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Wrestling is helping young Florida wrestler beat skin disorder
Photo: Third grader Xavier Moltzan has dealt with the autoimmune disorder skin disease alopecia for the past eight years.
By Sandy Stevens
Within days, a father’s online post on a wrestling site drew over 5,000 “likes” and was shared more than 400 times.
“Our son Xander who has alopecia used to go to the nurse almost every day and call and ask to come home because someone made fun of him for not having hair, and he never took his hat off,” wrote Dwayne Moltzan.
“He started wrestling three years ago and now walks around proud of who he is. He took his school pictures without a hat the last two years. Wrestling gave him the confidence we prayed he would have.”
In addition to cheering on Xander, dozens shared what the sport had done for them or their loved ones.
Now a third grader, Xander had a full head of hair as a baby, but when he was about a year old, it all fell out. Then he lost his eyelashes, too. “It was a scary time,” Dwayne said.
Doctors at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospitals said Xander was one of the youngest kids in the state to have alopecia, an autoimmune disorder skin disease.
Xander’s condition presented even more of a challenge when Dwayne, an IT engineer; his wife Cassie, a pre-kindergarten teacher; Xander, 9 on Jan. 15; and daughter Emmerson, now 4, moved to Florida.
“That was the hard part,” Dwayne said. “Xander really lived in a bubble the first three or four years of his life, surrounded by family and friends. It wasn’t until he started preschool that he realized he was different.”
“What’s wrong with you?” others asked, or they’d declare, “That kid doesn’t have hair.”
“As a dad, it broke my heart,” Dwayne said, “but he got in the wrestling club and boom! He was back to being confident again.”
In his first year of wrestling, Xander lost one match, placing third in state. Now at 52 inches tall, this 60-pounder can do 307 push-ups. Competitively swimming last summer for the first time, he scored the most team points and was voted most valuable. And since age 7, he’s been playing chess with his grandpa.
When the family moved to Florida, wrestling wasn’t their first thought for Xander, Dwayne said. “We had no idea if he’d like it, how big an impact it would make for him, what a support system he’d have,” Dwayne said. “It’s totally changed our lives.”
Wrestling, however, was a natural for Dwayne, a Minnesota native.
“For me, it was either wrestle or do farm chores,” he explained. His Frazee High School coach was Hall of Famer Clay Nagle.
Dwayne is also the father of Christian, 18, who’ll play hockey next year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and Noah, 16, a sophomore and 126-pound varsity wrestler for Hudson (Wisc.) High School.
A wrestling coach for the past 23 years (including a stint at Wahpeton (N.D.) High School, Dwayne is the youth and middle school head coach for Florida’s Ponte Vedra Athletic Association, where enrollment has jumped from 13 to 78 wrestlers in two years.
“Florida’s the same as in Minnesota: amazing support from parents, coaches, kids,” Dwayne said. “Because of this sport, wherever we go, Xander now has a home.
“In other sports, no matter a kid’s situation, the reaction isn’t as positive. When you walk into this (wrestling) room, you become part of this family, this community. Xander is part of this family now.”
“Wrestling as a sport is a family. Every coach or athlete Xander’s been around has reached out to me — ‘if there’s anything I can do …’”
“It’s a team sport,” Xander declared. “You get to work with other people working for the same goal.
Sometimes you can’t do things your way; you have to do what you’re told. You improve by helping your teammates improve.”
Also because of wrestling, Xander’s been able to show his personality, Dwayne said. “He’s not afraid to be outgoing and to meet other kids.”
“Sometimes you think wrestlers are strong and they want to be the bad guy, but I’ve gotten stronger and I use my muscles to be a good guy,” Xander said.
He advises, “If somebody tries to push you to a goal, you won’t work that hard on it. Make your own goal. And if you can’t make one of your goals, work on another goal.”
Knowing he would meet Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs at a wrestling camp, Xander fashioned patterned bracelets of black and gold beads to salute Burroughs’ “All I See is Gold” theme. Burroughs not only wore his bracelet while at the World Championships, he’s sporting it in the Burroughs’ new family photo, Dwayne said.
“Jordan Burroughs told me he wasn’t the best wrestler when he started, but he set goals and became the best,” Xander said.
Then Xander added, “JB inspired me, but my dad’s the best dad ever, and he inspires me, too.”
The Moltzan family shares Xander’s picture with other kids to grow awareness of alopecia, Dwayne said.
“The more who know about it, the next kid who comes along — maybe people will treat him a little differently.”
(Sandy Stevens is a long-time public address announcer of national and international events and was named to the National Hall of Fame in 1998.)