Marlon Walls says hospital visit with Katelyn Norman changed his life

Tennessee offensive lineman Marlon Walls walks with teammates between drills during practice at Haslam Field Friday, Aug. 5, 2011.  The Vols will play Montana Sept. 3 in their season opener at Neyland Stadium.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee offensive lineman Marlon Walls walks with teammates between drills during practice at Haslam Field Friday, Aug. 5, 2011. The Vols will play Montana Sept. 3 in their season opener at Neyland Stadium. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Bone cancer patient Katelyn Norman has her high school prom Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at East Tennessee Children's Hospital. (Michael Dayah/Special to the News Sentinel)

Photo by Michael Dayah

Bone cancer patient Katelyn Norman has her high school prom Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at East Tennessee Children's Hospital. (Michael Dayah/Special to the News Sentinel)

Marlon Walls hoped his visit to the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital last week might help boost spirits of kids and families who were spending their spring break in the hospital.

Instead, Walls himself left the hospital profoundly and permanently affected by a one-hour meeting with a teenage girl who he called an “angel” on earth.

Katelyn Norman, the 14-year-old from LaFollette whose battle against bone cancer rallied her community and gained national attention, succumbed to cancer last Friday.

“I can honestly say my life would not be the same without meeting that little girl,” Walls said Tuesday.

A fifth-year defensive lineman from the Memphis area, Walls was supposed to be at the beach, but a trip was canceled due to cold weather. He had volunteered at the Children’s Hospital before and was happy to do so again when a call went out last week seeking visitors from the football team.

Walls and fellow senior Byron Moore went to the hospital, not knowing what to expect. When they reached Katelyn’s room, a doctor and nurse explained her story.

Walls said he was nervous and uncertain.

“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘What can you say to her? How can you uplift her spirit?’ You know that she’s really sick. And I’m just thinking to myself, ‘What do I say? What do I say?’ and I’m panicking,” he said.

The tension was gone as soon as he entered Katelyn’s room.

“It’s as if as soon as I walked into the room there was a presence — and I really do mean that — and it was telling me, ‘Relax. This young lady’s at peace, and she understands that God called her to do this,’ ” Walls said.

Walls and Katelyn had never met, and she was in the final stages of a lengthy battle, but Walls said he was amazed by the way “every word out of her mouth was positive.”

“It was just genuine,” he said. “We sat and talked for about an hour. She asked us where we were from, and I said from Memphis. She said, ‘Oh, I love Elvis.’ I tell that story to show what her mindset was.”

Walls said he told Katelyn about his own family.

“We talked about my little daughter, and I told her how I want my daughter to be half as strong as her, and she was like, ‘You’ll be a great dad and God’s going to be bless you.’ ”

After Katelyn’s death, a walk planned in her honor went on as a remembrance. Walls and several teammates drove up to participate, but Walls was unsure if they belonged. He didn’t want the presence of football players to distract from the meaning of the event.

A family member assured him he should stay. “She was like, ‘No we want you here because it’s what Katelyn would have wanted,’ ” Walls said.

When his visit was over last week, Walls said he left the hospital room a changed person.

“When I left that room, I was crying my eyes out, and it wasn’t because I felt sorry for her,” he said. “It was because a lot of people weren’t going to get the chance to meet her and know her. She had a lot of strength. She changed my life forever. To meet someone like that — literally, I feel like I’ve met an angel.”

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 29

LSG410EC83 writes:

Need more articles such as this one. Thanks guys for putting others first during your spring break. You will probably never know totally what your visit meant to this young person. God bless and please GoVols.com, keep these behind the scenes stories coming. IT IS GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL. GO BIG ORANGE.

chrisvol95 writes:

God Bless Marlon Walls and all of the VOLS who donate their time

bobbarbilly writes:

" It is not about me." Once we come to that realization, we are all changed. Time well spent Marlon Walls.

iowa_vol writes:

Marlon Walls is my new favorite Vol. it's great to see these stories and have our team reaching out to the community. Life is bigger than football. We should all keep that in perspective.

stovepipedrinker writes:

This is the true spirit of what a Tennessee VOLUNTEER is!
Well done #58 and rest in peace Katelyn.

junkball10 writes:

Thanks for the great story Evan. God bless this little girls family and you too Marlon. I was reading this before going to sleep tonight sort of feeling a little down because things didn't all go my way today. This really put things in perspective. Go Vols!

allvol9 writes:

God Bless you Marlon Walls and Katelyn Norman. This is what it's all about.

LSG410EC83 writes:

in response to RIGHTISBETTERTHANLEFT:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I am sure there were many. I for one was touched by this story, thus it was worth writing. Do you think these guys ran to the paper and said "Hey, write about me, write about me." Like the old Anne Murray song, "Sure could use, a little good news today". Didn't you read the part where they said they thought about not doing the walk in fear of it bringing attention to them instead of the walk itself. I guess you would rather only see the headlines when one of the players falter in life. Come on. Get a life. I for one think it is great to see stories of these young men doing something good. As for me this makes it GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL. GO BIG ORANGE.

me410ec writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

mtthw741 writes:

in response to iowa_vol:

Marlon Walls is my new favorite Vol. it's great to see these stories and have our team reaching out to the community. Life is bigger than football. We should all keep that in perspective.

He became my favorite when I found out they had to pull him off Coach O when he found out the slime ball was calling recruits and telling them not to come to UT. He grew up a Tennessee fan and teared up on his recruiting trip when he stepped on the field at Neyland stadium. Definitely need more players like him!

macon_volfan writes:

still can't figure out why my wife asked me to chop onions for her this morning....

ColdBlackWind writes:

Where have we came to when a heart warming story like this sparks a negative thought in any persons mind, let alone driving them to respond here with their poison. One can only hope somewhere in their life they will have an experience like Marlon did and their pitiful lives will be changed.

kcbigorngX writes:

Best piece of work I've come across lately, Evan.

By far the best coming out of KNS.

Thank you, Marlon Walls for showing some truly inspiring leadership.

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to ColdBlackWind:

Where have we came to when a heart warming story like this sparks a negative thought in any persons mind, let alone driving them to respond here with their poison. One can only hope somewhere in their life they will have an experience like Marlon did and their pitiful lives will be changed.

Cold black,

Friend, you said it. After we read a few words from garbage like these idiots, it clearly tells you the types of people who do show up on this site, unfortunately.

Also, after learning about the little girl and Marlon, we see there really are decent people, decent football players, and I know Marlon is blessed for the time he spent with her.

Some day, some of these idiots posting their garbage will need somebody to care about them.
It just might be too late.

senracjr writes:

in response to RIGHTISBETTERTHANLEFT:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

If I knew where you lived I'd come there and beat the devil out of you! That goes for any of you that could say something stupid and negative about something like this!

RealisticVol writes:

What an awesome story. Incredible girl and a first class guy. The kind the Vols need to recruit more of.

bUTch_please writes:

Marlon, you did meet an angel and she'll be with you and your daughter every step of the way. Thank you for listening to Gods call and going up there to spend time with Katelyn and especially for sharing with us. Our team's in good hands with men of your caliber.

MetroplexMojo writes:

What a great story. For those inspired by Marlon and Katelyn, there are several great children's hospitals in the State of Tennessee where one can donate their time or resources. The inspiration and perspective gained far exceeds any resources or time given to the hospital.

Go Lucy Go

CarlChilders writes:

in response to iowa_vol:

Marlon Walls is my new favorite Vol. it's great to see these stories and have our team reaching out to the community. Life is bigger than football. We should all keep that in perspective.

You've got two new favorites. Let's not forget Byron Moore.

MidTennVol writes:

Marlon Wall is a Tennessean who makes me proud to be one too. God bless Katelyn's family.

mlynn1 writes:

What a great story, as I wipe my eyes.

123forVOLS writes:

That is a great story and it is refreshing to see young men so deeply touched by one who fought in good ways for every day she had to live. God bless Katelyn's family and the changed man that is Marlon Walls.

Tru138 writes:

Absolutely amazing the someone would post something on an article like this that would need to be removed. Absolutely amazing.

pingkr62 writes:

It was really hard to keep from shedding tears while reading this story. God bless you Mr. Walls. I have first hand experience when it comes too being around sick and dying children. Those of us who have kids who are healthy, should thank the Lord every day that they are. R.I.P Katelyn.

Mobbdeep4life writes:

Stories like this remind me that the little things that I want to complain about in my life are trivial when reading about young children like Katelyn who are literally fighting for their lives.
Really puts things in perspective.

frblalack writes:

May God Bless you Marlon!

All Vols - All the Time

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

May God bless and comfort her, her family and friends and our 2 Vols that went and spent time with her and got their lives changed in the process by a great, strong youung lady.

We love our UT football but that's such a small thing in real life.

Keep it real and always remember what's really important.

VFL...GBO!!!

UTvols33 writes:

Great story (sniff, sniff). Great Vols being great leaders and great men.

GO VOLS! SMASH FLORIDA, MARLON!

Orange_Beach writes:

AJ McCarron is better than Peyton Manning.

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