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Witten brightens the day of one of his biggest fans

Joe Avento • Updated Jun 17, 2017 at 11:17 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Jason Witten took a couple of minutes out of his busy Saturday to brighten the day of one of his biggest fans.

You could tell by the smile on Madison Hammond's face that her family's trip from Lima, Ohio, was worth every mile.

Madison has overcome several life-threatening ailments, including hydrocephalus, where cerebral spinal fluid doesn't drain properly from the brain, and a brain tumor. Her health issues led to numerous surgeries and stays in hospitals.

But after a difficult childhood, Madison is doing much better. She's 18, about to enter college and wants to help hospitalized children feel less afraid.

Madison attended the 15th annual Jason Witten Football Camp on Saturday, hoping to meet her hero. The meeting was arranged, and her family traveled from Ohio to spend a couple of days in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee.

"I found out last week and I was like 'Oh my gosh,' ” she said. "I'm getting butterflies just thinking about it. I'm so excited."

Madison's father, David, is a Dallas Cowboys fan, so she says she "automatically" became one as well.

Once she had her team picked out, it was pretty easy to determine who her favorite player would be. She liked the way Witten, an All-Pro and record-setting tight end, played. She had also heard about his charitable works that led to his winning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2012.

"He seems really genuine," she said. "He seems like a great guy, putting this camp on and helping so many kids."

Before Saturday, Madison's impression of Witten came from afar. She was so nervous about the meeting that she was hoping not to freeze.

"I forgot my questions that I had written down at the hotel, so I'm going through my head," she said. "I'm hoping I can say something."

The meeting went well, with Witten graciously greeting Madison and her family, autographing a few items and posing for pictures.

As she had expected, her faraway impression of Witten was confirmed.

"He really is a good guy," she said, smiling. "He's so nice."

Madison and her family had the opportunity to watch Witten in action back in 2012. In a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, he caught six passes. So Madison has seen six of his 1,089 career receptions in person.

"It was crazy, awesome, to watch a game in person," she said. "I've been to a college game for Ohio State, but I never saw an NFL game before. That was fun."

Madison recently graduated high school and plans to attend Rhodes State College to study radiology.

"I had a lot of health problems when I was younger," she said. "I've been in children's hospitals for as long I can remember, many visits there. The staff and the nurses and the doctors were amazing. I want to be able to give back to these kids, to let them know I've been there and to help them to feel less scared."

On Saturday, her football hero made her feel a little bit better as well.

"It was really a dream come true," she said.

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