Maddie poses with her Swarm friends Andrew Suitor and Ryan Benesch
Note: Althoff’s story aired on the Kare-11 10 p.m. news on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
A week prior to the Swarm’s home opener on Jan. 28, 11-year-old Madeleine Althoff greeted her mother with a special message.
“She (Madeleine) came home from school with ‘I heart LAX’ written on her hand,” Jennifer Ellis explained. “I asked, ‘What do you have there?’ and she said, ‘I’m getting ready for the home opener; it’s only a week away.’”
That evening, Althoff also spent time pulling out all of her lacrosse gear along with the many autographs she had collected from Swarm players over the years. With tickets to the game as well, Althoff's excitement for the home opener was ramping up.
A Story of Courage
Althoff, an Oakdale native, has been through more in her short life than most kids her age. In 2009, she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a condition in which her bone marrow could not make enough new red blood cells. Her illness forced her to take up to 18 pills on a daily basis. Fortunately today, after displaying remarkable courage, she now spends her days medication-free.
Althoff’s aplastic anemia recently qualified her for an experience with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that focuses on enriching the lives of children with life-threatening medical conditions through its wish-granting work. This past summer, Make-A-Wish granted Althoff’s wish of visiting the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame in Baltimore, where she was also given new gear and lacrosse sticks. Proudly sporting a Swarm hat during her trip, Althoff’s experience was documented in Lacrosse Magazine this past September.
When Althoff returned to the Twin Cities, she encountered an unfortunate situation while attending a lacrosse camp; her new lacrosse sticks were stolen.
When Swarm Co-Owner & Vice President Andy Arlotta was informed of the news from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota, he wanted to make sure Althoff received one more unforgettable experience.
Together with the help of Althoff’s family and the folks at Make-A-Wish, the group planned a surprise visit at Althoff’s school in North St. Paul to present Madeleine with Swarm season tickets and new lacrosse sticks courtesy of Epoch Lacrosse.
“I feel it’s important to give back and this was an opportunity where the Minnesota Swarm could contribute to someone who’s been so supportive of this team,” Arlotta said. “We wanted to create a special moment for her. I thought, let’s bring her to all of the games and give her that special gift of the Minnesota Swarm.”
With ‘I heart LAX’ still showing her hand, Althoff arrived at school three Friday’s ago just like she would any other day. Her day took an exciting twist when a familiar face with bright yellow hair appeared at lunch. Kids cheered and screamed as Swarm mascot Buzz high-fived his way through the lunch line. A few moments later, Althoff was called up to the front of the lunchroom and was greeted by her special visitors.
Althoff’s face lit up with joy and a big smile ran across her face. Swarm forward Ryan Benesch and team captain Andrew Suitor also joined Arlotta on the special visit. Former Swarm player and Epoch Lacrosse representative Ryan Hurley was on hand to present Madeleine with two new sticks (transition and goalie shafts).
“We wanted to make sure we could help Maddie out,” Hurley said. “She’s gone through some tough things that not a lot of us have to go through.”
In front of her fellow classmates, Althoff was presented with her surprise gifts. As a tribute to her courage over the years, Arlotta also had Althoff sign a copy of her story in Lacrosse Magazine. The moment left Althoff, who her peers describe as talkative, at a loss of words.
“It was amazing,” she said. “That’s actually the first time I’ve ever been speechless.”
To test out her new sticks, Althoff proceeded to play catch with Benesch for a few minutes as classmates cheered her on. The two traded passes back and forth and then exchanged a hug.
“It was just absolutely an incredible day,” added Jessica Ryan, Director of Community Giving for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota. “Seeing the emotion and expression on Maddie’s face was something I don’t think I’ve experienced even as a part of Make-A-Wish. It’s all about how can we bring hope, strength, and joy to these very special children and we got to do that.”
The moment was just as special to Althoff’s mother, who has witnessed incredible strength from her daughter over the years.
“I’m just thrilled that she’s so happy,” Jennifer Ellis said. “Any parent is excited to make their kid happy but this is definitely over the top. I’m sure it’s one of the best memories that she’ll have.
“She likes being an ambassador for it (lacrosse). She’s talked about wanting to get on a team that plays regularly and she wants to be good enough to play in high school on a girls team although she likes the boys' rules better. Especially now with all that the Swarm has done and to have the new equipment, I don’t think she’ll ever stop playing. She’ll be a lifer."
With her new lacrosse equipment in hand, Althoff has set high goals for herself.
“In high school, I want to be the first girl on a boys team,” Althoff said.
Althoff and her family attended the Swarm’s home opener two weeks ago, and will be present for the remaining seven home games with their season tickets.
During the team’s meet and greet session after the home opener, Althoff, who came dressed head to toe in Swarm gear, was all smiles.
“It’s just amazing, all that’s happened to me in the last year,” said Althoff, who will turn 12 on Feb. 11. “I’ve gotten my lacrosse sticks back and it’s just amazing.”