Hearing the story, you wouldn't guess Zach Meaders' first experience with the Dallas Cowboys was all that good – it even sounds painful.
Way back in 2008, at Texas Stadium, the young Dallas fan, now about to start high school, took in his first Cowboys game against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals. Having snuck onto the sideline, Zach was taking a momentous keepsake photo when football – literally intervened.
"I got hit in the head with the football," he said.
That ball, the result of an errant Bengals kicker, did nothing to deter a love affair that has lasted roughly seven years now, as Meaders prepares for his seventh trip to Camp Cowboys – a summer football camp held on the field at AT&T Stadium.
For those interested, the camps are also offered across North Texas in Irving, Frisco, and McKinney and there is a camp in San Antonio.
Kids of any kind, ages 7-15, are welcome to sign up for the yearly activities taking place at Camp Cowboys – a fact Karen Meaders, Zach's mother, learned for herself seven years ago.
"We read the sports section every morning together, and he saw the ad at the bottom of the paper – Cowboys Youth Football Camp. And he said 'I want to go,'" she said. "I said 'Zach, I'm not sure – I'm going to have to make sure it's OK for you to go."
That's because of one important caveat. Zach lives with Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, a condition caused by the overproduction of uric acid, which keeps him in a wheelchair. A quick phone call to the camp staff alleviated those concerns, however.
"I emailed (the camp coaching staff) and asked if it was OK for Zach to come, and he said 'Sure,'" she said.
Accompanied by his longtime aide, Mike Rowell, the rest has been history for Zach.
"We start in the morning, and you'll do warm up for 20-30 minutes, and then you'll either do offense or defense in the morning, and you'll do a bunch of drills with each section," Rowell said. "After that, you'll break up and do either ultimate football or flag football – one or the other – or you'll do some lecture or meet someone from the Cowboys. Then you have lunch, then there's more drills, more practice – if you did offense in the morning, you'll do defense. More ultimate football, more flag football."
It's a full day of activity for every camper, perhaps highlighted by Zach's personal favorite – the roper ladder agility drill.
"We get him out of his chair and he actually walks the ladder and does all the same drills that the other kids do," Rowell said.
It's no doubt challenging – for both Zach and Mike – but it's an experience Karen said was extremely rewarding, whether it comes on the turf at AT&T Stadium or any other field.
"He loves football – football is his life. It's just awesome to see him out there with Mike. Mike is exhausted by the end of each day, because it's a lot of lifting and a lot of running. Running with the chair on the artificial grass is a big workout," she said. "But it's great to see Zach out there playing, and he absolutely loves it. He would play football every day if he could – all day long, every day."
That much is evident, as Zach will begin his career at Clark High School in Plano, Texas, next fall. Although only a freshman, he already has plans to work with the sophomore football team, helping the coaching staff any way he can.
Long after he's done with Camp Cowboys, he hopes to continue that love affair going – perhaps even as soon as 2016, when the Cowboys relocate their team facility from Irving, Texas, to nearby Frisco.
"I'm going to be helping with the football team in high school next year, and I want to work for the Cowboys when they move to Frisco," he said.
Registration is open now for Camp Cowboys, with the first of its five-day sessions beginning June 9 and the first of its three-day sessions beginning June 23. Families can also register for Camp DCC, a cheerleading camp for girls aged 6 through 18 running throughout the summer. For more information or to register, visit /community/youth-football.html