomore on the team, said. “She inspires us just by her courage and her perseverance."
The team lost in the semis back in Pittsburgh, but Madison won their hearts.
"I think life is so much bigger than wins and losses, and Madison is just such an inspiration of how special life is, and how you don't want to take it for granted,” Antonowich said.
Madison will be flipping the coin at the start of the Washburn football game Saturday, Sep. 21 at 1 p.m.
She'll also be recognized in between the first and second quarters of that game, alongside her new best friends — the Washburn volleyball team.
Then they have a big match against sixth-ranked Nebraska Kearny at Lee Arena Saturday night.