Here’s an Old Testament tale getting a couple of new testaments.
"The game's a little bit like David and Goliath," Stacy Schretzman was saying about Army's match-up against No. 8 Ohio State, a 30-point favorite, Saturday at Ohio Stadium. "But if anybody can do it, Army sure can."
Of course, Stacy is not a neutral observer.
After starring at Troy High School, where she just was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame this past weekend, she went on to play basketball at West Point. So did her daughter Olivia, who is now an Army combat engineer. Son Zack also graduated from West Point and is now at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and youngest daughter Chloe — who plays volleyball and basketball at Tippecanoe High — hopes to attend West Point next year.
And then there’s her husband Chuck, a square-jawed, chest-out kind of guy who looked as if he stepped straight out of an Army recruitment poster.
A hard-nosed linebacker for the Black Knights in the late 1980s, the MVP of the Army-Navy game his senior season, he’s an inspiration for the current Army team and especially head coach Jeff Monken.
Chuck was a member of the Army Ranger unit that made the first jumps and raids into Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
After four combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, a variety of other assignments — including a stint as commander of the University of Dayton ROTC program — and 26 years of active duty, Lt. Colonel Chuck Schretzman retired from the service in 2014.
But soon after he found himself in the middle of his own David and Goliath story.
He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s an unsparing malady in which the body’s nervous system breaks down, muscles weaken and there is paralysis, respiratory failure and often death within two to five years of diagnosis.
There is no cure.
Chuck chose to fight the disease with the same give-no-quarter fervor he showed on the fields of football and battle.
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And that brings us to the buildup for Saturday’s game, which, with the help of friends and family, he’s turned into a weekend of raising awareness and funds for ALS while showing that, regardless of the circumstance, he’s still very much a “Be All You Can Be” Army guy.
Thursday night the Dayton and Ohio State ROTC cadets began the football equivalent of an Olympic Torch Run, carrying Saturday’s game ball from the UD campus to Columbus for the 4:30 kickoff.
Friday night, there will be a gala fundraising dinner and silent sports auction beginning at 6:30 at the Bluestone event hall in Columbus. Tickets are $100 and can be purchased at the door or on line at TeamSchretzman.org.
Saturday there’s a free tailgate at the OSU ROTC Building beginning at 11 a.m.
The highlight of all these activities comes Friday night with the debut of a new, short documentary film on the Schretzman family and Chuck’s ALS battle.
Shot by a California film crew, it was commissioned by Cytokinetics, a late-stage biopharmaceutical company, and will be shown to scientists and medical personnel to inspire them as they work to find a cure for ALS.
To further personalize the quest, the Schretzman family is flying to California next month to talk to the scientists.
The film — still unseen by the public but shown to me by Chuck and Stacy the other day at their Troy home — shows the love and warmth they share, Chuck’s grit and also the grim reality of the disease.
“So what if you have ALS? What do you do with that?” Chuck asks in the film, his voice thickened — “janky” he calls it — by the disease. “Do you come in, lock the door and die? What do you do?
“You got to keep moving every day. How many people have invested in you over your life? Your parents. Your teachers. Friends. Coaches. Don’t you owe them to fight, too?
“I think I do. I know I do.”
As he was pouring his heart out in the video, you heard muffled sobs from him as he sat there and tried to watch in silence.
Stacy reached over, patted his knee and said: “Okay…It’s all right.”
Struggling to rein in his feelings, Chuck whispered, “I got it.”
And while Stacy explained that part of the meltdown was due to the effects of ALS, where you no longer can control your emotions and might end up sobbing or laughing in an instant, you also saw how Chuck valiantly fights on.
“The disease takes something away from him every day,” Stacy said. “He’s different because of it. He still is spectacular, even more spectacular in a lot of ways because of the obstacles he’s overcoming and how he does it with beauty and grace. But, he is different.”
Chuck nodded and smiled:
“Yeah, in that film did you see? That was Tom Cruise playing me.”
Two tours in Iraq
The day we met happened to be Sept. 11, the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“I was at Fort Benning (Ga.) in the Rangers,” Chuck recalled.
Stacy said she immediately went to school and brought the children home: “I wanted to explain what was happening. I knew Chuck would just disappear after that. That’s the nature of special forces.”
On the film you heard Zack say how the attack didn’t really sink in with him when his teacher first explained or even when his mom talked to him.
“Then my dad left,” he said. “That’s when it clicked.”
Chuck deployed with the 75th Ranger Regiment on Oct. 3, went to Oman and then his unit jumped into Afghanistan on Oct. 19. He didn’t return for three months.
Two tours to Iraq would follow and then another back to Afghanistan. And once before he retired, he returned to Afghanistan again.
Then in April 2015, six months into his new job, came the diagnosis. He and Stacy and Chloe moved back to Troy to be around family who could help as his condition worsened. And except for a brief “hiccup,” he said he and his family have found “wonderful” support from the Dayton VA and the ALS Association’s Central & Southern Ohio chapter.
Chuck has done everything he can — from regular physical therapy to acupuncture — to stem the incoming tide of ALS. And, unlike when first diagnosed, he does not try to hide his disease from the public.
He brought up his fight when he spoke at the Army football banquet after the 2015 season. After that he was an honorary captain at the 2016 spring game and has developed a bond with Monken.
In fact, right after Army held off Buffalo last Saturday with a daring fake punt in overtime, he messaged the coach and heard back within minutes.
Actually, Chuck had missed the first half because he was taking part in the annual Walk to Defeat ALS at the Fairborn Community Park. Using his wheelchair for one of the first times, he made the 2 1/2-mile trek with 120 supporters, including the girls basketball and boys hockey teams from Springboro High (where Zack and Olivia had graduated) and some Troy High athletes.
Throughout the walk, Chuck led cadence calls.
“I can sing better than I can talk,” he joked.
Either way, he gets people to respond. And that was the case when he and Stacy went to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on ALS research, treatment and support.
He dressed in full uniform to make a statement, but found the thing that resonated most was when he delivered one sobering fact.
“Veterans are twice as likely to get ALS,” he said quietly. “That really hit hard with them.”
Learning the ‘whys’
“We’re…aaah…we’re…we’re approaching the precipice right now,” Stacy said, choosing her words carefully, as if she didn’t want to hear the thought out loud. “We’re at a point where Chuck’s legs are showing some compromise now. We’re starting to make preparations to transition into our wheelchairs.”
For a good while Chuck wanted nothing to do with the chair and kept it in the garage.
“He’s a prideful man and he tried to fight it,” said Stacy, who, in the film, noted her husband “always led with his physicality.”
She said from the books they’ve read and the advice they’ve gotten, one thing became clear:
“It gets to a certain point where you start to pull back and the next thing you’re sitting and inactive. But your willingness to get into a wheelchair can catapult you to do more again. So it’s actually a little bit of freedom.”
Chuck nodded at Stacy and made an admission: “She’s my rock. She helps me get through every day. Our life has really changed. I’ve changed — some ways bad, some ways good.”
He sets goals. He wanted to make Zack’s wedding in South Carolina last December and then wanted to walk Olivia down the aisle when she married in May.
He did both.
Now he wants to be around when grandkids come and when Chloe would graduate from West Point.
As she listened, Stacy managed a smile:
“He heard a quote the other day that’s stuck with us.”
Chuck explained: “It’s about the two most important days in your life:
“One is the day you were born.
“And the other is the day when you figure out why.”
Stacy, her eyes now glistening, again reached over to Chuck and said quietly:
“We’re discovering our ‘whys’ right now.”
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