September 12, 2015, was just another Auburn gameday for most fans. With an 11:00 a.m. kickoff against Jacksonville State University, there was not much additional excitement in the air. However, for one family, a big item on their bucket list was being crossed off.
The meaning of the coined phrase “Auburn Family” was redefined for Auburn fans Chris and Myra Bazzel. What was originally a question on how to find handicapped seating in Jordan-Hare stadium quickly turned into front row seats in Dr. and Mrs. Gogue’s executive gameday suite.
Chris and Myra’s youngest daughter, Hannah, was the only person from her high school to perform with the dance line in the honor band during halftime at the game. The Bazzels were determined to watch their daughter perform despite Chris’s terminal illness.
In 2013, Chris was officially diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, which is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Chris is confined to a wheelchair and has lost the ability to speak.
After contacting Gwen Whitlock at the Auburn Alumni Center about handicapped seating, Gwen made a quick call to Debbie Allen in Special Events.
“I was not expecting for there to be extra seats in the president’s box, but I figured it was worth a shot to ask,” Whitlock said. “As soon as I called, Debbie told me there were actually four extra seats in the box. It worked out so well."
Not only were Chris and Myra able to watch their daughter perform from the president’s suite, their close family friends Benny and Sandy Sivley were able to join in as well.
The Bazzel’s gameday experience was a full 24-hour ordeal. After an exhausting car ride from the Bazzel’s hometown of Somerville, Alabama, to a hotel in Auburn, Myra and Hannah got about two hours of sleep. Hannah had to be at the band practice field at 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Once Myra returned to the hotel, the Sivleys helped her get Chris ready and their Saturday adventure began.
Myra and Chris immediately felt welcomed and comfortable as soon as they stepped into the president’s suite. Hunter Smith, a member of the War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen, was exceptionally helpful in assisting Myra to lift Chris from his wheelchair into his seat to get settled. Hunter reassured Myra that he was willing to be of assistance to her and Chris at any point during the game.
“The thing I was very impressed with was -- he had no fear when I asked him to help,” said Myra. “You could tell he was very sincere. A lot of times there is a stigma of fear that goes along with people who are in wheelchairs. But Hunter helped out just as if he had known us for a very long time,” she said.
The Bazzel’s time in the president’s suite was dream-like. They were both able to enjoy the game and watch Hannah perform during halftime. Even though Chris cannot speak, he kept squeezing Myra’s hand throughout the game. She said she knew it his was of communicating how happy he was.
“I kept saying to him ‘it’s not a dream, this really is happening’,” Myra said.
Chris and Myra met each other while they were both students at Auburn, and have been married over 32 years. Even though Myra does receive help from family, friends and neighbors, she is constantly by Chris’s side as his primary caretaker. When asked what keeps her going when times seem unbearable, Myra’s answer was nothing short of genuine and inspiring.
“My faith,” she said. “God gives me strength. We both know that his illness is God’s plan, maybe to reach people or just to comfort them by knowing that we trust Him in our darkest days.”
The efforts made by the Auburn Alumni Association, Special Events and the War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen helped create a memory the Bazzel’s will cherish forever.
Even though watching their daughter (who now hopes to attend Auburn one day) perform on the football field was the pinnacle of their gameday adventure, a quiet moment alone on the plains was another highlight for Myra.
After dropping Hannah off at the practice field, Myra rolled down her car windows and drove around campus. She said she felt just like a student again and could feel the excitement of Auburn in the air.
“You can’t help but have your heart in Auburn,” she said. “It’s just something you can’t get out of you. It’s a wonderful thing.”
(Photo: Myra Bazzel)
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