As a tribute to my father—who passed away in 2008—I am re-posting this article from July 15, 2012. I hope you enjoy it, Dad.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—is a degenerative motor neuron disorder that generally affects the muscles, but later spreads into almost every system in the body. Those unfortunate enough to develop the disease experience “rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy and fasciculations, muscle spasticity, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing and decline in breathing ability” (Wikipedia). And the mortality rate for ALS is 100%. There is no cure and the outlook is always grim.
I know this because my father passed away in 2008 from ALS.
Although I’ve come to accept the fact that he is gone, I often find myself wondering how someone like my father could develop such a horrible disease in the first place. And even though it isn’t genetic—he was the first in our family to suffer from ALS—I worry that eventually, I could be next. Of course, my father and I were almost polar opposites in many respects, so I am optimistic and feel confident something else will likely get me.
This fact doesn’t make me feel much better, though. After all, we’ll all die from something eventually and none of us can escape it.
What bothers me most about my father dying from ALS is the way he lived his life and the eventual irony of it all. You see, my father was an orthopedic surgeon who exercised all the time. In fact, some of the equipment at our local YMCA had been donated by my father and uncle, both of them surgeons and partners who endorsed exercise and physical activity at every turn. When my brother and I were young, my father forced us to accompany him to work out, hoping we would follow his example and start exercising more on our own someday. Granted, we both stayed active through sports and other pursuits, but pumping iron wasn’t really our focus. And he was hoping to change that.
For years, the three of us would visit the YMCA, work out to the point of exhaustion and then repeat the process several times each week. Dad even hired personal trainers to set us up with exercise routines tailored to our specific needs. Combined with his exercise tips, we learned everything we needed to know and worked hard to get in shape, at least in the beginning.
Unfortunately, my brother and I responded to being forced to exercise in very different ways. He continued long after we were free to choose for ourselves and still exercises regularly today. I went the opposite way, choosing to exercise indirectly through work or other activities like sports. Oddly enough, the same thing happened with church. Being forced to go anywhere didn’t really agree with me, but my brother could find all sorts of value in it and, as a result, is a more religious person than me. And in this respect, I was more like my father.
Diet and nutrition were also important factors in my father’s life. To this day, I have never seen anyone consume as much fruit as him, sometimes two or three different fruits in one sitting. As for drinking, he would occasionally have some Vermouth with dinner, or the rare glass of wine or cold beer, but generally abstained. Smoking was never his vice, either. Instead, he would lecture me for hours about its dangers once he discovered that I had taken up smoking cigarettes. And no matter what ailed me, he always claimed it was the result of my smoking.
My dad was also a man of adventure and always took us on trips full of excitement and thrill-seeking, as evidenced in my earlier post “Ketchum If You Can”. Over the years, we traveled all over the world to go white-water rafting, skiing, hiking and sightseeing. We ended up at one time or another in Colorado,Costa Rica, Hawaii, Argentina and dozens of other wonderful locales. And even when he was unable to accompany us, my father would still finance our trips to places like Brazil and the US Virgin Islands.
It was during a family trip to Costa Rica that I first noticed some of his physical limitations.
During most of our previous hikes, my father was front-and-center, leading us through the woods or jungles with a Devil-may-care attitude and almost unlimited energy. This trip into the rain forest was much different. Instead of maintaining his footing and trudging along, my dad would often slip or have to keep himself from falling down an embankment that normally would not have fazed him. My siblings and I expressed concern, but he always blamed it on being a little older or unfamiliar with the terrain. We had our doubts, though.
Later, I noticed that my father had started limping. When I asked what the problem was, he would simply qualify it as some minor nerve damage that would eventually correct itself. Only it never did. In fact, it started to get worse, but he insisted it was nothing. And since he was always the tough, macho man from South America, we never questioned it.
Then came the phone call that changed everything.
I was dining out in Raleigh with my fiancé and her family, walking back to the car after a delicious meal at the Macaroni Grill. The call from home seemed a little strange since I had spoken with my mother earlier, but I really started to worry when I heard my father’s voice instead. He was never much for phone calling and our conversations were always short and sweet.
This conversation was much different.
He told me he had been diagnosed with ALS almost a year before, but didn’t want us to worry so he kept it a secret during that time. Knowing next to nothing about the disease at the time, I asked about his prognosis and he told me he wasn’t sure, but things wouldn’t end well once the disease progressed. Of course, I was crushed and immediately thought the worst. He comforted me and assured me that he would be around for a long time. We both knew that wouldn’t be the case, but remaining optimistic seemed like the best approach at the time.
Over the next year, I watched helplessly as a man who was always strong, muscular and mentally sharp deteriorated into a mere shadow of the father I once knew. One by one, his muscular systems started to shut down and, towards the end, he even needed help using the bathroom. We bought him an electric wheelchair to allow him greater mobility, but he hated using it because he was so proud. About the only time he would ride it was when I brought my newborn son to visit. They only spent a year together, but my son still remembers cruising around the house with him.
The last time I saw my father, we talked about the life he helped me create for myself and the new family I had just formed, which brought him a great deal of pleasure. He just wanted to know that his own life had made a difference to someone else, which it certainly had. In fact, he had impacted nearly every person he came into contact with, including his family, friends and the hundreds of patients he served during his successful career in medicine. Everyone who knew him loved him. And I made sure he knew just how much I loved him, too.
The next morning, my mother called to tell me he had passed away in the middle of the night and that I should come over immediately to see him one last time. My sister had spent the night on the couch near his favorite chair in our living room. She woke up in the middle of the night and gave him a kiss before heading to bed. Little did she know, but that would be the last kiss he would ever receive.
I found my father lying in the same chair, only now he was perfectly still and cold. Grief took hold of us all as we wept beside his body, holding his hand or gently stroking his head. Then his body was removed and cremated, leaving me with only a small urn containing remains that were split between my mother, my siblings and me. Today, it sits on my mantle with his picture, a constant reminder of the man who spent his life for his family, and who made me the man I am today.
ALS is a terrible disease that affects roughly 30,000 people at any given time. And as I mentioned before, there is no known cure for it either, but there is hope. The ALS Association is working hard to find ways to treat and eventually cure this degenerative disease, and they are making progress. I encourage everyone to support their efforts because, believe me, you don’t want this to happen to you or someone you know and love.
And if you are living with ALS, please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.
This morning was rough.
I woke up around 8 a.m. on the sofa in my living room—otherwise known as “my bed” since excessive snoring and my son’s desire to sleep in my real bed with his mother resulted in my exile from the master bedroom. When I was younger, the location of my slumber never mattered. I could rest comfortably in an airline seat—once doing so upside-down with my head hanging in the aisle on an overnight flight from Miami to Buenos Aires I took as a child—on a cot or roll-a-way bed or even on the floor. The way I figured, I was lucky to have any place at all to lay my head and, fortunately, my body could handle it.
Too bad that is no longer the case at 42 years old.
This morning—and despite having a sofa that is slightly more comfortable than the floor (but quickly approaching it under the sustained weight of my heavy ass)—I woke up, prepared to rise and was instead met with a wave of intense pain shooting outward from the center of my back. And regardless of which way I twisted, rolled, bent or leaned, the pain just kept on coming.
I eventually cringed and whined my way to the bathroom—which was an adventure in itself for someone with limited mobility (as any readers more elderly than me likely know)—and returned to take some Aleve. There was some stronger stuff around—my wife is prescribed something much more potent—but normally, this is all it takes. So I spent some time suffering, smoked a few cigarettes and waited for my back to loosen up, which it eventually did. Sure, I still experienced shooting pains from time to time, but only when I tweaked it. As long as I was careful, it more-or-less felt normal.
It looked like I was “upright planking”—stiff as a board, but otherwise presenting perfect posture—but it worked. I carefully and very intentionally completed some chores and other tasks—like brushing my teeth so the stench of my breath wouldn’t cause me to flinch and re-injure my healing back—and settled on the sofa again, this time to watch some television and relax.
At first, I had to sit a certain way and move as little as possible for fear of the pain returning. I know that makes me sound like a pansy—which looks like the word I would like to use but probably shouldn’t—but throwing your back out is nothing to laugh about. Ask anyone who has experienced back problems and I’m sure they’ll tell you: it freaking hurts. And this is coming from a guy who’s had multiple root canals, been kicked numerous times in the groin—thanks to eight years of karate as well as a clumsy streak—and dealt with the pain accordingly.
I mean, really. You can rest your sore balls while you’re sitting down and the pain will subside pretty quickly. Your back, on the other hand, is attached to every damn appendage you have. And like a cherry on top of a sundae is your head, itself a solid chunk of weight putting even more pressure on your midsection. Every time you move, turn or do anything at all, your back is involved and the risk of more pain is there.
And like I said, the pain can be rough.
Fortunately, the Aleve kicked in and before I knew it, I was feeling much better. I channel surfed a bit before settling on CBS This Morning, a safe bet to be interesting when I can’t find anything better to watch. Oddly enough, throwing out my back isn’t the only sign that I’m getting older; I also find myself paying more attention to the news and current events. Hell, I even stay abreast of economic issues and the stock market despite knowing very little about either of them. And when I’m in the car, it’s pretty much National Public Radio all the time.
Hard to believe that I once preferred U2, the Grateful Dead or Sublime blasting from my stereo, isn’t it? That’s what happens when you get older. Not only do you want to know what’s happening in the world, but you also long for something you rarely cared about when you were younger: peace and quiet. But I digress.
At some point during my convalescence, the CBS anchors moved to a financial story and started talking about unemployment, recent jobs numbers and the economy. As I mentioned, I try to stay on top of these issues—even though they usually bore me to death or confuse me—so I watched and listened as the pretty news people introduced their next guest.
And that, dear readers, is when I forgot about my back and instead found myself transfixed by some unknown beauty. My jaw dropped and quite literally hit the floor.
There on the screen—and introduced to me and the world by one of the anchors—was the lovely and talented Lauren Lyster, host of Hot Stock Minute and co-host of The Daily Ticker on Yahoo! Finance.
I was awestruck. Never in my life had I seen a news anchor, business reporter or financial analyst so knowledgeable and so beautiful. Lauren—and I hope she doesn’t mind me calling her that (even though she will likely never set eyes on this post)—was eloquent, cute, polite, smart and drop-dead gorgeous.
Just look at the pictures shared here and tell me I’m wrong.
Suffice it to say that during this financial report, I maintained a focus so intense it would border on creepy if anyone were here to actually witness it. Since they weren’t, I was able to shake it off once Lauren’s piece ended, refocus and do something I rarely do: I looked her up on Twitter.
She was easy to find (@LaurenLyster) and since her page is public, I don’t mind sharing her address. You should check it out sometime.
What happened next still confuses me because I did something else that I rarely do: I sent her a tweet!
Get your mind out of the gutter; it was innocent and I can prove it. Check it out.
If I had to guess, I would say that only ten or fifteen minutes elapsed before Lauren—or one of her assistants or staff members, whatever the case may be—sent this reply tweet.
I’m not naïve enough to think Lauren actually wrote this herself, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless. And to me, it was just as meaningful for a different reason. Before I explain, I must confess that this next part makes me sound a little freaky, which I assure you I am not… at least not in a dangerous, demented or uncommon way.
Assume for a moment that Lauren did not write this tweet herself and that it instead came from some lowly staffer or hired publicist. My message was a heartfelt one. I sincerely thought Lauren did well and since people seem so hesitant to share compliments with one another, I decided I should tell her. Of course, I also couldn’t resist telling her how beautiful she was—as if she and everyone else watching didn’t know already—so I guess there was some light flirting. What could it hurt, though?
It’s not as if I ever thought she would read my tweet, fall head-over-heels in love with me and show up at my doorstep a day or two later, ready to start a life together and wondering why our paths never crossed before. Honestly, though, I’m sure there are people out there who hope this will happen or worse, actually believe they have a relationship simply because of online interactions. Sad, but it happens. And I assure you that this is not for me.
If you must know, I Twitter-flirted a little, but it was largely unintentional. Yet another feature of old age is the ability to say whatever is on your mind without the slightest regard for how others might perceive or comprehend it. In other words, you just don’t give a damn. And just between you and me, this is one of the features I enjoy the most.
Unfortunately, this “openness” comes at a cost because it brings with it an inability to control these outbursts. You just think something, blurt it out—or in this case, tweet it out—and expect nothing more than the satisfaction of knowing your views, opinions, beliefs, rants, revelations, flirts, tweets, emails, text messages, voice mails and other insane profundities have been heard. There is no expectation for acknowledgment or even the slightest reply, which is why I was so surprised when I got something back from Lauren’s official Twitter account. Even if it wasn’t really her, it has to count for something.
And think about this: even a hired publicist or social networking guru who gets paid to respond to every message in a positive way will later see Lauren in person. Hell, they might even be friends or something. If by some chance they are hanging out one night and my tweet comes up—especially if it gets a positive response from Lauren, like a smile—then my “mission” to congratulate a beautiful, talented and professional young woman on a job well done will be complete. And honestly, that’s all I ever wanted to do.
Of course, I can’t deny being attracted to Lauren because let’s face it, she’s amazing. She is also very professional, and we know that can’t be easy in the male-dominated, dog-eat-dog worlds of broadcasting and finance. Women historically make less than their male counterparts for equal work, but very beautiful women face another obstacle: gaining enough respect to conquer the “she’s pretty so she must be a mindless bimbo” stigma attached to comely ladies everywhere. Yes, women of different ages, colors, sizes and any other measurable characteristic face unique challenges as well, but beautiful women have their own crosses to bear, especially in the “workplace.” And in no way would I belittle this fact or attempt to detract from Lauren and her accomplishments. I assure you of that.
However, there is something known as homage—basically a public display of honor or respect for someone who acknowledges their skill, worth, achievement, beauty or, in Lauren’s case, all of the above. And face it: she’s a knockout. Since all of the images I found of Lauren were legitimate, public and inoffensive—the majority are screenshots from her days hosting Capital Account for RT America—including them here is a way for me to “tip my hat” to a woman who certainly brightened my day.
And as you look through these images, I hope she does the same for yours. I suspect she can cure sore backs, as well. Thanks, Lauren!
Nicknamed the “Secretary of Defense,” Jones was arguably one of the best defensive players in NFL history. He entered the league in 1961 and was immediately drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. Together with Rosey Grier, Merlin Olsen and Lamar Lundy, Jones helped form one of the scariest defensive lines the game has ever seen: the infamous Fearsome Foursome.
Jones would later play for the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins, not that it mattered much in terms of his game play. In his 14 NFL seasons, Jones won All-Pro honors for five consecutive years (1965-1969); went to seven straight Pro Bowls (1964-1970) and another in 1972; was named AP’s Defensive Player of the Week four times; missed only 6 of 196 regular season games; revolutionized the defensive end position; patented the head slap move as a pass rusher; and accumulated 194.5 sacks over his career, placing him at third on the all-time sack list.
In other words, he was a beast. And a lot of good offensive players took a beating at his capable hands.
“His eyes were as red as fire, and after he took his stance, he was pawing his leg in the dirt like a bull,” said former Dallas Cowboy Rayfield Wright, who first faced off against Jones in 1969. “As an offensive lineman, you’re taught only to hear the quarterback’s voice. Nothing else. I’m listening in case there’s an audible, and in the pause between ‘Huts!’ I hear a deep, heavy voice say, ‘Does yo’ mama know you’re out here?’ It was Deacon Jones.”
Jones was undoubtedly as fearsome as they come, and his impact could be felt among NFL owners and managers, as well.
“Deacon Jones was one of the greatest players in NFL history,” Washington Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen said of the defensive legend. “Off the field, he was a true giant. His passion and spirit will continue to inspire those who knew him.”
Actually, Bruce, Deacon Jones is an inspiration even to those who didn’t know him. And he will be for years to come.
Rest in peace, Deacon.
Blogging can be fun, rewarding, exciting, demanding, confusing, overwhelming, frustrating, life-altering and a million other things. At least that’s what I’ve gathered in nearly a year of blogging daily, sometimes multiple times each day. Of course, blogging can also be extremely difficult. And I’m not even talking about the act of writing itself; I’m talking about finding the time to blog.
I actually touched on this in my April 23rd post entitled “A Blog a Day,” but it warrants repeating since this time around, I have a different obstacle standing in my way… one we all long for and, if we’re lucky, most of us get at least once a year: vacation!
When you finally get the time, money and wherewithal to pack up your shit, arrange for your pets to be cared for and head out of town for a much-needed break, the last thing on your mind—if your vacation is going well, that is—is blogging. Granted, I put tons of pressure on myself to post something daily, but that’s only because I set that goal for myself, at least in the beginning. My plan is to ease off at some point, though. Most bloggers I know average about a post each week, so I know I’m pushing myself a bit too hard. What’s sad is that I can’t help it. Blogging finally got me writing again on a regular basis, so I guess I’m afraid that if I do ease off, I may never return. Stupid, I know, but like I said, I can’t control it.
Things change a bit on vacation, though.
At the moment, I am visiting my sister and her family in our nation’s capital, the amazing Washington, D.C. Home of Obama, political bipartisanship, the Redskins, the Smithsonian, Watergate, lobbyist kickbacks… it’s got everything. And what’s more, my sister and her husband are likely the best hosts you will ever meet. My son and I have wanted for nothing—food, drinks, souvenirs, even basic household supplies. They covered all their bases and, since I make quite a bit less in my career—which is rewarding in many other ways, I assure you (even though some extra Benjamins here and there certainly wouldn’t hurt)—they’re picking up most of the tab. Sure, I try to contribute where I can, like buying lunch or helping out around the house, but they normally beat me to the punch. Family is great that way, isn’t it? Those who have the means cover those who don’t, at least until circumstances change. Too bad all people can’t do that more often, huh? After all, we are one big human family, at least from a species perspective.
Sorry. I tend to drift off a little more when I’m on vacation. I told you blogging under these conditions was tough.
So here I sit in Columbia Heights, a relatively affluent neighborhood in old Washington not far from the $27 million dollar Rockefeller compound and a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the Washington Zoo—a place we’re actually planning to visit in a few days. Tomorrow is a Nationals baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies—I’m a Yankees fan, so tomorrow I’m putting 110% behind the home team—followed by dinner at a nice restaurant and an evening of books, coffee and music at a little place where an African friend of my brother-in-law’s is performing. It should be awesome, especially since the evening activities include a babysitter for the kids—after dark is strictly for the adults.
As it should be, I think. Bear in mind, though, that this is coming from a man who hoofed around museums and crowds of Memorial Day tourists all afternoon, three young kids in tow the entire time, complete with all the bells, whistles and tantrums. Fortunately, moods and attitudes were easily improved with junk food from all over the world, as evidenced by the line of food trucks with international flavors supreme lining the streets around the national mall. Snowballs, chicken tenders, ice cream… that’s like crack for kids, let me tell you.
Today centered primarily around the Museum of Natural History—we had to see some dinosaur bones or my son would never let me live it down—as well as time outside on the mall, which was bustling with people. There was a carousel, tons of food (see “food trucks”" from a moment ago), lovely ladies—sorry, but I couldn’t help dropping that in—and construction, construction, construction. Not sure what that was all about—aside from the Washington Monument being repaired, of course, which I’d heard about—but it made for some tough moments when the wind kicked up and blew dirt everywhere. Felt like I was in a sandstorm or something, but only for a few seconds here or there. Not enough to ruin anyone’s good time, and who am I to complain anyway? I’m getting the baby sister/bro-in law hookup here!
A few snapshots are obviously included for anyone who’s interested.
Uh oh. It looks like this evening’s festivities are about to commence. Some local friends I know from my sister’s wedding are here with their kids for a holiday cookout—steaks on the grill and all sorts of other goodies tossed in. And yes, plenty of wine and beer are on the menu, too, so it could be a long couple of hours for someone. I would say a long night, but let’s face it… we are all a bit older and when kids are involved, you have to squeeze your “responsible” good time into a few hours and then get the kids to bed so you can unwind, reload and start it all over again tomorrow.
But not me. I am on vacation and tomorrow, my first stop will be the ballpark. Let’s play ball, Nationals!
And if I happen to post a blog at all—or if I miss my first day in nearly a year—so be it. We all need a break, right?
Teaching can be a rewarding profession—maybe not financially, but in other meaningful ways—and it takes a rare breed to decide to educate our youth rather than pursuing more lucrative careers. In many cases, teachers teach because somewhere deep inside them, a passion for knowledge and for helping others burns so intensely that it simply cannot be ignored.
Such was the case for Maureen Oleskiewicz, a suburban 6th and 7th grade language arts teacher at Independence Junior High School in Palos Heights, Illinois near Chicago—a school she once attended as a student and returned to in order to “give something back.”
For the last six years, Maureen worked tirelessly to make learning fun for her students. This is the way she learned best and her goal was to give her own students a similarly positive experience. Nothing was too crazy as long as it was educational and fun. And if learning meant she had to make a fool of herself, so be it.
Maureen was up to the challenge, and everyone loved her for it.
Unfortunately, the life of this amazing teacher was cut short during a Chicago Cubs baseball game last Sunday.
A die-hard Chicago fan—and a “brainwashed Cubs fan,” according to her mother—Maureen went to as many games as possible each year. And last Sunday, she and her brother Martin had a chance to visit Wrigley Field together.
Before the game began, the siblings grabbed some food and went to their seats to enjoy the beautiful weather and to wait for the opening pitch.
Ironically, Maureen would not live to see that pitch.
The young teacher was enjoying a hot dog when suddenly, a large piece got lodged in her throat and she began to choke. At first, Martin thought his sister was joking around, but he quickly realized she was in serious danger when she fell to the ground, her hands grasping her throat.
Maureen Oleskiewicz was 28 years old.
Losing someone so young—and in such a senseless way—is always a tragedy. But when that person is also an amazing teacher, someone devoted to our youth and so focused on improving our collective future, the loss takes on added significance, at least to me.
I work in education and believe me, we can’t afford to lose any skilled and passionate teachers. If anything we need many, many more.
What’s funny is that even after her death, Maureen is still helping people. She was kept alive for several days—despite being brain-dead—so her organs could be harvested for others.
Maureen was an organ donor. Was there ever any doubt about this sweetheart of a woman?
“Someone got a liver, two people got kidneys and a 14-year-old girl got her heart,” her mother Margaret said. “I hope they take that and run with her kind and beautiful heart.”
That makes two of us, Mrs. Oleskiewicz. Farewell, Maureen…
It had to happen eventually.
After blogging daily for more than eight months, I finally hit a day when publishing a post seemed unlikely.
Granted, by virtue of writing this post, I will still publish something. It’s just not what I expected and, as you can see, it isn’t very long, either.
I realize that size supposedly doesn’t matter—whether I choose to believe it or not—but length does. At least that’s what I’ve always been told.
Also, this blogging every day thing is hardly easy, as I’m sure any bloggers in the crowd already know. Life always gets in the way, so sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
Take today, for instance.
I was hoping to post something last night—which is my usual routine—but a combination of allergy problems and lack of sleep sealed that deal. I passed out on the sofa and missed that opportunity.
My work schedule had some gaps in it and I was hoping to blog earlier today, but once again I managed to fill them all with other tasks and unexpected meetings. So once again, blogging fell by the wayside.
Fortunately, my iPhone is awesome and despite being at my son’s tee ball practice, I was able to churn this out. All the bells and whistles may be missing—namely pictures (which you now see since I had a chance to update this post, thank goodness)—but those can always be added later. I don’t know anyone who visits blogs just for pictures anyway, at least not many of them.
So even though this post is kind of a let-down, for me as well, it definitely served its purpose. And since a new WordPress day begins in just under two hours—most likely to accommodate our international friends—a new and hopefully more interesting post will be heading your way soon.
Unless, of course, life gets in the way again. And we all know that’s apt to happen at any time.
Today is a testament to that.
Jack was diagnosed with the disease several years ago and has already lived through two surgeries and endless rounds of chemotherapy, which continue to this day. Jack’s tumor shrank quite a bit during this time and his parents hope to see an end to the chemo this summer, but there are no guarantees.
In other words, Jack has been through a lot. And the Huskers sympathize, especially Coach Bo Pelini. In 2011, when Jack was first diagnosed with brain cancer, Pelini arranged for him to meet his favorite Nebraska player, I-back Rex Burkhead. And this year, he completely outdid himself.
Last Friday night, Jack’s father Andy got a call from the Nebraska coaches and heard what Pelini had planned. He made certain that Jack was on the field the next day—in uniform along with the rest of the team—but nothing could prepare his brave young son for what was to come.
During the first half, Jack stood on the sideline and watched the game with his favorite team, including his hero Burkhead. Halftime came and went and, by all measures, it was a decent game. The third quarter ended. The fourth quarter started and the clock started winding down. Then, with only eight minutes or so remaining, it happened.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez called Jack onto the field. After a brief huddle with Coach Pelini and a graduate assistant to review the play, the time had come.
Jack took his place behind Martinez, becoming the youngest (and smallest) running back in Huskers football history… as far as I know. And what happened next is nothing short of miraculous, not to mention touching in ways that even bring tears to my eyes… and I’m completely devoid of all emotion!
I’m kidding, of course.
It was 2nd and 10 from the Red team‘s 31-yard-line when the ball was snapped and handed to Jack, who initially ran the wrong way. Martinez set him straight and seconds later Jack was off, trucking down the field with both the offense and defense cheering him along… as well as the more than 60,000 fans in attendance and everyone on the bench.
Sixty-nine yards later, Jack crossed the goal line and scored his first—and likely not his last—touchdown. He even went down in Huskers history as the leading rusher for the day!
At that point, the place went nuts!
Players converged on Jack in a wave of red and white, lifting him onto their shoulders and chanting his name over and over again. Fans screamed and cheered the young player as he lived his dream. His wish had come true, and then some!
It’s enough to make a grown man cry… or so I’ve heard. Really. It wasn’t me.
See for yourself if you don’t believe me, because it’s right here.
And if you’re interested in learning more about Jack, his struggle with pediatric brain cancer or the disease itself, take a little trip to the Team Jack Legacy Fund or the Team Jack Facebook page. They’re worth a visit.
You’re the man, Jack!
Crime, murder, war, death, dismemberment, corruption, hate, discrimination, violence.
These are obviously examples of the evil to be found in the world around us. No matter how positive or upbeat a person is, watching newscasts and reading stories of darkness and depravity is enough to turn anyone’s half-full glass into a half-empty one.
And I am certainly no exception.
Fortunately, there are some stories that have the opposite effect and bring light into an otherwise darkening world. They may be few and far between, mind you, but they are out there.
As proof, I offer the following snippets from recent news stories that should serve to inspire rather than depress. They all focus on people who aren’t satisfied to simply live their lives at the expense of others. Instead, they see opportunities to help their fellow man and jump at the chance.
And believe me. We could all learn something from the examples they set.
In March, 21-year-old Ryan Cornelissen was driving to the bank when he was flagged down by another driver near the town of Garfield. He immediately pulled over to see what the problem was and discovered that the man’s wife had just given birth.
And the baby wasn’t breathing.
Since the couple didn’t speak much English, Cornelissen called 911 and the dispatcher walked him through the correct procedure for infant CPR. Moments later, the newborn gasped for air and started to breathe normally. He is now being kept in the hospital for a few weeks, but by all accounts should be fine.
Not bad for a community college student, huh? Even better is the career path Cornelissen is pursuing: law enforcement.
It seems to be that if anyone would make a great cop, it would be him!
This next story doesn’t involve a single individual, but a group of people who moved quickly to save someone from certain death.
It happened last week when a woman driving through a busy intersection started to have a seizure. Kristin Martin and Zachery Green were sitting in their cars when it happened and didn’t hesitate to react. They immediately jumped out of their vehicles and ran after her.
When they realized they wouldn’t be able to stop the out-of-control car, Martin and Green flagged down Don Grimshaw, a high school principal who was driving a huge Ford truck. With no concern for himself or his own vehicle, Grimshaw took action.
“I got in front of her and just tried to match up speeds and stop the car with the truck,” he said later. “The car kind of went back up on two wheels and went back down for a second. I thought it was going to go over the [guard] rail but fortunately it didn’t.”
The car eventually came to a stop as first responders arrived on the scene. And it looks as if the woman who had the seizure is going to be fine.
When asked why he chose to step in, Green put it best and answered simply, “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Amen to that, my brother. I only wish everyone felt the same way.
Several weeks ago, Officer John Moss was on patrol when he received an emergency call from his dispatcher. Officials at a nearby high school reported that a 15-year-old student had left school and was headed for the Clark Street bridge, presumably to commit suicide.
When Moss arrived on the scene, he saw the young man climb over the rail and hang there, possibly trying to summon up the courage to jump. The officer tried to talk him down, but he just wasn’t going for it. Instead, he simply said “bye” and let go.
With reflexes like a jungle cat, Moss quickly grabbed the boy‘s arm and held him until backup arrived in the form of Officer Joe Kramer. He rushed over and helped Moss pull the boy over the rail to safety. And thanks to their quick thinking—and even quicker reaction time—it appears the disturbed young man will get the psychological help he needs.
The Stevens Point Police Department is planning to honor Moss and Kramer in a ceremony soon and many consider the men to be heroes. Only Moss isn’t one of them.
“Anyone in our department would do the same thing,” he said later. “We were just the ones that were there at the time.”
And thank goodness they were. Otherwise I would probably be writing about the teen’s suicide instead of his rescue. And there is no inspiration to be drawn from that.
EAST GREENWICH TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY
Rescuing anyone from a perilous and potentially deadly situation is amazing enough, but saving a child—especially one with obvious challenges—borders on the spectacular, if it doesn’t blow right past it.
Such a situation occurred recently in New Jersey when a 9-year-old autistic boy wandered away from his home and was reported missing. Officers soon arrived on the scene and joined family members and neighbors as they searched the area.
Eventually, the trail led them to Mantua Creek, a muddy mess on the other side of the trees behind the boy’s home. And when they found the boy’s shoes on the shore, things got even more desperate.
“In front of the sneakers all we saw were maybe seven or eight footprints that led out to the waterway,” explained Officer Phil Owens, one of the first responders. “And at that point my heart sunk.”
The boy’s father immediately started to call his name and within minutes, they heard him screaming. Almost two hours had passed since he first wandered off, but at least now they knew the boy was alive.
How long that would be the case was another story. Owens scanned the creek and fortunately, he caught sight of the missing child.
“All we saw at one point was just a small head bobbing back and forth and screaming,” Owens recounted later. “He was up to his neck in mud.”
And the tide was rising quickly.
Without hesitation, Owens and a colleague, Canine Officer Adam Ziegler, threw caution to the wind and jumped into the muddy water, uniforms, guns and all. Moments later some additional officers arrived and, working together, they were able to pull the autistic boy free.
It was a challenge to get him to shore—the officers started sinking into the same mud that trapped the boy—but they eventually made it. The boy was rushed to the hospital as a precaution, but was cleared and released a short time later. And the residents of this small township couldn’t be more grateful.
“I think it’s great to know that we have people around here that’ll do stuff like that,” neighbor Adam Pitz said of his local police force.
I couldn’t agree more, Adam. And it’s nice to hear something positive about law enforcement for a change. The media focuses far too much on the few bad apples that give all cops a bad name. The truth is that most of them choose the profession for one very clear reason: to help.
Just ask Officers Owens and Ziegler if you don’t believe me.
So there you have it: four examples of good people coming to the rescue of total strangers in need. It brings to mind a quote I heard more than a decade ago: “Don’t leave for tomorrow the love you can give today.” This may not seem to apply until you consider the one thing that connects all of the heroes mentioned here: love for their fellow man.
And if you don’t have love, what do you have?
I learned the importance of respecting my elders at a very young age. And despite their occasional refusal to indulge my every whim or to shower me with gifts, there were no adults I respected more—or loved more—than my parents. I can only hope that most kids feel the same way.
Actually, I know of at least one other who definitely does. Her name is Celia and she is a 9-year-old girl from Los Angeles County in California. And on Sunday night, the love and respect she has for her father came shining through.
The pair was returning from a friend’s house and driving down the darkened Sierra Highway near Acton around 1 a.m. For whatever reason—perhaps due to alcohol—Celia’s father never saw the sharp curve ahead of them. Their Ford Escape careened off the road, rolled several times down a 200-foot embankment and came to rest upside down in the ravine below.
While her father lay unconscious, his young daughter got herself loose and crawled out of the wreck. She smelled gasoline and—amazingly, I might add—knew to turn off the engine before going for help. And her task wasn’t an easy one, either. The desert at night can get pitch black and given the terrain, you just never know where that next step will take you.
“She walked quite a distance in a very, very threatening environment,” he later said of the brave young lady. “It’s very black out there, very dark. It’s very steep and it’s brushy and there’s also coyotes in the background.”
Yikes! I forgot about coyotes!
Eventually, Celia saw a light in the distance and started for it. She discovered a home but when she knocked, no one answered. So she made her way back to the crash, checked on her father and resorted to Plan B: climbing up the embankment to the road above her.
A treacherous trip later, Celia made it and headed for the only other light she could see, which was coming from a rail station more than a mile away. Once there, she was able to flag someone down who immediately contacted the authorities. By the time they reached the scene of the accident, though, it was too late.
The girl’s father, Alejandro Renteria, was dead. He was 35 years old.
The good news is that this incredible child suffered only minor cuts and bruises and should be fine—physically, at least. She will still have to come to terms with the loss of her father—thankfully, she is already surrounded by family and friends—but at least she can take comfort in knowing that because of her efforts, he at least had a chance of survival.
And even though he isn’t here any more, there can be little doubt that he would be extremely proud of his daughter. Who wouldn’t be?
In North Carolina, few things are as important as college basketball. And there is no bigger or more exciting venue than the granddaddy of all college sports events, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The Big Dance.
Having lived in North Carolina for most of my life, I have watched or attended more Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Tournaments than I care to count. And I never miss the NCAA Tournament, especially since the ACC always has some big teams participating—Duke and North Carolina being the most frequent flyers.
Unfortunately, this year’s tournament hasn’t been as kind to ACC teams. North Carolina State lost in the first round and #1 seed Kansas took down the UNC Tarheels on Sunday, so only Duke and Miami remain.
In other words, I need someone else to pull for. And after only a few rounds, I think I found my team: the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast.
Ever heard of them? Not many have.
Florida Gulf Coast University is a mid-major institution in Fort Meyers, Florida that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees to the more than 11,000 students who attend. The school joined Division I six years ago, but only became eligible for post-season play two years ago.
This means that in just two years, the Eagles have managed not only to make it to The Big Dance, but to blast through several rounds to the Sweet Sixteen. In so doing, they also became the first #15 seed to EVER reach the round of 16.
Quite an accomplishment for a team most of us never heard of, don’t you think?
Last Friday, FGC shocked the nation and obliterated fans’ tournament brackets when they handed #2 seeded Georgetown a 10-point loss and eliminated them from competition. And if you haven’t seen the highlights, I strongly suggest you check them out. Few teams this year play with the kind of speed, ferocity and heart as these young men.
And in terms of slam dunking, there’s a reason FGC has become known as “Dunk City.” Alley oops and other acrobatic plays abound any time the Eagles take the court.
Just ask San Diego State, the #7 seed who fell to the Eagles 81-71 during Sunday’s action. Florida Gulf Coast unleashed yet another second half surge—complete with plenty of dunks and other gravity-defying plays—and dropped more offense on the Aztecs than they were likely expecting. And now they get to watch the rest of the tournament from home.
Next on the Eagles’ “hit list” is that powerhouse from The Sunshine State, #3 seed Florida. Winners of the national title in both 2006 and 2007, the Gators could pose some problems for the reigning Atlantic Sun Conference champions.
Eagles’ star Sherwood Brown isn’t all that worried, though.
“We’re really blessed and we’re really happy to be here right now,” he said after the team’s victory over San Diego State. “But we’ve still got more games to play, hopefully, so we’re going to go back home and get our heads back straight and get ready to play against the University of Florida.”
The South Regional semifinal game is scheduled for Friday, and it should be a sight to see. Win or lose, though, there can be no doubt that what the Eagles have started will continue as more mid-major teams strive for greatness.
Personally, I can’t wait because all this means is that we’ll have more exciting tournaments to look forward to in the future. And the days of domination by larger institutions could be numbered.
At least that’s what Florida Gulf Coast is hoping for later this week. And just between you and me, I hope they go all the way to the national championship.