March 31, 2009
EVANSTON, Ill. -
Northwestern men's soccer program lost a special part of its family early Sunday morning (March 29) when Russell Witek succumbed to a long battle with cancer. He was 14 years old.
Russell is survived by his father, Brian, his mother, Karen, and his brother Garrett.
The Wildcats were teamed up with Russell through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation which aims to improve the quality of life for children suffering with pediatric brain tumors by matching them with a college or high school sports team.
"I want to thank the Witeks for allowing Russell to become such a special part of our lives," Northwestern head coach Tim Lenahan said. "He was our biggest fan and was truly an inspiration to all of us. His spirit will continue to live on through our program."
Lenahan announced that the program's annual Team Inspiration Award that is handed out each postseason is being renamed the Russell Witek Team Inspiration Award in his honor.
Russell was a mainstay at Wildcat games this season, both home and away. His family also welcomed the team into their home where they were able to hang out and play video games together. He also mustered up enough strength to recently join the team at its postseason banquet.
"Losing Russell is very tough for our team and our family," Northwestern junior Mark Blades said. "He was an important member of the Northwestern Soccer family and he will be sorely missed.
"We would like to thank Russell and the Witeks for coming into our lives. Getting to know Russell and his family has been an honor and a privilege. We have learned so much from him and his fight. We have learned to cherish every moment with each other, we have learned to face any challenge with determination and resilience, we have learned to love each other a little bit better, and we have learned that no matter how hard life gets, we can never give up.
"Russell was an inspirational figure for our team. I believe that he is one of the main reasons for our run to the Elite 8 this past year. Our team thrived on his courage and determination. We played with a little bit more heart and determination when we saw Russell on the sidelines. And we will continue to play as Russell watches over us, and his presence will be seen and heard in our hearts and in our actions. We will miss his smile, but he will always be with us and he will always be a member of our family."
Our Family Member
His Legacy Lives on through Us