Boy, Former NFL Player Bonded By Disease And Friendship

Posted at: 08/15/2013 10:48 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- It's the kind of friendship you don’t see very often: a young North Iowa boy and a former pro-football player, brought together by the same disease and the same drive to beat it.

Both 10-year-old Cole Halbakken of Northwood, Iowa, and former Vikings first-round pick Kenechi Udeze have acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Today both are celebrating treatment milestones, and that celebration culminated in a very special reunion on Monday in Mankato.

"They just hit it off, it was amazing,” said Krya Reps, Cole’s mother. “Kenechi spent so much time with him."

Cole and Kenechi met three years ago at the Fools Five Road Race, a cancer fundraiser held in Lewiston, Minnesota.

“He had just had a spinal tap that morning of the race,” Reps said. “Kenechi pushed his wheelchair through the race for him. It was just really cool."

Since then, the two have kept in touch as young Cole went through years of chemo and radiation treatment.

“When Cole would do overnights, Kenechi would call sometimes and talk to him,” Reps said. “It was cool because he knew exactly what Cole was going through."

Kenechi recently marked the five-year anniversary of his successful bone marrow transplant, and Cole had his last treatment on June 25th.

On Monday he got a special surprise.

“When we first started driving I had no idea where we were going,” Cole said.

But he would soon find himself reunited with Kenechi at Vikings training camp.

“Oh my gosh, they hugged when they saw each other and it was amazing,” Reps said. “It was an absolutely amazing day."

Cole spent the day learning the ropes, testing his skills on the blocking pads, and meeting the players, including superstar Adrian Peterson.

“When he shook my hand it kind of hurt a little bit,” Cole said smiling. “It hurt a little bit when he hugged me too."

And while Cole took home a number of souvenirs signed by Vikings players, it was a hat bearing a message from his friend Kenechi that perhaps told the real story of the day.

The hat reads, “To my friend Cole, never give up and quitting is not an option.”

“He told Cole that that day four years ago,” Reps said. “And he never did."

“It was one of the best days on my life,” Cole said.