Maddie Muelken is a fighter. She beat cancer in high school and became a DIII College Pitcher. Now, Maddie is coaching players to reach their potential. She is also pursuing a career helping those impacted by cancer. We created some signature cleats and apparel to celebrate her story. Maddie was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma her senior year in high school. She used softball as a sanctuary from the treatments. She used her favorite music, 'Fight Song' by Rachel Platten, for motivation.
"Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
When we started designing with Maddie, nearly the entire color spectrum was available to her. She always wore black, white, and grey for softball. So, we adjusted our colors a little bit to match her style.
Beating Hodgkins Lymphoma in high school with the support of her family, her team, and her community has shaped Maddie into a wonderful person and role model. The color purple is used to raise awareness of cancers like Hodgkin lymphoma. We decided to go all over print with this version. Purple collar liner and tongue. Purple in the outer mold.
Tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Farmington, Minnesota my whole life. My whole family is from there. I grew up with two sisters. I have played softball since I was 6 years old with tee-ball. I played volleyball during the offseason just to keep moving. I couldn’t sit still. I tried soccer because my sister played soccer, but I didn’t like that. I played volleyball and softball through high school. Until I got to college when I just focused on softball and school. I did some sand volleyball and stuff there but mostly softball.
What positions did you play?
Pitcher and First Base.
Why did you choose softball over volleyball?
The intensity. I like the pitcher aspect of being able to somewhat control the game and the aspect of being involved in every play. In volleyball, you are running around trying to touch the ball, and sometimes you don’t get a chance to have an impact on a play. That’s what I liked about softball. As a pitcher, I had more of an impact on the flow of the game and how the game would go.
What was a low moment in your softball career?
The scariest moment was when I was diagnosed with cancer my senior year. I didn’t even know if I could play my senior year. I didn’t know if I would be able to play in college. Luckily, I was able to still play and have that opportunity. My doctors were amazing.
How did get through such a tough time?
I was able to get through it because I was able to play softball. I’d go to treatments in the morning twice a week, and sometimes I was able to catch a class here or there. And then I would go to practices or games. I think just having that escape and the ability to forget about what was going on. My teammates were really supportive of what I was going through. They would come up to ask me how I was feeling that day. But after that, that was it. They wouldn’t bring up anything else. It was my opportunity to escape life and what was going on.
My community was supportive too. They put on a ton of benefits. And they all put on purple ribbons to show support on their helmets. Purple was my cancer color. Other teams would wear purple t-shirts to school for support. I think with all of that, there was never really a time when I was nervous. I knew no matter what was going to happen, there was going to be support somewhere helping me through it. Just having that strength when I couldn’t.
What was your highest moment in softball?
Winning one of the first-ever state championships for my team. Going 10 innings in that game. Going back to Farmington that night and graduating high school. A close second was making it to the Sweet 16 my sophomore year with UWL (University of Wisconsin Lacrosse). That was pretty awesome.
Favorite Passion Off the Field
Golfing and hiking.
What was your journey like to play in College?
My pitching coach had a lot of connections to the college world, where to go, and how to help me. So ever since I started with him, he had me thinking about playing in college. He would ask me questions about playing in college. What division do you want to play? I always bounced back between what divisions. I never knew what division I wanted to play. I was at such a young age. I didn’t know. I was just trying to learn new pitches.
But later on in high school, I did a lot of camps and visited a lot of schools. I was able to find something that I liked in each school. I never got that home feeling like I did at the University of Wisconsin Lacrosse. For me, picking a school was more about the academics, the campus feeling, and softball was just an added bonus. So that’s definitely what I found at Lacrosse. I stepped on the campus and after the first or second time, I knew it was definitely where I wanted to go. The second time, I met with the coach. And the third time, I just went by myself. That’s when I knew that this was definitely the place I wanted to spend the next four or five years getting an education and playing.
What would you tell your younger self?
I would say to never give up and never stop fighting. You will always get thrown so many curveballs in life, in sports, and in school. There is always sunshine on the other side. There is always going to be someone there to help you through it. Whether it's a teammate, family member, or a close friend. Keep pushing. It’s only going to make you stronger.
Tell us about the moment you decided on the design for your collection?
Colleen (RIP-IT designer) and I had a meeting in the morning. I was deciding between the mountain design aspect and the ocean design. I was torn between both. I asked Colleen if I pondered on this. Just think about it. I love them both so much. I thought about it. I talked it over with my parents, and that’s how we came to the conclusion of the ocean one. The mountain was nice, but I thought the ocean design represented more of my journey.
The ocean just reminded me of just being calm, and as the waves come, they represent your battles throughout your life. The waves represent those bumps in the road of your journey.
How did your parents help you decide?
I showed them both designs and I asked them which one they liked. They wouldn’t tell me. They would say “I know what I like, but what do you like?” And I just needed their input. I liked them both. They helped me think it through, and once I said I liked the ocean, they agreed.
What did your parents think about this opportunity?
RIP-IT on Instagram reached out. And I had my account in private. So since I wasn’t following RIP-IT, I didn’t get a notification. I was just checking my Instagram one day because my boyfriend had sent me one of those Instagram reels, I noticed I had a message request. I was shocked. I went to my mom and told her that she would never guess what I just got. RIP-IT contacted me. I was in shock. My mom was in shock. My dad was in shock too.
What was the design experience like for you?
When Colleen first presented all four initial concepts, it was hard to take in. I think there was a lot of silence from me. And I think that made her hesitant at first. But the designs were good. I hesitated because I wasn’t sure what the next design would be. I like things about each initial concept but really loved the ocean design.
Was it difficult to work with our designer?
I think it was easy given Colleen's background. It was someone who could relate to me. Someone who has had similar experiences. When I tell my story to other people, I do get some anxiety. But I love sharing my story. The initial thought that normal humans have about what others will think of me crosses my mind. But it’s not enough to stop me from sharing my story.
What has been the best experience for you sharing your story of being a cancer survivor?
I was one year out from treatments and I was speaking at the local Relay for Life. I spoke at a survivor walk back at home. Leading up to it, my mom was the speaker before me. She spoke from the perspective of a caregiver. I spoke from the perspective of a survivor. I was joking with my mom that I knew she was going to cry during her speech. And the whole time, I knew I wasn’t going to cry.
It was completely the opposite. My mom did the whole speech just fine. And then I got up there and my first words were “I was 17 when I was diagnosed with cancer.” I balled for 5 minutes. That was the moment it came full circle for me. And I remember standing there and telling my mom I couldn’t finish my speech. I kept asking her to finish my speech for me. And my mom told me that I would regret not reading it. She reminded me that I could finish my speech. My mom stood up there with me. My family was out in the crowd recording it. I finished my speech. I think I cried all the way through me reading it and I’m not sure how much of it the crowd heard, but I finished it.
Why is that speech so meaningful to you?
We had a caring bridge, a place for me to post live updates on my cancer journey, so everyone knew my story. But I was busy with treatments and softball. Life moved really fast. And this speech was a year out from finishing treatment. All of the emotions came out during that speech. There were hard nights when I would think to myself the same questions. Why me? Why did this happen? Having cancer was so unfair. I didn’t show my emotions in front of my family because I wanted to be strong for them. They didn’t show emotions in front of me because they wanted to be strong for me. During this speech, it all just came full circle. And ever since then, I still have had anxiety when talking about my cancer, but I am able to share it.
What does your love note mean to you?
Never Stop the Fight. Throughout my journey, I never liked being called sick. I never liked people saying that I had cancer. I didn't like it when people called it a disease. We always just called it my bump in the road. During the first two weeks of my treatment, I decided that this was my bump in the road. We are going to get past it. It’s all going to be ok. But we also came up with the saying that we are never going to stop the fight. It’s never going to go away. Even though I am cancer-free, it’s a continuous battle to stay that way. They created a little helmet sticker with my number and the words “Never Stop the Fight” around it and “No one Fights Alone.”
Tell us about when you first found out about this opportunity to work with us to build a collection?
Scott Hughes runs the Renegade Softball Team. And I’ve helped them out with pitching lessons and helping him out at the facility that he has in Farmington. He plays a big part in the Farmington Softball community and with the high school team. He put on a big fundraiser for me when I first found out that I had my bump in the road. He was just super supportive. Made the helmet stickers that I talked about earlier. He’s always been there for me, supporting me through this.
So, one day, he is putting an order in with Tom, one of RIP-IT’s sales reps, and they started talking about this opportunity. Scott said he knew someone who would be perfect for this. Tom sent Scott the link to nominate a softball player. Scott filled out the survey. And then he sent the link to my mom. And she sent it to me over text that someone had nominated me for this. Everyone started sharing it. Everyone started voting for me.
Then RIP-IT published a top ten list of vote-getters. And then I saw my name at number 2 on the list. I thought there was no way. I see names like Sis Bates and Rachal Garcia. I couldn't believe my name was on that list with all these D1 players. And then I got that message from RIP-IT that I had been selected.