Local woman proves friendship knows no boundaries
For some, friendship involves hanging out after class, at lunch break, after school, or all of the above. For others, it’s a matter of lending a helping hand and being supportive. For one local woman, her idea of friendship is all of the above, and making six trips to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison to boot, with one more yet to come.
“Sam and Emily have been very close since Emily was a sophomore in high school,” explains Cindy Artus, of her 20-year-old daughter Emily and Sam Arneson, Wisconsin Badgers tight end and Merrill alumnus.
“I had advisory with him when he was in school and his mom Marge is my teacher,” Emily adds.
“Sam’s locker was also next to mine. We just talked one day and we have been friends ever since. I have always been a fan of his. I also went to his signing day when he became a Badger. That’s what friends are for. I look to him like a third older brother, too.”
When Arneson moved on from the grassy field at Jay Stadium to the green turf of Camp Randall Stadium, the bond between Sam and Emily remained strong as ever.
“Since he left for Madison, we would always try to make it to at least one game to see Sam play,” Cindy says with a smile. “Then after the bowl game last year, Emily decided to save all her money to get tickets for every Badgers home game this year.”
“This would be Sam’s last year and she wanted to be there for him,” Cindy said, “so that’s exactly what she did! When I couldn’t make it, her 6th grade special education teacher Amy Van Alstine took her. Amy has become a very close friend of the family. Her and Emily have become very close as well. The first home game of the year was a gift from her uncle Jason, but every ticket since then has been bought with her own hard earned money.”
Tickets to Camp Randall aren’t exactly available at Walmart or the dollar store, in fact they are rather pricey, ranging anywhere from $40 to as much as $100 or more, depending on seating. But money was the last thing Emily Artus would allow to stand between her and watching her buddy play out his senior year. That’s not to say paying for the tickets came easily for her, in fact as Emily and her mother agree, not many things have come easily in Emily’s life.
“When Emily was born, she was diagnosed with Aperts Syndrome,” Cindy explains. “Aperts prevents all the bones from the jaw and up, from growing. The bones get fused together and require several surgeries as she grows. Her first surgery was done when she was three days old and her most recent surgery was done in July. To date, she has had 57 surgical procedures done and she will soon be 21.
“As of now, the bones in Emily’s head have been moved and brought forward, which has made her head bigger,” Cindy adds. “Aperts has also caused webbed toes and webbed hands and fingers since she was born. Her fingers had to be surgically separated one finger at a time.”
Other obstacles the condition has laid in Emily’s path include range of motion issues, skeletal limitations, minor cognitive delays, and eye sight issues.
“She will never be able to drive,” Cindy adds. “But despite all that, she is a very strong young lady. You will never hear her complain or get down on herself, she is always so happy and smiling!”
A verbal agreement wasn’t necessary for Emily, the sudden smile which spread across her face and a slight nod said it all.
“We are blessed in many ways, especially with the development of medical science,” Cindy continues. “When she was a baby, we were prepared for her to live a short life. Back then, the mortality rate was pretty high for Aperts patients. I lost count of how many times we were warned that she may only make it a week, then a month. It was really up until she was five years old when we were in the clear. We basically lived life on the edge, not knowing each day if that would be her last day with us,” she adds with a strained tone. “But now, due to medical science and technology, she will live a full life. Like I said, we have been very blessed in so many ways.”
Despite her limitations, Emily hit the ground running in achieving her goal, the same way Arneson does after a catch.
As part of the MAPS Special Education School to Work Program, Emily attends classes in the morning and then heads off to Kate Goodrich Elementary where she reads with students from Mrs. Dee Van Der Geest’s 2nd grade classroom. In exchange, Emily receives $10/day.
“We have come to really enjoy having Emily around and the kids look so forward to her coming every day,” Van Der Geest says. “She takes the students one by one and reads with them, then she comes into the classroom and helps out any way she can. She is such a neat person with her sense of humor and showing her Badgers colors. The kids really enjoy talking to her about Badgers games and just being around her in general. She’s a special young lady!”
Emily has saved every dollar she received for last year and now buys her Wisconsin football tickets one by one, as well as another ticket for either her mother or Amy.
“We aren’t sure exactly how much she saved, but we estimate it has to be close to $1,000,” Cindy states.
When asked about the games, Emily cracks another wide smile and gives an enthusiastic play by play description
“Every game starts with the band coming out first,” she says. “Then the other team is introduced and then the Badgers are introduced. They play the National Anthem, flip the coin and it’s game time!
“It’s a pretty crazy atmosphere down there,” Emily adds. “At halftime, the band comes back out for the halftime show, then the cheer leaders come out. When they play ‘Jump Around’ it gets really crazy! It’s so much fun but you gotta pay attention so you don’t take someone out because you’re jumping around!” she adds while laughing. “The whole stadium shakes which was kind of scary at first, but now it’s just a blast. I join right in!”
When asked if she partakes in the Badger hoopla, Cindy nods with a wide grin of her own.
“Absolutely! You have to!”
In all but one game this season, Emily has sat in the general seating section. But during the Illinois game on Oct. 11, Emily got a pleasant surprise.
“During the games, Emily would always look over at the student section and say to me; Mom, if I didn’t have Aperts I would be going to college here, sitting over there in the student section,” Cindy explains.
“Security is very strict about sitting in the student section if you’re not a student,” Emily adds as another smile creeps up. “But Amy, being the clever lady that she is, snuck me in there! It was amazing! I thought the fans are nuts, until I went into the student section. They are just crazy! They are so loud, but a good kind of crazy and loud.”
“Amy is not afraid to take a chance,” Cindy adds with a chuckle. “I don’t think I have ever seen such joy on Emily’s face as I did that day. I don’t even know how to describe it, to know she has been through what she has been through and to see her having so much fun. It’s beyond words.”
The Illinois game is Emily’s most memorable, but she also lists the Oct. 25 Homecoming game with Maryland and the Nebraska game two weeks ago as other games she will not soon forget.
“Homecoming is even more nuts than a regular game just because of all the festivities and things going on,” Emily explains. “The Nebraska game was very cool because of the lights and snow.”
Aside from the antics of fans, the crazy atmosphere and the lights, Emily’s most favorite aspect of Badger games is after the games, when she gets to see her buddy #49 and a big hug.
“After each game, the team and their families gather at the McClain Center,” Cindy says. “We meet up with Dave and Marge, Sam’s parents, and go in and meet Sam. Every single time, the two of them talk like they haven’t missed a day, and she gets a hug.”
When asked what they discuss during their post game chats, Emily shrugs.
“We talk about everything, just like we always have. We may talk about school and classes or sometimes we talk about the game and maybe a play where he did really well or a touchdown.
“But if there was a play he didn’t do so good at, his mom takes care of talking to him about that,” Emily jokes.
Other perks to post-game hang outs with the Arneson’s have been meeting other Badger players such as Melvin Gordon and Joel Stave.
“Melvin just happened to be walking past us with his family, and we asked if we could get a picture,” Emily says. “He said sure. He is a very nice guy and very friendly.”
When asked, Emily looks beyond the red and white uniforms of Madison when citing her most treasured memory from her and Sam’s friendship.
“I would have to say his signing day is my favorite,” she says. “I was so proud of him, I knew he really wanted to play for the Badgers. It was a big day for him.”
Cindy cites the first time she saw Sam and Emily together.
“We were at the Homecoming bonfire during Emily’s sophomore year, Sam would have been a junior,” Cindy says. “All of a sudden this big burly football player came and grabbed her hand, next thing I know he is leading her away to dance! I didn’t know what to think at first, I had no clue who this guy was. Then, after a bit I recognized him. That’s how Sam was and still is, he’s a very special guy. He is so kind with a big heart.
“Just looking back on their friendship, it is so heartwarming,” Cindy adds, fighting back a few tears. “It’s heartwarming for a mother to see their child, who hasn’t exactly had an easy life, find such a good friend who makes her so happy. Because Emily looks a little different, some people aren’t very open to getting to know her. But Sam, he has always looked past those differences and accepted her as a friend. My husband Jeff and I look at the Arneson family as angels on earth. They have filled such an important space in Emily’s life and have supported her through all the rough roads in her life. They have been a sounding board for us as we look to her future.”
As for the near future, Emily has her sights set on Saturday’s showdown with Minnesota for the famed Paul Bunyan Axe. After that, she hopes to go “Bowling.”
“That poses a bit of a challenge, but we’ll see,” Cindy states with a smile. “The 30th of December is Jeff and I’s 25th wedding anniversary, but we talked and agreed to cancel our party and everything and go to the bowl game the Badgers play in. But those tickets aren’t cheap and neither are airline tickets. But we are going to try our best! Even if we can’t make it, we made a deal to crank up the heat in the house, get our shorts on and watch the game while pretending we are in the warm weather.”
“It’s better than nothing,” Emily smiles with a shrug.