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.

WATCH KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #31 CJ ZIMMERER THURSDAY AT 6!

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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.

bowl a thon jay foreman

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!

Forever Young

8 Oct

Think back to something you did when you were 17 years old.  How about 18?

When I was 17, I was in Grease at Papillion-La Vista High School (along with Adrian Whitsett!).  At 18, I saw my first Atlanta Braves game in person at Chase Field in Arizona.

At 17, Monte Anthony became one of Nebraska football’s leading rushers, a rare true freshman starting at a perennial powerhouse.  He did all of that while taking 27 credit hours worth of classes at Nebraska, according to national broadcasters during the 1974 Sugar Bowl.

<jaw drops>

MONTE ANTHONY WAS JUST 17 YEARS OLD.

Monte-Stock Photo

Hard to imagine the pressure this man faced at such a young age.  KETV’s Andrew Ozaki asked Anthony about it a few weeks ago, when Anthony was inducted into Bellevue East High School’s Hall of Fame.

“It was fantastic,” said Anthony.  “Actually, Coach Osborne, I see as a father figure.  He taught me perseverance, team work, and that you can get out there and get it done if you want to get it done.”

The night before the Sugar Bowl, Coach Osborne also taught Anthony a tough lesson about responsibility.  Anthony told me he was out with his family and missed curfew.  He still clearly recalls what Coach Osborne told him.

“You’re a freshman, you can’t do that!” said Anthony.  He remembers running laps before the game and then being benched in the first half of that big bowl game.

It had to be torture watching this one from the bench.  At the half, Florida had shut out Nebraska 10-0.  Coach Osborne came out of the locker room with a new plan.

“Tom called upon me,” said Anthony.  “I was totally shocked and stunned.”

1974sugar_monte_anthony

Photo courtesy of HuskerMax.com!

Anthony was ready to deliver for his team, and in the 4th quarter he had his chance.

“Tony Davis (Husker fullback) took me by the face mask when the play was called and said ‘we are taking this in’,” described Anthony.  “You knew the entire team was one.”

Anthony dove into the end zone and scored Nebraska’s only touchdown of the game.  It was enough–that drive sparked two more field goals and Nebraska beat Florida 13-10.

Click here to watch Anthony’s 1974 Sugar Bowl highlights, thanks to Jake Jacobsen & HuskerTapes.com.

One of my favorite parts about these highlights, aside from the SMASHING 1974 broadcast journalist attire, is the commentary.

“Many college football players are fine students, but few if any can equal the dual performance of Nebraska’s Monte Anthony on the field and in the classroom,” said ABC’s Don Tollefson.  “In the classroom, he was piling up 27 semester credits while excelling in different courses like calculus, chemical engineering and computer science.”

“I actually received 10 hours of calculus credit my first semester by taking the 3rd semester math course,” Anthony told me.  “In reality,  I was only physically taking 17 hours and got credit for 27.”

If you’ve been in college, you know 17 hours is STILL an incredible commitment for any student, let alone a student athlete.  But  THAT is part of the message Monte Anthony wants high school and college athletes to take away from his time at Nebraska.

“I would say make sure you’re prepared.  Not only physically, but mentally,” said Anthony.  “Really, it starts in high school.  Align yourself with good people.  Make good decisions and your first couple of years, really get the program down as far as academics.”

Anthony was pretty darn good ON the field as well as off.  He was Nebraska’s leading rusher from 1974-1975, racking up 1,310 yards in just two seasons.  He was drafted in the 8th round in 1978 by Baltimore.  Still, it was ultimately that academic foundation that would come to use in his career, as he came back to Omaha when his playing days were over.  Anthony is now in project management at First Data.  He has two daughters and speaks to young kids about the lessons he’s learned and his favorite moments as a Nebraska Cornhusker.

“Of course, I wish we would’ve had a lot bigger lineman as they do today!” Anthony joked.  “It was really the experience, the fans, the team.  But scoring is always the best.”

And while Monte Anthony can certainly look back at that 17 and 18 year old Husker with pride, he’s not living in the past by any means.

“Just loving Omaha, loving Nebraska and living the good life!” said Anthony.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #49 MONTE ANTHONY!

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CLICK HERE to Throwback to the Class of 1971, Larry Jacobson!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday.. Class of 1998, Jay Foreman!

A Nebraska Legend

1 Oct IMG_1986

When the KETV Sports Team signed off on the idea of a Throwback Thursday, Huskers edition, I started compiling a list of potential players we could catch up with.  Players I remember the most, players that were Husker Nation favorites over the years, and the legends–the names and faces that are synonymous with the storied history of Nebraska Football.

One of my ‘long shots’ was a guy named Larry Jacobson.  Arguably one of THE BEST in Husker history.  Nebraska’s first Outland Trophy winner.  One of the stars of the Game of the Century in 1971.  A starting tackle on the 2-time national champion team.  I tracked him down, half expecting I would never hear back if I left a message.. I mean, he’s LARRY JACOBSON.

Larry was one of the FIRST to call me back.  Hilarious, outgoing, HUMBLE.  Proud to be a Husker and so grateful Husker Nation remembers him.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY SPECIAL ON LARRY JACOBSON!

Larry Nebraska photo

Photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics & UNL Photographic Services

At one point in our phone conversation, I think I asked, ‘is this THE Larry Jacobson?!?’

Jacobson is now retired, enjoying his time reading, hunting, fishing and spending quiet evenings on the Platte river with his beautiful wife, Kathy.  This fantastic couple welcomed us to their home a few weeks ago to talk football.

Photographer Dave Hynek and I pulled up, and the first thing I saw was an older model porsche with the license plate 71 OUTLN.

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AWESOME, and just a preview of what we would see.  The first thing that greets you upon walking into the Jacobson home is an enormous Outland Trophy displayed on the fireplace mantel.  AN OUTLAND TROPHY.  And it has company.

“And this, I just got two years ago, the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award,” said Jacobson, who then picked up a photo.  “The #1 overall pick of the draft this year was JaDeveon Clowney.  He was a classy guy; we had a good time with him two years ago.”

nagurski award, huskers

Jacobson, on the right, accepting the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award in 2012.  Photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics, Randy York & NU Media Relations.

Jacobson wasn’t bragging, he wasn’t arrogant in showing off his collection; it was almost like he was just as much in awe of all of the hardware and moments as we were!

He then led us upstairs to his ‘man-cave’ if you will.. a room he’s painted all red and decorated nearly ever inch of space with a Nebraska football memento. (I believe his wife, Kathy, gets much of the credit for that :)  A collage featuring all 8 of Nebraska’s Outland Tropy Winners, all signed.  Photos with some of the most talented college football players of the last 40 years.  Tickets to the Game of the Century in 1971 signed by Devaney, Osborne, Switzer, Fairbanks.  The room is A MUSEUM of Husker memorabilia, each item cooler than the last, and Jacobson has a story for it all.

Take the football, signed by Bob Devaney, who coached Nebraska in that epic game against Oklahoma.

“We brought our own food down because we were afraid they were going to poison us,” said Jacobson.  “You say, sometimes you wish people could have the feeling once in their life that we had after that game.”

Turn to a black and white photo of the ’71 Huskers with President Richard Nixon.

“We were drafted while we were at the White House,” said Jacobson. “When we came out from visiting in the Oval Office with Nixon, they handed us a piece of paper.  I went to the Giants and Jeff [Kinney] went to the Chiefs.”

Hard to imagine the excitement a young Jacobson must have had about his future.  Little did he know, less than 4 years later, his playing days would be over.

One play.  A nasty injury. (“My ankle did a ‘280’ on me,” said Jacobson, comparing it to Sean Fisher’s leg break in 2010.)  Still in his 20’s, Larry Jacobson was forced to retire from football.

Jacobson, an Academic All-American at Nebraska, became a stockbroker, a career he would devote his life to for about 30 years until his retirement.

“I saw, as I was working, too many of my clients that worked and worked and worked, finally would retire and within two or three years, they died,” said Jacobson.  “I didn’t want that to happen to me.”

Larry and Kathy

Jacobson and his wife, Kathy, at an Angels Among Us fundraiser in 2010.  Photo courtesy of Angels Among Us and Mike Downey.

Now, Jacobson follows the Huskers from his season tickets in the south end zone, prompting a popular question from many Husker fans, ‘uh, his name is DISPLAYED ON MEMORIAL STADIUM. Why does he need tickets?!?’  Jacobson just laughs.

“You look up, and you can’t believe it’s there,” said Jacobson.  “You know, my Dad lived a good life until he was 85.  I wish he would’ve lived a couple more years so he could see it up there.”

And maybe Dad could’ve weighed in on the debate that seems to present itself every time another team makes a run at repeat national titles.. would any of today’s teams have beaten the 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers?

“There are a lot better athletes now, but as far as an organization, as far as a team, I don’t think there’ll ever be one like the ’71 Cornhuskers,” said Jacobson.

They were the only team to beat the #2, #3, and #4 teams in the country in the same season.  25 of the men on that team went on to play professional football.  The Sporting News named their team the BEST EVER.

Jacobson, who still keeps in touch with many of his teammates, calls himself ‘fortunate’ to have been a part of it all.

“People remember Johnny Rodgers.  They remember Jerry Tagge, Jeff Kinney, Rich Glover and a lot of times, they remember me,” said Jacobson.  “And that really makes me feel good.”

To read more about #75 Larry Jacobson, check out his bio courtesy of Nebraska Athletics.

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CLICK HERE to Throwback to the Classes of 1971 & 1997,  Bill & Jesse Kosch!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday.. Class of 1977, Monte Anthony!

A Cinderella Story

26 Sep

Recently, KETV aired one of the most powerful stories of my career.

Do I have your attention?

In my 13 years here at KETV, I’ve seen some incredible things and been honored to share some amazing stories.  There are a handful that will always stick with me.. Derek Ruth, a teenager who suffered a traumatic brain injury on the junior high football field.  Clayton Hildreth, losing his face and parts of his body to a fire as a toddler, overcoming all challenges to become an Eagle Scout as a young man.  Kayla Wilkins, a teenager who I never got to meet, though the love of her family and their grief after her death in a car crash, shook me to my core.

2014.  Add Gina Giaffoglione, excuse me, Gina Springhower, to that list.

Gina and John

Let’s state the obvious.  GINA. IS. GORGEOUS.  (Sorry, John, but your bride steals the show in this picture!)

I’m biased, having met and spoken with this incredible woman, but you can almost see through this image the sheer joy and happiness, the positive energy, that spreads from Gina.

What you can’t see in this picture is that Gina is paralyzed from the belly button down.

GINA TUMBLING

It hasn’t always been that way.  Gina grew up in her dad Gary’s tumbling center in Glenwood, Iowa.  As the only girl and the youngest, Gina and Gary were athletes together, always in the gym.

March 22, 2008, Gina was in Wayne, Nebraska.  Her car flipped.  She was partially ejected and partially pinned.  The crash broke Gina’s back and changed her life.

Meeting Gina more than 6 years later, I wonder if she ever grieved for what she lost, or allowed herself to be swallowed by self pity or sadness.  It’s really hard for me to picture.. because as you’ll see in our story, Gina is RADIANT.  She never stops smiling, never stops lifting up those around her.  And when I asked her about the decision that sparked our story, she said it happened the day after her accident, March 23, 2008.  The moment Gina decided paralysis or not, someday, she was going to walk down the aisle.

***

Fast forward to December 14, 2012.

engagement

Gina had reconnected with a guy she knew in high school, John Springhower.

“He was a senior when I was a freshman, so he was just that older, hot guy I just kind of looked at when he walked through,” Gina told me, of course, with a smile on her face.  “I never would’ve had a chance with him because I had braces and.. it was just a disaster!”

The guy who led Gina and John to each other.. her dad, Gary.  And on a surprise date right before Christmas, John proposed.

“He’s taken on this whole disability thing like a champ,” said Gina.  “He’s just that wonderful guy, that he doesn’t see the chair.  He just sees me for me and forgets about how I get around.”

Gina said yes, on one condition.  Their wedding would have to wait.

***

in therapy

Almost immediately after Gina’s accident, she turned to physical therapists and support groups at CHI Health Rehabilitation at Immanuel Medical Center.  She made friendships and inspired nearly everyone she came in contact with, and over time, learned exactly what she wanted, to maintain her independence.  Alegent Creighton, now CHI Health, even profiled Gina in September of 2009.

Physical Therapist Diana Palm was working with Gina when she met John, and was there the first time Gina returned to therapy after her engagement.

“She shows up, day one, and she’s like, ‘I’m getting married.  I have to walk 90 feet.  With just my Dad.  On one crutch.  In grass.  In a big dress.”

What was once a dream was now a goal.  Gina was going to walk down the aisle.

***

August of this year, I pulled up to Immanuel’s Rehabilitation Center for a story shoot.  We were meeting a paralyzed young woman, in therapy three days a week, trying to learn how to walk down the aisle for her wedding.  I walked into the huge room, filled with patients, family and friends and therapists, and immediately saw a stunning brunette, with a thousand-watt smile, warmly welcoming me to her session.  By this point, Gina had been working toward this for more than a year.  After sitting for so many years, Gina spent months in therapy just to stretch her body tall again.  Every accomplishment meant more work, more therapy.  Sitting to standing.  Standing to a walker.  From a walker to a forearm crutch.  Walking in  tulle to get used to moving in a dress.

“I mean, I’ve had days where I’m like, this isn’t going to work! I’ve been working at all this for nothing!” said Gina.  Gina says John, close friends and her family propelled her to keep going.  Her biggest inspiration was also right at her side; her dad, Gary.

gina and dad

“[This walk] is our moment.  That’s the last time that I’m a Giaffoglione and I’m on his arm,” said Gina.  “He deserves it.”

“I told her whether we roll down that aisle, or whether we walk down that aisle, we’re gonna do this,” said Gary.  “Whichever way we have to do it, it’s been her dream.  Obviously, it’s a Dad’s dream of having the honor of walking your daughter down the aisle.”

Gary joined Gina at therapy for the last several months, working on every, single detail.  Helping Gina stand.  Locking her brace. Right step, left step, too far, stop!! Turn.. slower.. hold hands, step again.  Gary, his hand clenched tightly around his daughter’s, stared straight forward with a mix of pride and intense concentration on his face.  Gina positively glowed; grinning ear to ear with every step.  Joking with her therapists, looking at her feet and her the reflection in the mirror of herself on her dad’s arm.

I stood in the corner of the center, holding back tears and trying to ‘remain professional’, in awe of what I was witnessing.  I also thought, wow, these two have been here, over and over, several days a week, at home, at the venue, inside, outside, all for ONE MOMENT.

“If she’s doing it for us, or she’s doing it for herself, she’ll never tell us,” said Gary.  “She always has that big smile on her face, so we don’t know.  All I know is we’re gonna do it together, and we’re gonna love the moment.”

And here’s the catch… the Giaffoglione’s knew about Gina’s goal.  John knew  Their close friends knew.

To the rest of Gina’s guests, this dream, becoming a reality, was a moment NO ONE ELSE KNEW ABOUT before the wedding.

Even Gina and Gary, who planned and worked so hard for months, were anxious about how everything would go… on grass.. on a hill.. in front of guests.

“There’s so much to it,” said Gina.  “It’s going to be kind of crazy and I think, when it’s over, it’s gonna be like, AAAAAH, LET’S EAT SOME CAKE!”

***

September 13, 2014.  The day Gina would walk down the aisle.

This is where I stop.  Yup, that’s all you get for now.  Because despite 13 years in television news writing stories, nothing I can type out will adequately describe what happened that beautiful Saturday in Pacific Junction, Iowa.  But we will show you and let YOU witness it for yourself.

Click here to watch Gina’s Cinderella story with KETV

I truly hope you make time to watch this one.  It will take your breath away, and leave you in tears.  Happy tears.

gina

Gina is a reminder that fairy tales can become reality, dreams can come true.  And since I don’t have the words, I will leave you with Gina’s.

“I look at it as I might be having a bad day, but I’m HAVING a day.  I’m here. I’m having a day.  This walk down the aisle might not be what I always envisioned it would be, but we’re having a walk down the aisle. It’s happening.  You’re here.  You’re blessed.  And if I can help somebody in some way to maybe look at their life a little bit differently and be blessed to have their own day, that’s why I’m having a day in my eyes.”

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Gina has a blog and is available to speak for groups and events.  Check out her website, Perfectly Imperfect Gina, or visit her on Facebook!

Lords Of The Rings

24 Sep

Usually, I try to start each blog post with something clever, witty, catching.

Today, all I need is this.

two rings

The guy in orange is Bill Kosch.  The guy in black is Jesse Kosch.  They are father and son.  And they are wearing ALL FIVE of Nebraska Football’s National Championship rings.

As I put together these Huskers Throwback Thursday stories over the last two months, I’ve heard about the Kosch family several times from both viewers and former players.  Having fathers, sons and other family members all play for Nebraska happens often (check out my Throwback to Bo & Barrett Ruud!), but to have two involved in ALL of Nebraska’s championships?!?

“I think somebody was like, ‘are you the only father/son to have all the championship rings?'” said Jesse, during a recent trip back to Lincoln.  “I was like, ‘well, maybe!'”

Click here to check out KETV’s Huskers Throwback Thursday feature on Bill & Jesse Kosch!

No doubt this is special.  It’s no coincidence either; these two produced REMARKABLE numbers while at Nebraska.

bill kosch

Bill Kosch played for Nebraska in the Devaney Era, the starting defensive back on both the 1970 and 1971 teams.  This photo shows Kosch, #24, intercepting the ball against Texas A&M in 1971. (Thanks to fanbase.com for the photo!)  He played in both national championship games and the Game of the Century.  His favorite game, however, was during his junior year, playing USC at the Coliseum in 1970.  USC was then ranked #3, and Nebraska had largely been ignored by the national media.

“Playing under the lights in Los Angeles, I picked off Jimmy Jones in the end zone,” Bill told KETV’s Andrew Ozaki last week.  “Wasn’t exactly sure where I was, I brought it out to the 25-yard line.  We didn’t win the game but we didn’t lose it either, a 21-21 tie.  We got a lot of notoriety out of it, and it kind of got us going toward #1 in the 1970 season.”

Click here to watch Bill Kosch’s interception, thanks to Jake Jacobsen and HuskerTapes.com!

As for Bill Kosch’s favorite championship; it’s the first one his son, Jesse, won for the 1994 title against Miami.

1994

The now iconic image of players lifting Coach Tom Osborne off the field after winning his first National Title in 1994.  Thanks to Nebraska Athletics for the photo!

“It’s just so dramatic.  So rewarding.  It’s so relieving, so tense,” said Bill, who watched the game over again in the days leading up to this year’s matchup between Nebraska and Miami.  “We just shut ‘em up.  And it was terrific.”

Jesse remembers clearly those moments being behind 10-0, a deficit Nebraska cut to 10-7 by halftime.  He remembers that now legendary Tom Osborne speech in the locker room that inspired his team to capture the title.

“To come from behind and win it the way we did, FINALLY, was very rewarding,” said Jesse.  “A lot of us were walk-ons from Nebraska.  You get there and you learn a lot from the guys who have been there a year or two before you.  You just keep kind of passing that along.”

Jesse Kosch 19

When you add that year’s totals to ’95, ’96 and ’97, punter Jesse Kosch accrued 4,234 yards in 101 kicks at Nebraska.  He’s still on three of the Huskers’ record lists; for Top 10 Longest Punts (74-yards), Top 10 Season Punting Average (44.7) and Top 10 Careers Punting Average (41.92).

One of Jesse’s proudest moments came in his last game as a Husker, playing Tennessee for the 1997 national championship.

“I was like, ‘oh, boy’, standing with your back to the end zone with 20,000 orange people yelling at you,” described Jesse.  “I had one of my best punts of my career right there.”

There is no shortage of football talk at the Kosch dinner table during family reunions.  (I’m guessing KETV Lincoln Chief Andrew Ozaki could’ve stayed there talking football all day!)  Father and son had a few days for that last weekend; Jesse took part in the Tunnel Walk last Saturday paying tribute to the 1994 team.  He then headed back to work in Colorado, running his Husker merchandise store, Big Red of the Rockies, in Estes Park, Colorado.

big red of the rockies

Thanks to Big Red of the Rockies for the photo!

One viewer who contacted us said: “Jesse is a true Nebraskan with his hospitality and generosity.  For example, he opens his door up to my family to come watch the games in the store when we are in town.  Also, he will take all the time he can to talk with Husker fans when they come into the store and reminisce about the current and past Husker teams.”

The Kosch’s say their history is just fun to talk about; again, it’s special.  Bill Kosch wants to make sure people know his teammates Jerry List and Joe Blahak each had sons on those 1990’s teams.  But no other duo has all five rings like the Kosch’s do.

“You think, wow,” said Jesse.  “We were part of something that so far, has never been duplicated.”

During our interview, a precious little blonde with gorgeous, big eyes climbed up onto Jesse’s lap.  As a mom myself, I’m guessing she’s more into Sophia or Dora than Ameer or Kenny. Should we dare to dream of ANOTHER championship ring in the Kosch family?

“This is little Tatum,” said Jesse.  “She kicks the soccer ball around pretty good!”

Mark your calendars; Tatum will be Husker Football eligible in 2030.

For more information about Big Red of the Rockies, visit their website, on Facebook and on YouTube.

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CLICK HERE to Throwback to the Class of 2007, Corey McKeon!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday.. Class of 1971 Larry Jacobson!

A Tale Of Two Teams

18 Sep

I used to work with this guy named Matt.  He was really funny.  No, I mean REALLY funny.

Did you see his story, In Carl We Trust, on KETV in 2008?  Let’s just say when Carl Pelini was later hired by Florida Atlantic as their new football coach, the University started printing T-shirts reading CARLFENSE.  Seriously–KETV photographer Tyler White bought one.  And it is awesome.  And now Matt Schick is an anchor at ESPNU.  Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.

A few years earlier Matt also put together a story called West Coast Defense, featuring Nebraska Blackshirts Corey McKeon, Stu Bradley and Bo Ruud.  Just a few games into the season in 2005, the Husker defense had scored HALF of Nebraska’s touchdowns. Four huge Pick 6’s.  Matt’s look into this trio’s ‘secret to success’ on the field was HILARIOUS–one of my favorite stories of the season.

COREY MCKEON

#13 Corey McKeon, photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics

That, and his explosive play on the field, was how Husker Nation was introduced to this guy, Corey McKeon.  McKeon had a monster season as a sophomore in 2005, leading Nebraska with 98 tackles and at the time, marking his name as second-best in school history for tackles for loss.  This was the best of times; success on the field alongside the Blackshirts who were also his best friends.

“We had so much fun doing it, that’s what really mattered to us,” McKeon told me in a recent interview.  “If we can go out and have fun and make those kinds of big plays, that’s what Husker Football is all about.”

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CHECK OUT KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY SPECIAL ON COREY MCKEON!

Ironically, McKeon’s most memorable game was not one of those fun plays, it was the heartbreaking loss to Texas Tech in 2005.

“At the end of the game they were going for the game winning drive, we were up by 4 and I tipped the ball right in the red zone,” said McKeon.  “Our defensive lineman, I’m not gonna name his name because he’s still a lot bigger than me and could come whoop me, he intercepts it.  In those situations, you’re just supposed to fall down because the game is over.  He runs by me, you see my hands out on the field telling him to stop, he runs by me, their running back forces a fumble, they get the ball back, they get the next touchdown.”

McKeon says that loss, while tough to swallow, was against a great team; a game that came down to the wire.  That, he says, is what you remember the most.

In a way, it’s fitting the Texas Tech game stands out for a player like Corey McKeon, a guy who ended his career at Nebraska in the midst of controversy and arguably, one of the darkest eras of Nebraska football.  In 2007, the Huskers lost 7 games (they went 2-6 in Big 12 play), head coach Bill Callahan was fired and McKeon often took a stand, never mincing words defending his teammates and coaches.  This was the worst of times.

“The best part about Husker Nation is also the most difficult part,” McKeon said, noting he doesn’t regret his outspoken nature while with the team.  “They are so involved, we need them so much and the second they’re not there for us, even an inkling, it takes it’s effect because Husker Football is as much about Husker Nation as it is about the players and coaches.”

McKeon also told me at the height of the controversy, he consulted the sports psychologist, frustrated about everything going on, especially with his Defensive Coordinator, Kevin Cosgrove.

UM05WL13

Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Journal Star

“Coach Cosgrove fought for us year after year, he did so much for us,” said McKeon.  “He was a player’s coach and no, his schemes didn’t work out the best all the time, but he was always there for us personally.  Even if we weren’t performing well on the field, he always had our back.  I think that’s what got to me the most.”

McKeon has two pieces of advice for today’s players; one is to cherish the good times on and off the field.  Those same buddies he had two-a-days with, who went through the same losses he did, remain some of his best friends.

teammates

His other suggestion is to realize the impact all Huskers can have, both now and in the future.  It’s something McKeon sees firsthand as an Ollie Webb Center board member and Executive Vice President of the group.  His wife, Erika, organizes the annual fundraising gala.

McKeons

Both, associates with McKesson Pharmaceuticals, say they came to Ollie Webb hoping to learn more about something they didn’t have much experience with, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.  When we followed around the McKeons for our interview at Ollie Webb, they shook hands with students, checked out their artwork, and joked about which Huskers they like best.  (One student’s, no surprise, Ameer Abdullah.)

fun with friends at Ollie

Thanks to the Ollie Webb Center for the photo!

The teenagers and adults get to be with friends for art activities and events, to learn computers and programs, and to work on life skills like how to keep a budget.  Erika McKeon calls their interaction with Ollie Webb life changing.

“Seeing the families that are [at the gala] and seeing the kids come up and perform on stage and just show us how happy they are and how appreciative they are for what we are doing, it’s just amazing,” said Erika.

performer AJ Taylor at gala

Ollie Webb’s AJ Taylor performing at the 2014 Fundraising Gala

The McKeons stress how powerful Nebraska football can be and how they hope players from all eras, especially the 2014 squad, use that to make a difference.  Corey notes that when he reaches out for auction items or other help, former players and the University are often the first to step up.

donation for gala

Autographed portrait donated for the 2014 Ollie Webb Fundraising Gala

“You’re going to come back to your community and want to impact it,” said McKeon.  “Husker Football is the number one way to do that.”

And THIS is how Corey McKeon hopes to impact you now, years after his name covered message boards and newspaper articles across Husker Nation.  When I contacted him about being part of our Huskers Throwback Thursday series, he agreed, IF we also made the story about Ollie Webb.  Shoot the story there, let he and Erika talk about what the organization is and how it’s helping people in our community, and hopefully draw some attention to THOSE names and faces, like the young woman at Ollie Webb who smiled and waved when Corey McKeon recognized her from the gym.

It’s not the kind of story we always get to share, but in this post of best of times and worst of times.. it’s certainly GREAT.

The Ollie Webb Center is always in need of donations and volunteers.  If you’d like to help, or would like to learn more about programs and services, contact them online or via Facbook.

To learn more about #13 Corey McKeon, check out his bio with Nebraska Athletics.

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CLICK HERE to Throwback to the Class of 2003, Pat Ricketts!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday.. Classes of 1971 & 1997, Bill & Jesse Kosch!

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