SOUTH MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The odds were stacked against a young man who had battled cancer all his life. He felt sick and isolated. Today, he's healthy, and thanks to the loving act of a coach and a community, more full of life than ever before.
"My dad built that wood board with the 'SM' on it, and the boys come out and their wristbands say 'time for work,' and it's just a matter of flipping a switch -- and come with one goal and one passion with your brothers is a big deal," South Milwaukee High School football coach Derek Hoff said.
Hoff is in his first year as the head coach of the South Milwaukee High School football team.
Based on the passion that the South Milwaukee players bring to practice, it appears Hoff's message has been received. His team is unbeaten, and they're having a blast. Nobody more so than sophomore Michael Christensen.
"It's great. I love every single one of these guys and the support they've given me has just been phenomenal," Christensen said.
So has Christensen! The 15-year-old sophomore has survived three bouts of cancer.
"Michael was first diagnosed at age three, and it's been 12 years. A 12-year ordeal. It relapsed at age 10 -- just when we thought we were out of the woods, and then he had treatment -- and six months later, when he was 14, it relapsed again. Then he had the bone marrow transplant because the chemo was no longer effective," Michael's mom, Beth Christensen said.
Beth and John Christensen and their two sons are a loving, tight-knit, strong family. Doctors told Michael's older brother Richard, who weighed three pounds when he was born prematurely that he might be blind or have cerebral palsy. Richard Christensen grew into a healthy student-athlete, but seeing his brother Michael face one crisis after another...
"It's a living hell to watch (excuse me), your child go through this because we thought we would have lost him several times. Michael is extremely strong and it's his faith in God that got us through. Never once did he say 'aw, I can't do this. I'm giving up,'" Beth Christensen said.
"There's always a little bit of fear that I wouldn't make it, but you gotta be positive and just live for every day," Michael Christensen said.
As much as Michael tried to stay positive, his condition made him feel isolated. On many days, he ate alone in the lunchroom. That's when Coach Hoff reached out in an extraordinary way. He asked Michael to join the Rockets football team.
"I thought it would be very cool if he could be a part of it -- even if right now, he's not capable of participating, you know? To put a dream, put a goal in his head that, you know, you're not this kid with cancer -- you're someone who's part of a team, someone who's a part of something greater," Coach Hoff said.
"Basically, it changed my entire life around -- because I wasn't doing that great socially, but since he asked me to be a part of the team, I have like, hundreds of brothers by my side now, so it's mind-blowing," Michael Christensen said.
So is Michael's popularity! These days, everybody wants to "be like Mike." His "Never Give Up" bracelets are seen everywhere. The Christensen's sell them for $1 -- with all proceeds going to the MACC Fund.
But no dollar amount can measure Michael Christensen's impact on others.
"Michael's the type of kid that, you know, every day you wake up and you say 'I'm having a pretty bad day. I don't want to go to school.' Then I walk into school, I see that smile on his face and it just brightens up my day. I'm just like 'aw, if he can do it - I can do it,'" South Milwaukee Senior Quarterback Justin Oliden said.
"Just how strong he is, you know? His life could have ended at any time. He just kept fighting through it, so it just helps me through when I have bad days. When I'm not feeling the greatest, I just think about him," Michael Christensen's brother, Richard said.
"These kids are learning a life lesson as well. The team -- the whole school. I'm just so proud of him. I couldn't tell you how proud I am of him and his struggle and to get to this point. He said the other day he feels he's at the top of the mountain," Christensen's dad, John said.
As his Rockets teammates soar in the standings, Michael Christensen's their moral supporter. He plans to play on the team next year.
Michael Christensen has received the "Stand Tall Award" from Sony Pictures for his triumph in the face of adversity. Michael says he's thankful for all these gifts, but in the end, his mom put it best...
"Just to have him alive is the greatest gift," Beth Christensen said.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the MACC Fund -- or to make a donation.