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The Nebraska Life Skills team organized 80 Husker football players to visit four Lincoln hospitals Wednesday as part of the program’s 21st annual pre-Thanksgiving outreach event. Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s Associate Athletic Director, hopped on the bus to Bryan LGH East Hospital while the other three buses headed to St. Elizabeth’s Regional Medical Center, Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and the Nebraska Heart Hospital. Zimmer ended up following senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, freshman tight end Greg Hart and freshman deep snapper Gabe Miller as they visited nearly 20 patients’ rooms, interacted with families in the lobby and thanked the staff for their daily efforts in taking care of people who need them.
Such trips are not mandatory for upperclassmen, so Zimmer was a bit surprised but happy to see Martinez volunteer for another visit, even though he will not suit up or play in Friday’s third annual Heroes Game against Iowa. “I was excited to see Taylor volunteer again because in many ways, he’s been the face of our football program over the last four years,” Zimmer said. “For him to come out today and be an ambassador for the program was very fitting. It’s been wonderful to see the maturity and development he’s shown as a person from his freshman year to the present.” Injuries may have kept Martinez on the bench most of the season, but he’s still one of Nebraska’s four 2013 captains. “Taylor took command in every room, initiated conversation, thanked the families for their support and wished them well in their recovery,” Zimmer said. “He was genuine, caring, funny, positive, and enjoyed every minute he was there.”
Taylor’s Motivation: He’s Still Part of the Team
Unassuming and humble, Martinez accommodated every request for an autograph or picture not just from the patients, but also from hospital staff and those in waiting rooms as well as the main lobby. Yes, one of Nebraska’s toughest ever football players provided encouragement to a wide variety of patients going through tougher times than he is. “Everything he did was obviously heartfelt, especially when you consider the adversity he’s faced on the field himself this year,” said Zimmer, who asked Nebraska’s all-time total offense leader what his motivation was for jumping on the bus when others might not have felt like it. “I wanted to show my teammates and our fans that I’m still very much a part of this football team, and even though I’m not playing, I can still have a positive impact,” Martinez said, then added: “Our fans have been incredible to me and the program and for me to give back and be positive was the right thing to do.”
Martinez acknowledged that the last three months “have been rough for me, but despite all the injury setbacks, I have so much to be thankful for,” he said. “It was important for me to show my appreciation. We all know there’s no place like Nebraska.” Nebraska freshman punter Sam Foltz will vouch for that. “It was great going to Madonna and seeing people who aren’t as fortunate and being able to put a smile on their faces,” Foltz said. “It was especially meaningful to me because I saw a legendary head coach (Ken Fischer) who used to coach at my high school (Grand Island) and at Nebraska. He’s a great guy so just being able to see him and reminisce about old times was a good experience for both of us.”
Husker Fullback’s Brother Was a Madonna Patient
Senior fullback C.J. Zimmerer said visiting hospitals before Thanksgiving is one of the team’s favorite things to do, and Wednesday he was reminded about how personal that experience is for him. “Putting a smile on faces, signing autographs and talking with patients are one of the best things we do here at Nebraska,” he said. “It’s especially meaningful for me because I came out to Madonna and my little brother was here a couple summers ago after a car accident. It’s great what they do here for people and great for us to come out to experience it first-hand.”
Zimmerer understands why Martinez didn’t miss Wednesday’s opportunity. “Each year you do this, you get something different from people,” he said. “Every year, you also learn a little bit more about yourself and what life is really about. Being a 5th-year senior, I’m going to miss being able to do stuff like this as a Husker, but I’m definitely going to stay involved in the community.” Freshman linebacker Chris Weber also “loved” the experience. “It’s great to reach out to people who are really going through some difficult times in life… really, that’s what being a Husker is all about,” he said. Junior offensive lineman Mark Pelini experienced his fourth pre-Thanksgiving hospital visit. “I hope we were able to make a few people’s day better before the holiday,” he said. “I have so much to be thankful for in life and this experience always reminds me of that.”
24-Year-Old Heart Transplant Patient Goes to Games
Junior offensive lineman Chongo Kondolo, a transfer from Fresno City College, met a 24-year old patient who’s waiting on another heart transplant and isn’t sure if he’ll get one. The first heart he received eight years ago is failing, and he told Husker players that he often goes to their games to keep his mind off his plight. As the patient explained the obstacles he faces every day, he had to take a moment to catch his voice as tears swelled up in his eyes. “He was very appreciative that we took the time to visit,” Kondolo said. “We aren’t far from being 24-years-old ourselves. That could easily be me. It’s a great reminder how blessed we are … this visit was a great experience.
At St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, players visited patients in NICU, Pediatrics, Stroke, Cancer, Burn Unit, Newborn Delivery Room, Surgery, and Dialysis. Sophomore I-back Imani Cross enjoyed seeing the newborns and how happy their families were that Nebraska football players wanted to celebrate with them two days before playing a rival game on national television. “Thanksgiving is a time to be with family and friends, so to be able to start off their holiday by making their day brighter is an awesome feeling,” Cross said. “It’s always great to be able to show our supporters how much they mean to us.”
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