Paging Dr. Husker

19 Nov working in africa 2

A few years ago, photojournalist Dave Hynek and I chronicled an AMAZING story about a father, donating a kidney to his young son.  We followed their journey from start to finish, including in the moments leading up to the transplant.  We interviewed a very brave Dad as his anesthesiologist inserted his IVs to prepare him for sedation.

You’d think I would’ve learned…

I don’t handle needles well.  Like, I pass out when I see one.  (Really.  It’s not embarrassing AT ALL.)

So here I am, in the surgery preparation area of the Nebraska Medical Center, getting more and more lightheaded, trying to conduct an interview.

Right at the moment I feared I was going to lose my breakfast or crash head first into the floor, I HAD TO LEAVE THE ROOM; Dave finished the interview for me.  Apparently, it was pretty obvious I was having ‘problems’.  Dave came out of the area laughing, and noted that the anesthesiologist had noticed, too.

‘You know who that was, right?’ Dave asked me.

DR. ROB ZATECHKA.  As in Husker legend turned doctor Rob Zatechka.

REALLY.  Not embarrassing AT ALL.

Clearly, I was not destined for a career in medicine, but a lot of Huskers have been.  ‘Dr. Rob’, Judd Davies, Sean Fisher… and now..

mike stuntz nebraska

Dr. Mike Stuntz, Nebraska Free Safety (photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics!)

#16 permanently sealed his place in Nebraska Football history as just a freshman, taking part in one of the most memorable plays in recent years.  Nebraska versus Oklahoma in 2001, a key game in Nebraska’s journey to the national title game and Eric Crouch’s road to the Heisman trophy.  Out of nowhere in the 4th quarter, Crouch tosses the ball to Thunder Collins, who tosses the ball to Stuntz.  Stuntz, just 18, delivers a rocket to Crouch downfield, who then ran for a 63-yard touchdown.  Nebraska beats the Number-2 team in the country, 20-10.

“I can’t think of one [play] that meant more to our team that I contributed to. I can’t think of one that people talk about with me more often than that one,” Stuntz told me in a recent interview.  “We started practicing it early in the week.  I knew about it, even starting that Monday I think.  We ran I throughout the week and it never really worked that well in practice.  During the game, they told me even in the first half they were think about running it.  Whey they finally called it, I was a little surprised, it was so late in the game and the game was so close.”

What many might consider a nerve-rattling task, Stuntz just ‘played the way he’d always played’.

“It’s almost one of those ignorance is bliss things,” said Stuntz.  “I didn’t really realize just how much people cared about Nebraska football, college football in general, how big of a game it was.  You’re just kind of oblivious to all that when you’re 18 years old.”

You want to talk nerves, imagine this: HOLDING YOUR NEWBORN DAUGHTER FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Dads, do you remember that moment?  Mike Stuntz does–it just happened a month ago when he and wife Natalie welcomed their first child, Blakely Autumn.

“I knew what I was doing on that play, I played football all the time, I’d never been a dad before,” said Stuntz.  “So that was, definitely, without a question, more nerve wracking the first time I saw Blakely.”

“He did use the football hold, though!” added Natalie with a smile.

Stuntz doesn’t just know football, he was pretty darn good at it.  An incredibly versatile player, Stuntz saw time at free safety, split end, and reserve quarterback at Nebraska.  While off the field, Stuntz also excelled in the classroom, a 9-time Academic Honor Roll member in the Big 12, and a 2005 First-Team Academic All-Big 12 student.  His college major also attracted attention; Stuntz was a professional golf management major.

golfing

This photo shows Stuntz golfing Lilongwe Golf Club in Malawi in 2011.. his former career colliding with new.  See, Stuntz told me he loved golf, but didn’t know if he had passion to pursue it for 40+ years.  He discovered a new passion: medicine.

working in africa 2

Natalie Stuntz is also a doctor, a pediatrician with CHI Health.  Mike is in his first year of residency at the Nebraska Medical Center, specializing in ophthalmology.  The two didn’t meet in medical circles, but certainly have A LOT in common professionally now, including the summer they spent together in Africa working at a Pediatric AIDS hospital.

mike in clinic

They even found a Husker fan, thousands of miles away!

working in Africa

THAT is pretty normal for Dr. Mike Stuntz, still recognized 9 years after hanging up his cleats, 13 years after that legendary play.

“I’ll be in the hospital or in the clinic or something like that, and it’ll be a patient and they’ll just say ‘aren’t you that guy?'” said Stuntz.  “It happens much more often than I thought it would.  I always enjoy talking about it.”

ESPECIALLY, with his biggest fan.  Miss Blakey is also his smallest.

Mike and baby

“I come downstairs, and whether she’s awake or not she comes with me.  We sit on the couch right here, we turn on the TV and we don’t move for the next 12 hours or so,” said Stuntz.  “I’m pretty sure she’s very engrossed in the games, and then afterwards we have a nice group discussion about it.  Her input is limited, but it’s growing.”

Stuntz’s message for today’s players is about the bigger world outside of football.  Even when he bumps into his fellow teammates Dr. Judd Davies or Dr. Kyle Ringenberg, they talk about research and their goals in the hospital, not on the field.

And when Dr. Stuntz, Dr. Stuntz, and Lil Stuntz are at home, the focus is on family.

“I want to be Mom and Dad,” said Natalie.  “When we’re at home, we leave work.  We’re Mom and Dad, Mike and Natalie, and I want that for her.”

And when that little beauty opens up her gorgeous blue eyes to gaze up at her mom and dad, it’s easy to see why.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON MIKE STUNTZ!

For more on #16 Mike Stuntz check out his bio with Nebraska Athletics.

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Click here to Throwback to the Class of 2003, Brett Lindstrom!

Next week, A SPECIAL FINALE of the 2014 Throwback Thursday Series, Coach Milt Tenopir!

Saving Baby Lawrence

16 Nov Shalina and Lawrence

There are few things more innocent, more perfect, more beautiful, than watching a baby turn because they recognize the sound of their parent’s voice.  Thinking back on those moments with my own boys brings me to tears–seeing their first smiles, and knowing they’re smiling at you, their momma.

The first time I met Baby Lawrence–that’s what I remember most.  He only had eyes for his momma.

Shalina and Lawrence

We get Facebook messages, tweets, and emails everyday from viewers asking us to do stories.  THANK YOU for that–you are the eyes and ears of our community, YOU are who help us tell stories.  I wish we could tell them all.

I don’t know how many messages I got that day last March, but there was SOMETHING about Shalina Bolden’s message to me one night that pulled at my heart.  A mother, writing to me from her son’s room at Children’s, where he had been for MONTHS.  Her son was very sick with a very rare disease; she needed help.

#CantStopWontStop

She had that phrase EVERYWHERE across her Facebook page.

#CantStopWontStop

Shalina Bolden would not quit fighting until her son was living a healthy, happy life.

#CantStopWontStop

***

Lawrence and my son, Evan, are less than two months apart in age, so as any mom does, I couldn’t help but compare the two.  First, BABY LAWRENCE IS A BIG BOY!!  I think during that first visit, Shalina told me she was buying 2T t-shirts for his 1st birthday outfit.  He was also popping 4 teeth at the time and was a drooling machine!  But while my little Evan was scooting around and playing with toys (mostly his brother’s), Baby Lawrence was stuck in his hospital bed.  Where he had been for 5 MONTHS.  Lawrence was born with complete Di’George Syndrome, possibly the first child in Nebraska to have it.  Lawrence had lung issues, a heart defect and NO IMMUNE SYSTEM.  To even see him, my photographer Dave Hynek and I, as well as Children’s Media Relations Director Cherie Lytle, had to scrub our hands, then gown up top to bottom (including our faces, hair and shoes), before entering Lawrence’s room.  A simple cold that our bodies could fight off, could’ve killed Lawrence.

5 MONTHS.  He’d been in that bed 5 MONTHS.  That’s all I kept thinking about.  He hadn’t been to a park.  He hadn’t been in a stroller.  He couldn’t just crawl around his living room floor playing with blocks and Hot Wheels.  He’d been in bed for 5 months.

That got to me.  And what almost brought me to tears was thinking about that time in his room alone.  Shalina worked full time at a nursing home.  She often went straight to Lawrence’s bedside after her shift, and her young daughters knew Children’s like a second home.  I kept thinking of those hours she couldn’t be there–of Lawrence, alone in his hospital bed.

“I just want Lawrence to have a chance at life,” Shalina told me that day, through tears.  “To understand what it’s like to not be in a hospital bed.”

Shalina got word of a procedure that offered hope; a thymus transplant only being performed by one doctor at Duke University, and it was not federally approved.  At the time Shalina contacted me that message, the state of Nebraska had denied the family’s request, twice, to cover a thymus transplant.  Doctors told Shalina Bolden that Lawrence might live to see two years old.

#CantStopWontStop

***

Our first story aired March 30, 2014.

 Baby Lawrence, wearing a onesie reading ‘Bananas for Mommy’, stole viewers’ hearts around the country (ABC News also picked up his story.)  Changes were already in the works; after our interview with Shalina we learned the state set aside earlier coverage denials.  Advocates with the state of Nebraska, Dr. Louise Markert, the surgeon at Duke, and Lawrence’s team at Children’s all joined forces to figure out a solution.

#CantStopWontStop

***

April 14, 2014, I was sitting at my desk in the newsplex and took a phone call.

It was Shalina Bolden, in tears.  Nebraska Medicaid approved Lawrence’s transplant.  We were there as Shalina told her family, friends and the nurses who had cared for her baby for so many months, that Baby Lawrence was finally getting his surgery.  He had just turned 1 year old a few days earlier.

baby lawrence birthday

“It took a couple of minutes for it to digest and then tears just fell down my face,” Shalina told me.

At that point, Lawrence was third on the transplant list.  He had to be healthy enough to fly to Duke; he had to be healthy enough for surgery.

Shalina had to leave her job.. and her two daughters.  She had to find someone to take care of her little girls, while she took care of her little boy in a strange place far from home.

Bolden family

What she thought would be 8-weeks.. turned into nearly 4 months, waiting for that bittersweet moment when she’d leave her children to give her baby boy a chance at life.

baby lawrence july

#CantStopWontStop

***

August 19, 2014, Baby Lawrence, at just 16-months old, took his first jet ride.

lawrence on plane

“We landed and Lawrence slept through the whole flight and everything,” Shalina messaged me.

More waiting. Lawrence stood for the first time on September 18th..

September 18, Lawrence standing for first time

He started to learn how to crawl in his hospital room..

lawrence crawling

His mom rarely left his side..

shalina and lawrence sept

..heartbreaking for a mother of not one, but three children.  While Shalina and Lawrence waited in North Carolina through August, then September, her sister cared for her daughters Ja’Era and Ja’Lesia 20 hours away in Omaha.

October 11, girls at school txt from teacher

“I miss my girls like crazy.  It is very hard to be away,” Shalina told me.  “My oldest daughter just had a birthday, that was super hard, but I’ve explained it to them so they understand why I’m away.”

#CantStopWontStop

***

September 26, 2014.
“A pray has been answered today!” Shalina posted on Facebook.  “I got confirmation that Lawrence will be getting his transplant October 9th!!! If everyone can keep him in your prayers.”

On the morning of October 9, 2014, ‘Baby Lawrence’ Bolden finally received the transplant his mom fought so hard for.

 October 9 post op 2
Later that same day, Shalina sent me a message.

“Everything went good, it only took an hour,” she said.  “He is already back to being busy Lawrence.”

WATCH MONDAY NIGHT AT 10 ON KETV

We’re showing you how Lawrence is doing today, and what his prognosis is.  I cannot get ENOUGH of this little man.  So many surgeries, so many needle pokes and painful procedures and long waits.  And yet, he is SO SWEET-always smiling.  Always big, open eyes checking out his world.  Still, always looking at his Momma.

shalina shirt

Author Elizabeth Stone once wrote: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”

As a mother, you would do anything for your child.  You would take on their pain so they wouldn’t feel it.  You stay awake all night holding them if it gives them comfort.  You would die in an instant for them.

Shalina Bolden NEVER took no for an answer to save her little boy.

#CantStopWontStop

God willing, she’ll have her little boy home and healthy, with his sisters, for the first time in a year.. just in time for Christmas.

Representing Nebraska

12 Nov

 We are now in Week 12 of Husker football season, and Week 12 of our Huskers Throwback Thursday series on KETV.  This has been one of my favorite assignments in recent memory, strolling down memory lane with different players representing different eras of Nebraska Football.  With each player, I tailor my questions to who they are and what they’re doing now, but I also have a handful of questions I ask in every interview.

What was your favorite moment as a Husker?

Do you have any advice for today’s players?

Who is your favorite Husker on this year’s team?

The vote has been nearly unanimous; Husker alumni LOVE Ameer Abdullah.  Their reasons are also similar; not only is he a tremendous player (many hope a Heisman contender!), he’s a great role model and representative for the University and the Nebraska football program.

This week’s Throwback Thursday Husker echoes those sentiments, and also hopes to be thought of as a terrific representative..  in a different way.

Brett Husker 2

Class of 2003, Quarterback Brett Lindstrom

Lindstrom had an unenviable job at Nebraska, playing backup to first Eric Crouch and then to Jammal Lord.  You may not have seen him much on the field, but he was always ready when his Huskers needed him, including helping the team get to the title game in 2001.

“Just the experience of going to the national championship game, the Rose Bowl in 2001, was probably one of the greatest experiences I had down there,” Lindstrom told me last week in a brief interview.  There’s a reason why it was relatively quick; Lindstrom’s got a jam-packed schedule as a Senator-Elect, just voted into the Nebraska Legislature November 4th to represent Northwest Omaha.

Brett-Lindstrom-Legislature

Lindstrom still laughs when called ‘Senator’.

“I’m not used to that quite yet,” said Lindstrom.  “Got jokes from some of my friends, laying it on pretty thick.  I still just like to be called Brett.”

It probably feels good to laugh after several tough years of campaigning.  Prior to his run for District 18, Lindstrom ran for the Republican nomination for Congress in District 2, going up against incumbent Lee Terry in 2012.  He lost in the primary.  Less than a year later (his son, just 2-weeks old at the time!) Lindstrom announced his bid for the Legislature.  In 2012, Lindstrom told me it was his daughter that compelled him to run for public office, that he was concerned for her future.

2014-10-24 09.35.02

campaigning with baby

Lindstrom feeding 7-month old Barron while making campaign calls (pic from the Vote Lindstrom Facebook page)

Campaigning also brought him back to his Husker roots.

“What’s interesting about the campaign trail, going door to door, I’ve actually run into some old players,” said Lindstrom.  “I don’t know who I’ll meet when I go to the door.  Lornell McPherson, I played with, he came to the door.  Damon Benning, he came to a door.  Probably half the doors I went to had a Husker rock, a Husker flag.  Obviously it doesn’t hurt when you can go up there and say, ‘I played for the Cornhuskers.’ It at least gives you a shot, people give you an extra second to listen.”

It appears voters heard Lindstrom’s message about his goals for Nebraska. (Listen for yourself in Alex Hoffman’s profile of the District 18 race, or by checking out the KETV ‘In Their Own Words’ section featuring Lindstrom.)  He won the election and a ticket to Lincoln in January, one of 17 incoming freshman senators.  Lindstrom will represent an estimated 37,000 people from his district.

“There’s a huge responsibility that we have moving forward,” said Lindstrom.  “It’s an exciting time.  It’s a new start for a lot of us and a new start for the state.”

Lindstrom follows a handful of other Huskers who have entered the political arena; Coach Tom Osborne became a Congressman, Pat Ricketts (Lindstrom’s teammate) just won re-election to the Millard School Board, and Jim Pillen became a University of Nebraska Regent.  Lindstrom says he’s surprised more Huskers haven’t become elected representatives.

“I think there’s a lot of correlation between athletics and politics,” said Lindstrom.  “The competitiveness of it, the perseverance it takes to go through it, getting knocked down, getting back up.”

Lindstrom’s advice for today’s players: staying committed to the team will pay dividends later in life.  He hopes that still holds true as a Husker alumni planning to be in Lincoln a lot more for the next four years.

“I thought maybe I could give the University a call and see if I could go use the weight room if I have a little down time at the Capitol, to go workout,” said Lindstrom.  “I don’t know if the Capitol has a workout area, I doubt they do! See if I can drop my 40 and get my vertical back up!”

Maybe Lindstrom will be running sprints alongside his favorite Husker representatives, Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell.  Maybe they’ll call him ‘Senator Lindstrom’ in the weight room.  As this Nebraska representative prepares for a busy four years as a husband, dad, financial advisor and now Senator-Elect, he puts this victory in sports terms.

“It was just nice to come home with a W.”

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CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON BRETT LINDSTROM!

For more information about #15 Brett Lindstrom, check out his bio via Nebraska Athletics, his professional profile with UBS Financial Services or his campaign website.

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Click here to Throwback to the Class of 1987, John McCormick!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday Husker.. the Class of 2005, Mike Stuntz!

Hail To The Chief

6 Nov john mccormick

One of the coolest things about this Throwback Thursday Husker series we’ve been sharing this football season is seeing how many different paths these former players have taken since leaving Lincoln.  I’m not sure why I’m so surprised–think of the people in your graduating classes from high school and college and ask yourself, where are they now?  Of the 100+ players on the roster every season at Nebraska, there are bound to be any number of careers and futures these young men pursue.

Today’s featured Husker didn’t dream of or plan for the career he ended up in, but he calls it ‘great’, and has risen to one of the highest ranks in his department.

john mccormick

Assistant Fire Chief John McCormick (thanks to Nebraska Athletics for the photo!)

By our guess, there are 7 or 8 men on the Omaha Fire Department who played football at Nebraska.  Ironically, the highest ranking member of that small club has kept his time as ‘Captain’ a secret at work.

“Most don’t know,” McCormick told me in a recent interview.  “Most of the guys on the fire department weren’t even a twinkle in their dads’ eye when I played.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY SPECIAL ON JOHN MCCORMICK!

1987, John McCormick was in his senior season, his third year starting as Nebraska’s right guard.  That year, he was named Team Co-Captain, First Team All-American, First Team All-Big 8 and Academic All-Big 8 player.  McCormick’s Huskers earned respect by playing some of the biggest names in football that season.

“Arizona State, UCLA, South Carolina, big power teams,” said McCormick.  “But all the hype was usually around Oklahoma.  That was always a big rivalry back then.”

87 nu ok

Screen grab from our friend Jake Jacobsen at HuskerTapes.com; watch his clips of the 1987 NU vs OK game here!

McCormick, an Omaha native and graduate of Gross High School, is still passionate about today’s Huskers.  His favorite: Nebraska’s star running back Ameer Abdullah.

“I think he’s a quality person, he has good character,” said McCormick.  “And he’s a very good running back.  I think he’s going to do well in his life.”

So has McCormick, who is now SAVING other lives as an Omaha firefighter.  A quick search in the KETV archives shows McCormick was one of the first responders at Molotov cocktail fires, at 2-alarm house fires, at scenes where firefighters risked their own lives to save strangers.

January 20, 2014 was no exception.

international nutrition collapse

Then Battalion Chief John McCormick was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the International Nutrition plant minutes after the building collapsed, trapping workers inside.

 “We had to rely on training and on our experience throughout our career to do the best we could,” said McCormick.  “We were able to get a few people out.  Sad that we couldn’t get everybody out.”

Two men died that day.  Firefighters rescued at least nine others who were hurt, but survived.  I remember anchoring our coverage that day while reporters Kyle Gravlin and Amanda Crawford reported from the field, and none of us knew how many were trapped or lost inside.  We did know firefighters were inside, trying to find them, NOT knowing how stable the plant was or what could happen around them at any moment.

Just last month, seven of those firefighters were given Medals of Courage and/or Lifesaving Medals for their heroic efforts that day.  At the same ceremony, Battalion Chief John McCormick was named Assistant Chief.

“I consider it to be a lot like football in that it’s a team sport,” said McCormick.  “It’s a team job.  You need to accomplish a lot by using other people.  The old cliché, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

And as the Huskers are hopefully gaining strength during this bye week, preparing for new Nebraska rival Wisconsin, McCormick offers this advice.

“This is such an important part of their life, but it’s only a short part of their life,” said McCormick, now a married father of eight in addition to his duties with the fire department.  “Play hard, practice hard, prepare well and leave everything out on the field.”

To read more about #61 John McCormick, check out his bio with Nebraska Athletics!

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Click here to Throwback to the Class of 2003, Jammal Lord!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday Husker.. the Class of 2003, Brett Lindstrom!

Comeback Kid

29 Oct

I’m no sports reporter.  There are days I WISH I was.. like today.. at ‘the K’… cheering on the Kansas City Royals in Game 7.. yes, this is one of those days :)  Yes, sports reporters get to witness some incredible moments from amazing vantage points, but they are also some of the hardest working guys in TV News.  Andy Kendeigh, Thor Tripp and Matt Lothrop shoot their own material, write their own material, write their own sportscasts, and are often on set, anchoring, after working all day covering games and stories out in the field.  They don’t ‘sit back and watch the game'; they are keeping track of stats, editing while the game is in progress, and thinking about how they’ll present it all.  While fans watch and enjoy, sports guys (and ladies) work 20-hours days to bring those moments to the rest of the world.

They also know a RIDICULOUS amount of information about sports.  I’d like to think I know the game of baseball.. I love gymnastics.. I like football a whole lot.. but I’m no sports reporter.  I’m a sports reporter wannabe at best.

When I started profiling former Huskers as part of this Throwback Thursday series, I turned to our sports guys and my husband, ALSO a former sports photojournalist in TV News, to see who they wanted to hear from.

SEVERAL gave me this guy’s name.

Jammal Lord

#5, Nebraska Quarterback Jammal Lord, photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Even if you don’t know the ins and outs of this game, you can see this guy was impressive on the college football field by looking at his stats.  Lord made the record books for total offense in a season and in a career.  He set a record at Nebraska for a rushing quarterback in a single game and in a season.  His name appears among Nebraska’s greats at the position, Eric Crouch and Tommie Frazier.

Nebraska’s last true option quarterback also marked the end of an era.  As he left Nebraska at the end of 2003, so did his Head Coach Frank Solich, fired after a 10-3 season.

WHAT IF?  What if they didn’t have that 7-7 season in 2002?  What if there hadn’t been a coaching controversy?  What if Lord, who only had 2.5 seasons on the field after a torn PCL in his knee, had gotten all four years as starting QB?

Lord tells me he has no regrets about his time as a Husker.

“No, not at all.  I had fun at Nebraska,” Lord told me by phone last month.  “I loved the coaches I had from Coach Solich to Coach Gill.  Those guys were role models.  They showed me tough love and I needed that.”

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Thanks to Lord’s alma mater, Bayonne High School, for the photos

Husker nation again had high hopes for Lord as a pro player, drafted in the 6th round in 2004 by the Houston Texans.  He played safety, wide receiver, cornerback, eventually retiring from pro football with the Abilene Ruff Riders of the Indoor Football League in 2007.

Jammal Lord NFL pic

Lord then returned to his roots, and the place where he developed his passion for football.  He became a football coach at his Alma Mater, Bayonne High School in Bayonne, New Jersey.  COACHING became his new passion, a role that eventually brought him back to Nebraska, coaching at Concordia High School alongside his friend, Steve Warren.

“I miss it every day,” Lord told me.  “Everything about football, I miss coaching, the kids, helping the kids out.  Just seeing them grow.”

But during those coaching days, even now, it’s hard to not miss PLAYING the game, too.  Lord says his favorite game came his junior year at Texas A&M.  John Oakey’s Aggies had the Huskers on the ropes in the 3rd quarter, down 31-14.  Lord and Nebraska charged back and WON 38-31, at the time, tying the school record for the biggest comeback in football history.  Jammal Lord was named Team Captain the following season.

“Just going out, playing hard and winning games,” said Lord.  “I miss my friends, mainly.”

Today, Lord is a long way from the friends he made in Lincoln, Houston, Bayonne and Omaha; he’s working in the oil fields of North Dakota.

WHAT?!?! For anyone asking the same question I did when I heard that, a quick Google search reveals the average annual salary of an oil worker in ND–more than $110,000.

“A friend of a friend had a business here, offered me a job,” said Lord.  “I said never! Then I caved in.”

It’s hard not to like this guy in talking to him on the phone.  In that answer and in so many others, he laughed throughout.  You could ‘hear’ his smile on other end.  Jammal Lord seems like a guy who truly enjoys life, whether he’s making a comeback on the football field or anywhere else.  He has a passion for life, just as he does for football.

And he still has that love for the Huskers.

“I like all of them,” he said of today’s players.  “I like Ameer, he’s doing his thing right now.  I like Tommy.  I’m biased for the quarterback position, you know what I mean?”

What about Coach Pelini, Lord’s then Defensive Coordinator who took over head-coaching duties in Lord’s last game with Nebraska at the Alamo Bowl?

“LOVE him.  Love him,” said Lord.  “Just the passion, he has passion for his kids.  He has passion for the game of football.”

Finally, to Husker fans who like so many sports guys do, remember Jammal Lord and hold him as a Husker favorite, he’s got a message for you, too.

“I love you.  You’re number one in my book,” said Lord.  “I had fun down there.  It was a great time.  I love the fans, I love the stadium.  GO BIG RED!”

CHECK OUT KETV’S HUSKERS THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON JAMMAL LORD!

For more on #5 Jammal Lord, check out his bio courtesy of Nebraska Athletics.

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Click here to Throwback to the Class of 2013, CJ Zimmerer!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday Husker.. the Class of 1987, John McCormick!

More Than Words

22 Oct

“Actions speak louder than words.”

A classic quote, teaching all of us to LIVE what we preach, follow through on what we promise and that we will send a message by what we DO, not just by what we say.

This week’s Throwback Thursday Husker is basically stamping that statement all over Nebraska and beyond.  What’s more, you have likely seen the impact of his efforts without knowing who was behind the work.

cj zimmerer huskers

Meet CJ Zimmerer, Nebraska Fullback, Class of 2013. (Photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics.)

Zimmerer was the mind behind one of the most touching moments in Nebraska Football history, and is now working to make life better for kids throughout Sarpy County.  Despite his efforts, his picture’s not flashed around and his name doesn’t usually make the headlines.

Zimmerer wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t need any praise for anything,” Zimmerer told me in a recent interview.

You be the judge.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #31 CJ ZIMMERER!

Cj 4

Photo courtesy of CJ Zimmerer and Huskers.com.. love the cameo from KETV photojournalist, Tyler White on the left!

Remember this amazing moment?  Jack Hoffman, the little guy fighting a BIG fight against pediatric brain cancer, running for a touchdown at the 2013 Spring Game in front of 69,000 fans (many, including me, in tears!)  The video, posted on YouTube, has been viewed more than 8.6 MILLION times and won an ESPY Award for Best Moment.  Take another look–#31, CJ Zimmerer is alongside Jack the entire time.. getting him ready, clearing his way to the end zone, and finally lifting up young Jack when he scores.  This moment was all Zimmerer’s idea, and became what he calls ‘a whirlwind’.

“Coaches are calling me late at night, we’re calling other players, planning the whole thing, and it just turned into a huge thing,” said Zimmerer.  “That’s what it’s all about.”

With worldwide attention from that incredible moment, the Team Jack Foundation raised more than a million dollars, with the goal of reaching 2-million by the end of this year.  Jack caught the attention of ESPN, President Obama, and some of the biggest names in sports.  Zimmerer was given the 2014 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award, the FBI’s Hometown Heroes Award in 2013, and one of only 11 college football players named to the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team.

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Most importantly, MORE AND MORE people are talking about the disease that has taken and impacted countless lives: pediatric brain cancer.

Zimmerer still wears his Team Jack bracelet on his right wrist.  On his left, he wears a Sammy’s Superheroes bracelet for awareness of all pediatric cancers, in honor of little Sammy Nahorny in Columbus.  And just as so many of us were, who have been touched by Jack Hoffman’s story, Zimmerer says he was heartbroken to hear Jack’s tumor had returned earlier this year.

“You wish you could trade places with him, but all you can do is pray, continue to raise awareness,” said Zimmerer.  “The guys in Lincoln are doing a great job carrying on that legacy, and you’ve just got to hope for the best.”

Zimmerer’s great connection with kids extends beyond Jack and Sammy.  Soon after graduating from Lincoln, Zimmerer became a Juvenile Probation Officer in Sarpy County.  He works with kids and teenagers who are in trouble with the law, hoping to get them back on the right track.

“Really trying to work with them and their families and providers here in the community to make constructive change in their lives,” said Zimmerer.  He told me once in awhile, a kid will look up in his office and see a picture of Zimmerer with his fiancé, taken while he played for the Huskers.  He smiles as he describes watching that realization that yes, he played Nebraska Football.

Zimmerer also has a shared bond with these kids; he’s a Gross High graduate and grew up in the same place they did.

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“I was very blessed to have great parents and I think that’s where it comes back to,” said Zimmerer.  “Just taking the time to find out how your kids’ day was, to getting them involved in sports, to being there at their events or plays or Academic Decathlon, whatever the case might be.  That constant support and structure, a lot of kids don’t get and it’s sad to see.”

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Zimmerer might give even more kids that support, as he’s considering coaching in the future.  Right now, he’s having a ‘weird’ time adjusting to his ‘armchair quarterback’ role this first year away from Memorial Stadium.

“I don’t know where to sit on the couch, or do I want to watch it at a bar or a restaurant,” said Zimmerer.  “It definitely has been weird.  You feel yourself coaching on the couch, ’cause you think you know everything but really, I probably don’t know anything, it’s all changed since I’ve left.”

Not everything; some of Zimmerer’s close friends are still putting in work on the field, including fullbacks Andy Janovich and Harrison Jordan.

“That’s the best thing, even the smaller schools like Andy [from Gretna] and I are from, guys don’t get as much recognition,” said Zimmerer.  “But there’s a lot of smaller town guys on the team and it’s great to see them doing well.  They just have that hard work attitude that some guys can’t seem to figure out.”

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To those players, Zimmerer says do everything now, don’t waste any time.  He looks back on his favorite moments on the field, like watching the snow fall among 100,000 fans, before he and his teammates returned a kick for a touchdown against Penn State.

“That’s what you dream about growing up. Going to big games like that and being in that situation,” said Zimmerer.  “Everything you do is important, on and off the field.  It’s never too early to realize that.”

Zimmerer continues to live that message; that everything we do is important.  And maybe THAT is the key to happiness for all of us.  Zimmerer told us, he’s enjoying every minute of his new job, in his hometown, planning for his wedding to fiancé Kim Wees next summer.

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Zimmerer said in our interview he doesn’t need praise for anything.  You decide for yourself, and I’ll leave you with another classic quote:

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

To read more about #31 CJ Zimmerer check out his bio from Nebraska Athletics!

***

Click here to Throwback to the Class of 1998, Jay Foreman!

Next weeks’ Throwback Thursday Husker.. the Class of 2003, Jammal Lord!

Captain America

16 Oct

If you’ve ever checked out my blog, THANK YOU, and you have likely noticed that I follow the Miss America organization and our local representatives.  When it came time to write this week’s Huskers Throwback Thursday blog post, I came EVER so close to calling it ‘Mr. America’.  I didn’t.. because it’s probably not very cool for any dude to be called Mr. America.. I didn’t want this week’s former Husker to get teased.. because he’s still an athletic guy and a fight could break out.. and so on, and so on.

(These are the kind of random scenarios that go through my head on a daily basis.  Don’t judge.)

Now, CAPTAIN AMERICA, on the otherhand, is a national hero.  So we’ll go with that.

Ladies and gentleman, NEBRASKA’S CAPTAIN AMERICA..

jay and brandi

..or as he’s known on the streets, Jay Foreman. (Pictured here with an awesome lady I’m sure would agree with me, Beth Pfeffer with Nebraska Medicine.  More from Beth to come.)

Foreman was a starter on two national championship teams at Nebraska.  He played in the NFL for eight years, team captain for three.  He earned his MBA from HARVARD, WHILE playing for the NFL.  Who does that?!?!?

And most impressive to many, he is now working towards something that offers little financial compensation for himself, but means the world for those battling a debilitating illness.  Foreman has founded the Foreman Foundation to make life better for those with diabetes, a disease Foreman himself does not even have.

The Foreman Foundation contacted me several weeks ago, hoping as part of our Huskers Throwback Thursday series we could touch base with Foreman and more so, share his non-profit’s mission and goal; to ultimately find a cure for diabetes.

foreman at nebraska

Foreman, #44,  heads to the locker room to celebrate Nebraska’s 1997 National Championship.  Photo courtesy of Josh Harvey & Scout.com.

To throwback to Foreman’s days at Nebraska is to remember Glory Days in Lincoln.  When the Huskers crushed the Tennessee Volunteers in the 1997 Orange Bowl, Foreman started in his second national championship game.

“You know, what’s funny is while we were doing it, I don’t think I appreciated it as much as I should have,” Foreman told me recently.  “Probably, to be on the team that’s maybe the best of all time is something not a lot of people can say.  Only 22 people can say they started on the team, so I feel special just to say that.  That alone is good enough for my career.”

The following year, Foreman would be named a semi-finalist for the Dick Butkus Award, and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in just 3 1/2 years with a BS degree in Business Administration.  While playing eight years in the NFL (including five consecutive seasons of more than 100 tackles,) Foreman ALSO earned his MBA at Harvard University.  AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY.  And as if that didn’t keep him busy enough, it was during Foreman’s pro days that he began to devote himself to public service.  While playing for the Houston Texans, Foreman created ‘Foreman Friends’ to assist abused and underprivileged kids in group homes.  He also reached out to families battling a disease he’d seen nearly all his life, diabetes.

“A lot of people in my family were affected, ARE affected, by diabetes and have actually lost their lives to it,” said Foreman.  He describes relatives, especially those he only sees once or twice a year, who literally seem to wither away.  He says the effects impact their bodies, their moods and their energy levels.  One of Foreman’s loved ones affected by diabetes, his father, Chuck Foreman.

Chuck Foreman

5-time Pro-Bowler Chuck Foreman.  Photo courtesy of FootballsFuture.com.

“He’s always been in somewhat good shape,” said Jay Foreman.  “For him to have the episode he had to where he had his big toe cut off, that hit me pretty hard.  It was something that hit home, and I knew I needed to do something.”

In 2013, back in Nebraska, Foreman DID do something, forming his own 501c3 non-profit organization devoted to the cause.

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In February, the Foreman Foundation hosted its first big event, a Bowl-a-Thon to ‘Strike Out’ diabetes.

Jay and kids

The event raised $6,000.

Foreman and his foundation have since reached out to area businesses, applied for and won grants, and are planning the first Foreman Foundation Gala.  So far, they have raised an estimated $32,000 for groups like Nebraska Medicine’s Diabetes Center, the Heart Ministry Center in North Omaha and the People’s Health Center in Lincoln.

The donations make a huge difference to patients Beth Pfeffer sees everyday.  That’s Beth in the first picture in this post; she’s the Director of Diabetes Services with Nebraska Medicine (formerly the Nebraska Medical Center.)

“Diabetes is a very expensive disease,” Pfeffer told me.  “There are medications, testing strips, monitors, meters, pumps, all kinds of supplies.”

Pfeffer adds that many patients, just like Chuck Foreman, need many different doctors, as diabetes affects eyes and feet among other things.  All of this can be overwhelming for patients who may or may not have the ability to pay for supplies, care or education.  The Foreman Foundation helps cover that gap.

“Being a former Husker football player means a lot, especially to younger patients,” said Pfeffer.  “It’s a pay-it-forward type scenario to me.”

Paying forward KINDNESS.  A novel thought.

I asked Foreman WHY.  With all his success in football and business, why doesn’t he just take what he’s earned and live an easy life in a beach house in Malibu?

“Well first, I’m from Minnesota, so it would be a cabin on the lake,” Foreman joked.  “Life is short.  I want to have an impact and reach as many people as I can.”

Jay Foreman is certainly reaching people.  Through TV, when he flies back to Texas for analysis of both college and pro football.  Through the radio, when he fills in on friend and former Nebraska teammate Damon Benning’s sports talk show on 1620 The Zone (and here’s hoping the Mr. America reference NEVER comes up on Sharp and Benning in the Morning!) And through his iconic 90’s Nebraska football teams that still make Husker Nation smile.

But perhaps, Jay Foreman’s legacy will not be all the tackles he logged on the field, but the work he’s doing now tackling this horrible disease.

It’s a mission he hopes today’s Huskers continue, for whatever cause hits home for them.

“It does feel good for people to recognize you for your hard work, and that’s all you want as a football player,” said Foreman.  “I figured if I could use a little bit of my notoriety to help people, bring some knowledge and obviously raise funds to hopefully find a cure and get people educated, that’s the least I can do.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #44 JAY FORMAN!

Click here to learn more about the Foreman Foundation on their website and on Facebook.

You can also email the Foreman Foundation at foreman.foundation@cox.net or call (402) 830-9269.

***

Click here to Throwback to the Class of 1977, Monte Anthony!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday.. Class of 2013, CJ Zimmerer!

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