After Zach Wheat was diagnosed with testicular cancer, his closest friends and family sprang into action, coming up with multiple fundraising efforts to help offset the costs of medical treatment.
However, Zach soon found the support extends well beyond his closest friends and family.
So far, the fundraising group has sold T-shirts to help Zach, with the slogan “Stronger together” on the back.
Now they are gearing up for their next fundraising effort: the “Zach, We Got Your Back” bags tournament and raffle for a chance to win a wagon full of booze, portable gas griddle and a fire pit with a grilling grate. Raffle tickets and tournament sign-ups are on sale now and up until the day of the event, which is this Saturday at Monroe County Fairgrounds.
Mary Wheat, Zach’s mother, said a large group of those closest to Zach meet every two weeks to discuss events they can host. They began meeting roughly a month after Zach’s April diagnosis. At the time the group first met, Zach had undergone a tumor removal surgery and his first round of chemo.
“My sister Patty, who is Zachary’s aunt, is pretty much the organizer of everything,” Mary Wheat said. “She got everyone together; There are probably 30 people who meet every two weeks … to sit and chat and plan … It’s a great group of people. There’s like 30 of us, (our big) family and lots of friends of ours and Zachary’s. Once we get together, ideas just start flowing.”
The result of one of these “family meetings,” as Zach’s partner Kelly Mehner calls them, was the idea of the bags tournament as well as a golf tournament to be held in early September.
“Between everyone, they kind of threw out their ideas … and a group of my nephews love to play bags and have organized tournaments before, (so they) helped us organize,” Mary Wheat said. “We’re also doing a golf tournament in September, and a lot of the family does golf and participates in tournaments.”
Mehner said whether bags, golf or the raffle, there is something for everybody.
“We wanted to give people the option because … not everybody plays golf, but we hoped maybe those people who are kind of shy to golf might really enjoy doing a bags tournament. That one’s a little bit easier, there’s no equipment needed,” Menner said.
Mary said those who are not playing in the bags tournament can still enjoy next week’s event, as it will include food and live music from RJ and Alan and The Locals.
“Even if you don’t play in the tournament, we would love anyone to come out to the fairgrounds, bring their lawn chairs, eat and drink, enjoy the music and visit with us,” Mary said.
The fundraising group is working on bringing various ideas to fruition, but one thing has remained the same from the beginning: the only thing they want Zach to worry about is getting better.
“I’m definitely out of the loop on all of this,” Zach said. “They didn’t want me involved at all. They told me to deal with what I’ve got to deal with.”
It’s not just the immediate fundraising group that is extending a hand to Zach, but the entire community.
Monroe County House of Neighborly Service is selling “Zach, We Got Your Back” raffle tickets up until the day of the bags tournament. One ticket is $10, while three are $20.
Mary said her husband is good friends with one of the HNS leaders, and this connection is how HNS got involved.
“Kelly Lerch is a really good friend of my husband, Steve, and they’re always helping each other with different causes,” Mary said. “Kelly actually approached Steve and asked if there’s anything they could do and they pretty much said that they would sell them there.”
Local businesses and individuals provided the raffle prizes. Zach’s grandpa donated the firepit, his grandma donated the grill and everybody in the fundraising group had a hand in collecting booze, whether it was donated from local businesses they reached out to or out of their own pockets. There will also be a pot shot raffle at the bags tournament, with many of the themed basket goodies being donated gift cards from local businesses.
Many have already purchased raffle tickets at HNS and paid to start bags teams.
Zach said the high volume of support is unique to this community.
“It’s Waterloo,” he said with a chuckle. “(If there’s) anybody who needs anything, they definitely come out of the woodwork to support.”
Mehner said she and Zach are “overwhelmed” by the generosity.
“Sometimes me and Zach will whisper to each other, ‘Who is that?’ There are just people that we don’t even know yet who are willing to help and support,” Mehner said. “That’s why it sometimes gets overwhelming, because we’re like, ‘I haven’t even shook your hand yet and you’re willing to support us in probably one of the worst experiences we’ve had yet as a couple. It’s hard to put words to it. They’re definitely showing up and they’re showing out.”
The couple expressed their gratitude for all those who have been sending Zach well wishes and getting involved with the fundraising efforts.
“You can say thank you a million times, but it’s never enough,” Zach said.
Mehner added, “We kind of wish there was a better word for thank you.”
NHS will have raffle tickets on sale both at NHS and at the bags tournament, with winners being announced at the end.
See the “Zachary Fights Cancer” Facebook page for pre-registration for the bags tournament, to follow Zach’s journey and for upcoming information on the golf tournament.
Those who wish to register a team the day of the bags tournament may do so beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday. It is $40 for a two-person team.