||Barbara Nelson, left, from the Wisconsin Veterans Home, and Marcella Canniff from Hustisford share a laugh together. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner)
WISCONSIN DELLS -- From his smile to the story of persistence despite the struggles, it’s easy to see why Zachary Reetz is a champion.
In March 2007, at 14 years old, Reetz became infected with meningococcemia, a rare disease caused by a type of bacterial meningitis. He spent 161 days in the hospital and due to the infection lost both legs, all of his right hand, and a good portion of his left hand and suffered hearing loss.
But Reetz survived and became an example to others — those with and without disabilities. With prosthetic limbs, he rides a specially made bike, walks, hunts with his grandfather, goes camping, and attends school.
He was named by the Children’s Miracle Network as the 2009 Champion of Wisconsin and traveled to Walt Disney World and met President Barack Obama in March. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he was able to travel to Las Vegas and ride with his favorite NASCAR driver, Jeff Gordon.
“He’s pretty much back to doing everything,” his mother, Desiree, said.
And for the first time August 21, Reetz joined Campion’s Champions.
Reetz joined the hundreds of people who attended the Day at the Dells event, sponsored by the Apostolate to the Handicapped. The annual event features Mass celebrated by the apostolate’s 42-year director, Msgr. Thomas Campion, and concelebrated by priests of the Diocese of Madison; lunch; a water show; and friends and camaraderie.
“People look at me and kind of say, ‘you’re kind of an old fart to keep doing what you do,’” Monsignor Campion said during his homily, drawing laughter from the crowd. “But I’m a piece of the puzzle — together we’re a puzzle. And no one is more important a piece than everyone else. We’re somebody; God made us. And every piece must fit so that the puzzle of life is complete.”
Being an example
This year’s event was held as always at the Tommy Bartlett Water Show on Lake Delton. The lake in a strong way exemplified the same spirit of persisting despite struggles that is shared by many of the elderly and those with disabilities who sat in the bleachers overlooking it.
In the floods of 2008, Lake Delton drained into the Wisconsin River, taking with it homes and many businesses’ livelihoods. But the lake is back, and, as Msgr. Campion said, it looks much better — “it wasn’t quite as pretty last year,” he said, thanking God for its return.
For more than 40 years, people have been gathering from around the state for the Apostolate outings — the Christmas Party and the Day at the Dells — despite weather that has often been less than pleasant. Even the Day at the Dells August 21 looked to be set for rain, but it still drew approximately 1,200 people.
“You had the drive to get out of your homes — for some of you, on a rainy morning — to come here and walk with friends,” especially, Monsignor Campion said, to come and walk with Christ in the Eucharist.
He drew the theme of his homily from a book, Walking with Friends, an inspirational story of a man who despite a mobility handicap spent a year walking the courses with some of golf’s greats during the PGA tour.
“We are all walking with friends, people who help us, guide us,” Monsignor Campion said. “By our joy, our acceptance, our willingness to fall down and be willing to get up again, we give a powerful example for others. We who are handicapped get a lot out of it because of what we put into it.”
Day to be with friends
The Apostolate Day at the Dells is an opportunity to “get away,” said Kelly Wilson, of Janesville, who came to the event with her husband, Jimmy.
“You look at someone like Jimmy,” she said. “They can help anybody they come into contact with, just by showing appreciation, just by smiling.”
“I’ve been coming for 42 years, and the program means a lot to me,” said Dan Remick. “Father (Monsignor Campion) is my very special friend, and I love him with all my heart, and without him we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
For Dianne Roatch, who has come to the Day at the Dells for six years and goes every year to the Christmas party in Monroe, it’s an opportunity to be with all of the people she’s met over the years.
“I like it — I get to see all my friends, especially Danny,” she said, referring to Remick. “They do a wonderful job putting on this and the Christmas party.”
“I think today represents a day of helping people, and joy, and community, and bringing people out of their homes,” said Amy Marti, of Chicago Ill., who has helped out many times at apostolate events.
“People just like to help, and it shows — back here especially. They come here every year,” she said, gesturing to the many volunteers who were at the moment stacking the boxes that had held the many lunches earlier distributed to attendees. “You help everyone, you meet people, and you leave with a sense that you were able to help, and you were able to make someone’s day, if not their summer or their year.”