'It's kind of him and I against the world'
Dying mom loves watching son wrestle his way to success
Despite not winning a varsity wrestling match a season ago, Gahanna Lincoln High School junior Nick Nader's passion for the sport had only grown by the time he and his mother, Maria Nader, had what she describes as a "big heart to heart" last June.
If he truly was serious about wrestling, she told him, she would be willing to do whatever it took to help him improve.
Within 24 hours, she got her answer from Nick: "I'm committed."
After participating last summer in open mats and clinics throughout the area and putting on about 25 pounds of muscle, Nick has blossomed into one of the Lions' top wrestlers.
It has been a positive during a difficult journey for mother and son.
In 2009, Maria had surgery to remove carcinoid tumors, which, according to cancer.gov, are slow-growing tumors usually found in the gastrointestinal system that can spread to other parts of the body.
She was told at that time she likely would live only four or five years.
"Wrestling kind of takes my mind off of it, and at the same time I can get a lot of my anger out," Nick said. "The doctors say she'll probably pass away before my senior year is over, so I just try to spend time with her. She comes to all of my matches and is super supportive in everything I do."
Nick, a heavyweight, had a 22-8 record this season through last weekend's competition. After weighing about 220 a year ago, he has been more competitive now that he weighs closer to 245.
"This year has been really good," Maria said. "Since he was 4 years old, he's always been this phenomenal baseball player. His freshman year (wrestling) was a new learning experience and last year he was coming along and talking about how much he loved wrestling. For me, it's exciting. I have a terminal illness, and with my cancer I will do whatever it takes to help him.
"It's kind of him and I against the world."
Maria was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and moved to the United States when she was about 9.
She moved from Utah to Gahanna with Nick when he was 1 to be closer to her mother and brother. Her mother since has died, and her brother has moved to Colorado.
Maria taught Spanish at the elementary school level for several years before having surgery in 2009 to remove tumors from her liver and colon.
She wasn't able to attend many of Nick's activities at that time, including his participation in the school orchestra.
"They told me before my surgery that if I hadn't had the surgery, I probably wouldn't have seen the end of his eighth-grade year," Maria said. "When they opened me up, they didn't expect to see what they found. The main tumor had broken through the colon wall, and I was no longer qualified for a liver transplant.
"(The doctor) said I would probably not see Nick graduate from high school. I have a job to do as a parent and that's to make sure that Nick is OK. The good thing is that he's an exceptional kid."
Nick plays double bass in the school orchestra in addition to competing in wrestling.
According to Maria, if she dies before Nick graduates, numerous families from Gahanna have offered to take in her son, an only child.
"(What would happen to Nick) has always been the big, tough question," Maria said. "Since he's such a great kid, so many people have said that he could stay with them. There are a lot of great families that he's grown up with. We thought about shipping him out to Colorado to be with my brother's family, but my brother is a teacher as well, and he knows how when a kid has to move away for their senior year of high school after something like this, their whole lives just crumble.
"I'm trying to do whatever I can to get him opportunities. I worry, but there are families fighting over him. I know when I'm gone, people are there. I'm 6-foot-2, and the list would be longer than that of the people who have offered to help."
Nick attended a heavyweight camp at Ohio State last July and met Buckeyes wrestling coach Tom Ryan. He also attended clinics at various area high schools.
Because of the family's tight financial situation, the Ohio State camp was the only paid camp he attended.
"He started working out like a fiend, doing a lot of lifting and going to camps and clinics, anything to become stronger and better," Maria said. "He began cutting lawns, doing odd jobs, collecting cans, anything to cover costs. It's been difficult because resources are difficult, but we've managed. He has been looking for camps, clubs, clinics and open mats ever since. Hopefully this summer, more will be available."
"So far I've actually improved a lot from last year," Nick said. "My strength has gotten a lot better and just basically everything overall (has improved). This (past) summer was dedicated to wrestling."
Nick won both of his matches Jan. 17 as Gahanna defeated Newark 60-6 but lost to Lancaster 38-36 to move to 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
On Jan. 19, Maria was among the hospitality workers as Gahanna placed second and Nick pinned all five of his opponents in the home Lion Duals. The Lions beat Canal Winchester 51-23, Dublin Jerome 53-19 and Reynoldsburg 42-31, lost to eventual champion Hilliard Bradley 58-16 and beat Westerville South 45-30.
"I've seen how hard he's worked at it," said Maria, who sometimes wears a shirt that reads "TermiNADER's Mom" to Nick's matches. "Actually, I panic every time he gets on the mat. When he's wrestling I can only speak in Spanish since Spanish is my first language."
Coach Kyle Bentley has been impressed by Nick's growth as a wrestler.
"Last year, Nick kind of got beat up as a sophomore, but he did a lot of work in the offseason," Bentley said. "His mom is battling cancer, so he's had to grow up pretty quick. It's been pretty neat to watch him grow up."
Maria said one of the more memorable moments of her son's wrestling career came last year when he won a tight match during a junior varsity tournament.
"He gave me a big hug, and even though he was sweaty, I didn't care," Maria said. "There's nothing better than watching them grow up. He is my heart.
"Some days aren't very good and some days are good. It was tough because (the chemotherapy) changes your personality. I'm thinking, 'This poor kid has been through the wringer,' and it just breaks my heart. But he's been my rock."