Zach Meyer strives to be an ordinary teenager.
His effort to be a normal high school athlete automatically qualifies him as extraordinary.
Meyer, a junior at West Delaware High School, competes in wrestling and ran cross country in the fall, but none of his foes are as tough as the one that challenges his health. The 16-year-old has battled Cystic Fibrosis since being diagnosed when he was less than one year old.
Activity helps Meyer handle the disease, that affects the lungs and digestive system, including a gene that produces thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and can obstruct pancreatic function, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website.
“It’s something to push me to stay healthy,” Meyer said. “It’s (also) trying to be a role model and to set an example, because it’s not easy at all. It’s a tough thing to have.
Meyer shares time as the Hawks 126-pound starter. Friends, teammates and coaches treat him the same as any other athlete.
“That’s how I want it to stay, too,” Meyer said. “I want to be treated like any person, just like everybody else.”
He was raised with that attitude since he was diagnosed at six months old. His father, Dale, said the diagnosis came after his son wasn’t growing and his digestive system wasn’t absorbing nutrients.
“It was traumatic,” said Dale Meyer, who taught in the Starmont School District before teaching third grade and coaching for West Delaware Community Schools. “My wife’s a nurse and it’s still shocking. I didn’t know a whole lot about it. A lot of advancements have been made since then.”
Treatment began with pancreatic enzymes, producing a chubby baby boy, like many that age. He also had physical therapy two to three times a day when he was younger and less active. The Meyers had to be diligent.
“Then there was treating his lungs (as a baby), because that’s the real dangerous part with lung infections, patting him on the back and loosening up anything that might get in his lungs,” Dale Meyer said. “Keeping him clean that away and keeping the infections down to a minimum.”
Lamista Meyer, Zach Meyer’s mother, was devoted to finding the best treatment. She was proactive, leading to her son being in better condition than others with the affliction. Dale Meyer said he has received good care, especially in Iowa City.
“Of course, my wife, being a nurse, wasn’t going to wait for things to happen,” Dale Meyer said. “She really pursued the doctors and made sure we were getting the best we could for him.”
The love and support from his family means so much to Zach Meyer. They were the first to emphasize normalcy and the importance to be as fit as possible to fight the disease that CFF says affects 30,000 children and adults in the United States and 70,000 people worldwide.
“Parent support is a lot of it,” Zach Meyer said. “I’ve been encouraged to run the little kid fun runs since I was in first grade.”
Dale Meyer describes his son as independent, taking his medicine and avoiding idleness. He is an avid outdoors man, hunting and fishing in the timber near the family house located between Dundee and Manchester.
“It’s a progressive disease. I know kids that aren’t as active and they don’t do as well,” Dale Meyer said. “He knows the price of inactivity. He knows what the future holds if he doesn’t take care of himself.”
The grind of a wrestling is nothing like participating in recreational children’s races. He currently is 8-7 for the Hawks, taking pride in having more stamina in the third period than some opponents, according to his father.
West Delaware Coach Jeff Voss said the disease has never been an excuse for Meyer, who regularly battles lung infections, receiving treatment via Picc line IV at the start of season, and experiences extended stays at the University of Iowa Hospitals.
“He’s doing everything everybody else is and enjoying life,” Voss said. “He’s a hard worker. It’s never been an issue. He takes it as it is, does the best he can and goes with it.”
Voss sees a similarity between the way Zach Meyer faces the disease and his opponents on the mat. He gives his all to overcome the obstacle in front of him.
“He’s out there battling and fighting, trying to do his best,” Voss said. “That’s what they’re doing with the disease. They’re going to fight it.”
Sometimes the fight is tougher to wage, especially with a sport so physically demanding and grueling. Even for the healthiest of preps, the sport can wear them down. Zach Meyer has a steeper hill to climb, but continues the march.
“There are days where you just don’t feel good,” Zach Meyer said. “Some people have those days where you catch the flu or whatever. Add CF on top of the flu or any other sickness and it adds an extra part that people don’t quite understand unless you have the disease.
“That’s the main challenge and trying to practice and compete at a high level.”
The Meyer family has made an impact on others’ fight against Cystic Fibrosis. For 13 years, they have hosted a charity golf event at Backbone Golf and Country Club in Strawberry Point. It started as one 18-hole four-person best shot tournament, but enormous support allowed them to hold one tournament in the morning and a second tournament that tees off in the afternoon, during the same day in September.
They have raised more than $100,000 for CFF, growing from about $6,0oo raised to $10,000 or more in recent years. Dale Meyer praised the Starmont and West Delaware communities filled with friends and family for their support.
“It’s incredible,” Dale Meyer said. “We never have to worry about filling it up. We have 145 golfers every summer and sponsors come back year after year.”
The disease remains constant year after year. A cure has yet to be found, despite advances that have extended the life expectancy of the average CF patient. When Zach Meyer was born, that number was about 30 years.
According to CFF’s website, the life expectancy was raised to 37 in 2009, but many live into their 40′s and longer.
“I’m going to beat this record,” Zach Meyer said. “I’m going to stand up tall and stay out, just stay away from the medications and have them as a backup. … It’s a goal I’m trying to break. You can’t really do much else about it except beat it and prove everybody wrong. Some of that stubbornness has rubbed off in sports.”