Three days before Rockford native Todd Traen was set to pack up and head back to campus in Eau Claire for the spring term, he and his parents received life changing news. A three sport athlete while attending Rockford High School, Todd had been training hard for Blugold baseball tryouts when he began experiencing persistent pain and swelling in his knee.
“We figured he must have tore something, so that’s why we decided to get him in before he went back to college,” said Todd’s mother LaRae Traen. “And then, if he needed something done, we would just have it done in the summer.”
But after X-ray scans and testing, it was discovered that Todd Traen was facing something much different than a meniscus tear or ACL injury: he has osteosarcoma. A type of bone cancer most common in young men and teenagers, osteosarcoma is often treated with chemotherapy and surgery, the former of which Todd has begun since receiving his diagnosis earlier this year.
“It’s super hard to watch, and you wish it were you and not him. No 19-year-old, any kid, should have to go through this,” said LaRae Traen. “It’s hard to watch him go through that because, you know, he wishes he were at college, and he wants to feel good, and he wants to play baseball and basketball ... So that’s the hard part.”
But for Todd Traen, there is no “pity me” attitude in any way. If anything, he is just becoming more and more aware of others.
“After we had our first meeting with his oncology team, we got home and I was making him some lunch at the island in the kitchen, and he looked at him, he goes, ‘Mom, this is gonna be really hard on you and dad,’” said LaRae Traen. “He’s a kid that always was picking up someone else … he’s always thinking of others.”
People close to Todd Traen say that he has always been like this — caring, compassionate, a giver — and as a result, the Traens are receiving overwhelming community support when they need it most. Their neighborhood is filled with pink lights in celebration of Todd Traen and his favorite color, and the outpouring of kind messages and home cooked meals has been nonstop. Over a thousand T-shirts rooting on #ToughTraen have been sold, and a GoFundMe campaign is helping cover the financial strain of helping their kid battle cancer.
Both LaRae Traen and her husband Tom have jobs that can’t be done remotely, so the pair has been figuring out their new normal while supporting Todd Traen in the best way they can. Luckily, they haven’t had to do it (completely) alone.
“To be in this small town, in this community ... it’s funny. My husband runs a pitching clinic here and he’s always donated the money back to RAAA baseball, and being a captain parent you’re always making meals and lunches, and it’s a blessing to have been able to do that,” said LaRae Traen. “It’s funny how things kind of come back to you in a way that you never expected.”
A FIXTURE IN ROCKFORD BASEBALL
The Traen family is iconic in the world of Rockford baseball, and Todd is no different.
“Todd had big shoes to fill because of his dad’s status in the Rockford baseball community and his brother’s extremely successful baseball career at RHS,” said RHS baseball coach, Ryan Sparrman. “In true fashion, Todd never shied away from the challenge.”
A “spark in every situation,” Todd Traen’s involvement in Rockford sports transcended pure athleticism. He loved playing third base because he could chat with coaches from across the state, and his charisma noticeably wore off on his teammates.
“We often use Todd as an example as how to be a leader, and that it’s important to bring your personality to the baseball field,” said Sparrman. “Todd’s individual success was impressive, but his lasting impact on the program is what makes him truly special.”
LaRae Traen says that Todd’s passion for sports started young, and his ability to connect with others — regardless of age, city, ability — right along the way. Since he was a kid, Todd Traen has been a bat boy for Loretto baseball, and this last year was the first he found his name actually on the roster.
“He was really excited to play for them this year ... I mean, it was just a big motivation for working out and getting ready for the season,” she said.
Todd Traen’s presence will be missed back at RHS, too, and Sparrman is itching for him to come back and join the coaching staff one day.
“Baseball is about to start up and I already miss his presence and leadership,” he said. “This year is dedicated to him.”
The Traens and their army of supporters have their warrior faces on, and as Todd likes to say, this is just a “minor setback for a major comeback.”