The fact that Dalton Bauer has been able to continue his football career at Loras College for the past three seasons is what some may call a miracle. The tight end from Galena, Ill. almost had his playing days end as a junior in high school when he heard the life-changing words no one is prepared to hear: “you have cancer”. It was a challenging road to remission and where he is today, halfway through his senior year at Loras, but family and football helped him find the strength and motivation.
Growing up in a small town, Bauer played a sport every season, keeping his schedule busy with football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. As one of four boys in the house, sports were a big part of his childhood and developed into a passion as he grew older. Attending college, let alone playing football, was not something he was sure about until later in his high school career, but the drive to keep playing the sport grew stronger after his diagnosis with Hodgkin Lymphona.
“During my junior year, I was with my family one night and had felt very weak and was having trouble breathing, which is not normal for me. My parents agreed that I needed to get it checked out–we thought it might have been a pulled muscle in my chest since I was in the weight room more preparing for my senior year football season. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office after getting chest x-rays and the doctor came back and told me we needed to call my parents in. That’s when they told me I had three cancerous spots in my neck and two in my chest. That was something I never thought in a million years I would hear. I thought I was going to be instantly sick.”
By 4 P.M. that same afternoon, Bauer had been moved to Children’s Hospital in Madison where they discovered the spots in his neck were three times larger than what they thought, causing many of the breathing problems. He spent two weeks in the hospital running tests and biopsies and enduring multiple rounds of chemotherapy each day with pills and shots he had to take once he was home. Throughout the treatment, Bauer’s hair grew thin and eventually fell out and his muscle mass gained from a physically active lifestyle as a multi-sport athlete quickly deteriorated. The chemo, which lasted 36 rounds, made him feel very weak and nauseous and he was not done yet. He still had 18 rounds of radiation treatments, which were not as grueling as the chemo, but still a long journey.
Bauer was not going through the process alone as his family and friends rallied together to help give him strength. The day after one of his treatments, his friend called and asked if he could come over to visit. Bauer was feeling ill after the long trip from Madison and the treatment, but his friend insisted he had something he wanted to show him. Bauer’s parents agreed a visitor would be good for his spirits and he was shortly greeted by a wonderful surprise.
“I heard a knock at the door and 12 of my fiends walked in with all of their heads shaved. My family and I started to cry–I knew I had great friends throughout all of this but having them show up in this way was amazing.”
Whenever Bauer went to the doctor, he had the same burning question: “Do you think I will be able to play football this year?” He did not want to miss his final season with the Galena Pirates. The doctor told him they were optimistic and sure enough, he gained clearance to suit up for one last go.
But the reward did not come without challenges. The chemo and radiation had made Bauer’s bones weak and in the second game of the season, he broke his leg. That meant six weeks sidelined and a long recovery and more hard work. He had put so much into getting back to playing football and having it taken away again served as motivation to only get stronger. Bauer put in more time to his training and was able to get back on the field to finish his senior season before heading to Loras in the fall of the following year.
Bauer has played in 16 games in his career in purple and gold, recording 111 total yards. As a sophomore, he came away with a career-high 29-yard reception in the Nov. 3, 2018 game against Coe College. He is glad he made the choice to come to Loras and have the opportunity to continue his education and football career close to home.
“After my diagnosis, there was no way I could go very far. I knew I did not want to go to college far because my family means a lot to me and I liked the idea of only being 20 minutes from home! There was also the bonus with Loras’ color being purple–it’s the same as my ribbon for Hodgkin Lymphoma!”
Throughout his career at Loras, the wins and moments with the team are memories that he will hold forever, but the memories he will cherish the most involve playing with his younger brother, Colton, a junior running back for the Duhawks. The two have had a special bond for as long as they have been playing football together and the opportunity to continue the experience in college only strengthens it.
“Words can’t describe what it’s like playing football with Colton. He may be my younger brother, but I look up to him just as much as if he were older. There is nothing like high school football where you are lead blocking for your little brother and in college it has been a blessing to still play with him. I waited three years after high school to get to play another down of football with my brother. That wait was so worth it to me when I saw him run onto the field–I was a junior and he was a sophomore. That moment is all I wanted since my last game of high school.”
But this year, the brothers won’t be on the field together. With the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the effects on people with underlying and high risk medical conditions, Bauer is sitting this one out. It was not easy for Bauer to step away from the sport this year, but he, his family and doctors agree his health and safety is a priority. Bauer has big life moments in his future, including completing his sport management degree to pursue a career in sport marketing after graduation and celebrating his recent engagement to his fiancé, Kelsey, in October.
“I had to make the best decision for me and that was really hard because I have a family of 100 guys on this team that I wanted to know I was not just leaving them. I had a problem with it all at first because I did not want to upset them, but I have to make my health first.”The Duhawk football team will play the 2020 season this spring, playing on the road at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa on Saturday, Apr. 3 at noon. To learn more about the football program and Loras athletics, visit duhawks.com. If you or someone you know wants to become a Duhawk like Dalton Bauer, visit loras.edu/apply.