Lynn Falcone fought back tears while reading a newspaper article to her 8-year-old son Chase about John Poznanski, a Colonia High School wrestler and Rutgers University signee who lost the vision in his left eye to the same rare condition that Chase has.
Chase told his mother, “Maybe I’ll wrestle at Rutgers one day,” inspiring Lynn to email Colonia Patriots wrestling coach Dan Grasso with the desire to bring her son to one of the Patriots’ meets.
Chase’s father Jamie, who wrestled at the University of Maryland and is a volunteer high school assistant at Verona, where the Falcones reside, signed up their son – who already plays basketball, soccer and baseball – to participate in a recreation wrestling program. Competing at a tournament a week ago, Chase ran off the mat after pinning an opponent for the first time and asked his mother if she could text the news to the idol he had still yet to meet.
Lynn didn’t have Poznanski’s phone number, but got Grasso to arrange for the family to attend a meet where Colonia wrestled against the host school Woodbridge and J.F. Kennedy. The Falcones arrived just in time to watch Poznanski making quick work — sixteen seconds quick — of yet another opponent.
Poznanski was just as eager to meet his biggest fan. “John couldn’t have been nicer,” Lynn said. “Through that entire meet, John sat next to him with his arm around (Chase’s) chair chatting with him. It was like they were old friends. It was just incredible.”
At the age of 6, Chase Falcone ended up at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, where world-renowned ocular oncologist Dr. Carol L. Shields made the same diagnosis of Chase as she had made of John Poznanski nearly 14 years earlier: Coats Disease, caused by abnormal development of the blood vessels in the retina. The odds of Coats Disease occurring is one in 250,000, making the odds of Chase and Poznanski becoming local soulmates infinitesimal.
Unlike Poznanski, who completely lost the sight in his left eye to Coats Disease at the age of 4, Chase has extremely limited vision in his left eye. Lynn said doctors believe the disease will not progress, which she attributes to Dr. Shields’ expertise and advancements in modern medicine.
“This is so much bigger than sports,” coach Grasso says. “It’s putting together two people who had situations happen to them and they are probably the only two who can relate to each other. Watching them on the bench today was a blessing. You could see that kid watching John wrestle and saying, ‘Whatever this thing is that I have, the limitations are none.’”
Lynn agrees: “Poznanski is already a champion in our minds.”