Tag Archive | sammy nahorny

Finding Our Purpose

Westside Superintendent Dr. Blane McCann delivered a BRILLIANT speech at our District’s commencement ceremony last weekend. His theme: purpose. In front of thousands of graduates, parents, family members and educators, he said in part..

Purpose is the little flame that keeps you going. Your challenge after today is to find that flame: your purpose. It is something that your parents can’t find for you; you have to look for it. It’s not always easy to find. Every, single one of you has a unique purpose to fulfill.

Every single one of us is here for a reason.

Think about that.

My friend Lisa recently told me something that I have thought about off and on ever since. Her husband is Brian Duensing, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.

Brian and Lisa

Brian was one of the best pitchers the University of Nebraska – Lincoln has ever produced. He’s an Olympian, representing the United States on the 2008 US Baseball team in Beijing. He was a starter for the Minnesota Twins for years, and now plays for the World Champions in Chicago. He and Lisa could do anything, enjoying his success and living a life few only dream of. Instead, these happily married parents of three devote every, waking hour to their passions: family and doing everything in their power to ensure happiness for other families.

As Brian’s fame grew, he and Lisa started receiving T-shirts in the mail, asking him to share support for pediatric cancer patients across his popular social media accounts. The Duensings embraced the challenge; every day of every September, Brian sports a new shirt and shares information about that child and their cause. He and Lisa started the Brian Duensing Foundation, a non-profit organization taking these fundraising efforts to an even higher level. Every game, as players wives sit in the stands, Lisa sits in the family lounge and works for hours on Foundation plans and ideas, like their now annual fundraiser bringing baseball’s biggest names to Omaha to raise money for pediatric cancer-related causes.

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The Brian Duensing Foundation Event in 2015 at Ralston Arena. I was honored to emcee the fundraiser and VIP Q&A session with World Series Champion Alex Gordon, Duensing, future Hall of Famer Joe Mauer and the MLB’s first ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte.

The Duensings have raised HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for Nebraska based causes that help families battling cancer. That text I mentioned that Lisa sent me?

“These are the reasons God made Brian a baseball player. I know it.”

This year, Brian and Lisa Duensing will focus their purpose on a little boy named Sammy.

Sammy

At four years old, Sammy Nahorny was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a solid tumor that begins on immature nerve cells, and is very difficult to treat. Many cases of Neuroblastoma begin in the abdomen, and commonly affect the adrenal glands. Within days of his diagnosis, Sammy had surgery; doctors told his parents his cancer was Stage 4 and high risk. His mom, Erin and dad, Chris, immediately started researching options.. and found few. Their quest for hope was far-reaching and relentless, not just for Sammy, but for every other child facing this terrible disease. Their community in Columbus rallied, drawing the support of not only the Duensings, but of Miss Nebraska USA 2014 Amanda Soltero, Olympic Gold Medalist Curt Tomasevicz, music superstar Jason Derulo and more. They all united to become Sammy’s Superheroes… and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and counting for research, assistance and more. Just as importantly, they have become a voice, loud and clear, for all children and families regarding legislation, funding and awareness.

This superhero squad has grown yet again in recent months.

Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

“This is a great organization that started in my hometown!” Alayna told me recently. “Sammy’s Superheroes raises awareness to pediatric cancer and has helped many families who are affected by this. I’ve had many family members fight this hard battle and I’m happy that I am able to help this cause.”

Alayna Wilson is a recent graduate of Scotus Central Catholic, a cheerleader for both her school and her entire hometown of Columbus, Nebraska. A girl with a constant smile and self-described ‘bubbly and happy’ personality, she was looking for a way to make a bigger difference advocating for causes like Sammy’s Superheroes.

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She found it when crowned Miss Gering 2017 in February.

“I love the stage and helping others,” Alayna said. “I wanted to spread my platform and this was the best way possible. I perfected my paperwork, platform and talent and drove to North Platte for one of the best weekends of my life.”

And a BUSY one at that, much like every other weekend in Alayna’s jam-packed senior year. She’s a competitive dancer, and a member of the All-American team by the National Cheer Association. The same day she met her fellow titleholders at Miss Nebraska Orientation, she immediately left to head back to Columbus for a major competition.

Still, to Alayna, this new title meant responsibility; to serve others. She’s volunteered for fundraisers in Columbus, Lincoln and Omaha, even using her Senior Skip Day to travel to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center to deliver care packages for the Miss Nebraska Serves project.

“My favorite part of this organization is the volunteer work!” said Alayna. “I love how each contestant has multiple hours of volunteer work under their belt. It’s so humbling to be among the amazing Miss Nebraska Class of 2017! There’s nothing that makes me happier than helping others.”

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And meeting others is part of what has made this journey so memorable for Alayna.

“It is an honor to be part of this organization. I love every minute of it,” said Alayna. “I have 15 new sisters, a sister queen and a little sister. This is a family. We are a family that supports and encourages each other. This gives me motivation when I need that extra push.”

I’m guessing the Nahorny’s would say the same thing about their network of superheroes. The strangers and neighbors, the celebrities and friends, the Duensings and Alayna Wilson… they are all part of a supportive and encouraging squad of strength who love Sammy like family.

AWI with Sammy

Sammy IS a superhero. This fall, just months after passing the 5th anniversary of his diagnosis, he’ll join us own personal Justice League to fight the evil that threatens so many innocent children just like him. We will find a way to beat cancer, allowing Sammy to find his purpose, just like his Superheroes Brian and Lisa Duensing have.

Alayna Wilson hopes to follow in their footsteps.

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“Each day is a new day for laughter and spreading happiness,” said Alayna. “I obviously hope to be Miss Nebraska whether that time is this year, or the next, or the next. I know that that is somewhere along my path. Overall, I hope to do my best and meet and influence people along the journey. My mission is to spread the name of Sammy’s Superheroes and spread love, happiness and encouragement as well.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Sammy’s Superheroes

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Brian Duensing Foundation

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Click here to follow Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson on Facebook!

Alayna was crowned at Crowns & Gowns 2017, Nebraska’s largest annual prom/pageant showcase.  CLICK HERE for more details about the 2018 pageant and event! You can also email Director of the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, Heather Hayes, by emailing Heather.Hayes@charter.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

NEXT.. Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

More Than Words

“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.

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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!

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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 faced with 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 and you’ll see #31 CJ Zimmerer 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 honored with 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, 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.  Again, I’ll let 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!

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

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