Heart & Soul winners, from left: C.J. Zimmerer, Sunny Russell, Amanda Burau, Caleb Kolb.
Photo by Nate Olsen/Nebraska Communications

Husker Heroes Put the Spotlight on the Kids

By NU Athletic Communications
 Randy York's N-Sider\

If you can’t fully define what Nebraska Life Skills is all about, you should have joined more than 300 people Monday at the Champions Club across the street from Memorial Stadium. Nebraska’s 2014 Hero Leadership Breakfast defined itself in a simple yet compelling way…again. More than 200 Husker student-athletes were recognized for the way they’ve reached out and touched others throughout the year, and from start to finish, it was obvious who the real heroes were in the banquet room – the kids who were featured in a series of uplifting videos, kids who joined the honorees in the Nebraska Alumni facility, not to mention the15 kids who formed the accompanying choir for the morning’s most stirring performance – Nebraska Athletics’ employee Ruth Hood singing the song Josh Groban made famous…You Raise Me Up.

Ruth Hood sang "You Raise Me Up" and Unsung Hero Award winner Nate Wong played the guitar.

Revelle: Hero-Like Event Would Be Helpful Year-Round

Wish Husker Nation could have been inside that room. You would have seen and experienced in a meaningfully emotional way why Nebraska student-athletes put their hearts and their souls above their own performances and awards. “I cry myself through this whole thing every year, not just today,” said Nebraska Head Softball Coach Rhonda Revelle. “This banquet needs to happen in September, October, November and December,” she said. “It needs to happen every month because it brings perspective of being ‘other-centered’ and not self-absorbed. Anytime we focus on other people and do what’s good for them, then everything else finds a way. That’s what I think this morning does for both the insiders and everybody else who was here.” That amen-like head nod in the background is the person standing next to Revelle – Nebraska Head Baseball Coach Darin Erstad. “I can’t say anything that would add any more than what she just said. That’s perfect right there…well said Rhonda,” Erstad said.

I-back Imani Cross, right, gets to hold a newborn in Husker Heroes' holiday visit to a Lincoln hospital.

Cross: Husker Heroes Program Makes Nebraska Special

Imani Cross, the leading rusher in Nebraska’s nationally televised Spring Game last Saturday, was every bit as psychologically and spirituality connected to the Hero experience as Revelle. “It puts a lot of things in perspective,” he said. “I’m really grateful to be in an athletic program where we put an emphasis on doing things in the community, and honestly, that’s something I want to get better at every day as the year goes on. I think it’s really special what all of us do at Nebraska.”

Without being prodded, Cross was still hearing the lyrics that resonated throughout the room in You Raise Me Up before leaving the Champions Club for morning class. “Those kids who sang with Ruth, they lifted me up; they inspired me in a big way,” he said. “Everything we’re doing in some way is to help others. It shows me that adversity is a test and it depends on your heart and your will to get through that test. When I see kids and people get through what they’re getting through, it really motivates me. This morning was a big deal. It was a HUGE deal because it’s what makes life so special. It’s not just about Saturdays; it’s about every day and doing whatever you can to make an impact for someone else.”

Associate AD Keith Zimmer presents a Heart & Soul Award to Academic All-American C.J. Zimmerer.

Zimmer Thanks Student-Athletes for Nurturing, Mentoring

Keith Zimmer, who has directed Nebraska’s nationally prominent Life Skills program for more than a quarter century, sees and hears those inspired words almost every day he walks in the door. He knows without a doubt how Nebraska student-athletes and their coaches, parents, faculty and staff members are infused with the energy to help, encourage and inspire others. Knowing that those qualities are inherent in the Nebraska Athletics’ DNA, he left two bracelets in front of each seat. “Thank you for all of your nurturing and mentoring,” Zimmer said. “Thank you for being a difference maker and for inspiring others to follow your lead. Today is the day that we are all ONE. Wear one of those bracelets yourself to remember what we do, and give the other one to someone else who can join us in helping others who need help.”

Somehow, Zimmer’s remarks seemed like the payoff pitch following a song sung by a retired pastor’s wife with guitar help from Nebraska twin golfers Aaron Wong and Nate Wong, plus a 15-student backup choir from Eastridge Elementary School. Each member of the choir has been mentored throughout this past year by a Nebraska student-athlete from 14 different Husker sports programs. They complemented and gracefully lifted up the words from Hood, who works every day at Nebraska’s Training Table, where young women and men call Ruth by her first name.

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up... To more than I can be.

Wendy Lundeen thanked Nebraska for inspiring her grandsons, Dillon Peters, 11, and Tyler Peters, 8.

This Grandmother Keeps Smiling, Hugging, Loving

No one enjoyed listening to that song more than Wendy Lundeen, a grandmother sitting next to me, and two of her grandsons, whose wheelchairs were parked in the next two slots at the table. Dillon Peters, 11, looked straight up at us when the entire room gave Hood a standing ovation. Dillon didn’t say a word, but he was smiling and his eyes lit up and said something – I’m standing up, too; you just can’t see me standing. Dillon’s 8-year-old brother, Tyler Peters, was able to stand up in front of his wheel chair. Both suffer from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and both know the disease is terminal. When Monday morning’s program ended, Dillon looked at his grandmother with a big smile and said: “I don’t want this to end.” She smiled, patted him on the back, hugged him and told him she loved him.

Tyler Peters (arms crossed) and big brother Dillon Peters became a big part of the Husker wrestling family.

Kolb, Teammates Treated Dillon, Tyler like Brothers

Nebraska Wrestler Caleb Kolb, one of four Heart & Soul recipients at the breakfast, is high on life, high on energy and high on supporting the Omaha-based Peters family. The close-knit brothers, their mom, stepdad and grandparents love Kolb because he’s as enthusiastic and positive interacting with them as he is when he wrestles. Kolb and his fellow Husker wrestlers love this family because, well, let’s be honest – they lift up Nebraska Wrestling like Nebraska Wrestling lifts them up. Through Kolb and his teammates, two brothers in wheelchairs can imagine standing on mountains because they can close their eyes and dream about it.

That’s another part of the Life Skills definition that you just can’t describe. One of the red rubber bracelets that socially conscious Life Skills student-athletes wear on their wrists says: Dream More…Do More…Become More, and you can track what that means back to Imani Cross, who made a vow to himself Monday morning to do precisely that, beginning this week, not this summer. “Nebraska is such a neat place,” Kolb told the people he was having breakfast with on Monday. “I got a lot more out of athletics than just being on TV or competing on the mat. Ultimately, the relationships we’ve built here are what really matter in life, more than anything else. My wrestling career is over, but I’ll always remember my teammates and my coaches for the rest of my life. I’ll remember Dillon and Tyler and their family for the rest of my life, too. It’s all about relationships. They’re important.”

Strong families are important, too, and that’s one of the reasons Caleb Kolb has been such a difference-maker at Nebraska. His inner strength and commitment to others relate directly to his own family, a true thrust that helped inspire him to volunteer more than 400 hours of his precious time so he could be a catalyst for his wrestling team’s back-to-back Life Skills Awards of Excellence. Zimmer believes that kind of commitment is a reflection of Kolb’s parents, Jon and Deborah Kolb, who live in Grobe City, Pa. Caleb’s parents have attended every wrestling match in which Caleb has competed at Nebraska, whether the match was at home or away. They also come to Lincoln for every academic and life skills-related event, proving how big picture-focused they are on the overall Nebraska student-athlete experience. Did we mention how important loyalty is to Caleb’s dad, a former Oklahoma State offensive lineman who never started an NFL game, but played in 177 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers over 13 seasons? Jon Kolb owns four Super Bowl Championship rings, and I’d be willing to bet that he’s the one who taught Caleb that relationships always supersede any individual or team accomplishment.

Shawn Eichorst, Jordan Wilson and Stacey Burling helped honor Nate Wong as Unsung Hero of the Year.

Husker Heart & Soul Winners Reach Out and Touch

Three Husker student-athletes join Kolb as winners of the prestigious Heart & Soul Award, presented by Life Skills. Other winners are Bowling’s Amanda Burau, Rifle’s Sunny Russell, and Football’s C.J. Zimmerer. Burau was the team captain for a National Championship team. She was committed to TeamMates and the same Boys and Girls Club that Kolb embraced and volunteered at People’s City Mission Homeless Prevention Center. Russell is the current president of Nebraska’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She is a leader in every sense of the word and loves being a difference-maker in a number of programs and activities that develop character, perspective and the kind of leadership that helped her earn a rare opportunity – a full-time internship position at the NCAA Headquarters in Indianapolis this summer

Zimmerer has been a Life Skills superstar, even though he’s as humble and genuine as they come. C.J. was a member of the AFCA Good Works Team for his exceptional commitment to service. He won a Maxwell Rare Disease National Champion Award for his efforts in bringing worldwide exposure to pediatric brain cancer. He was Nebraska’s first president for Uplifting Athletes and a prime contributor to Team Jack, yet downplays all national honors. “I know and understand that a smile, a hug and simply being there for someone is important,” he said. “It’s the little things that are special – the relationships you form, the people you meet and the memories you make simply by doing a little more. I learned to communicate and to love and not judge. I tried to put myself in someone else’s shoes and tried to let them walk in mine for the moment.”

The parents and brother of Nebraska Make-a-Wish recipient Malique Anderson get a framed memento.

6,000 Hours + 220 Projects = 25,000 Impacted People 

Throughout the past year, Nebraska has continued its relentless power to create a positive impact. At Nebraska, the core always stretched beyond winning. Nebraska student-athletes become difference-makers through genuine, unselfish service and a proven commitment to make the world a better place. Over the past academic year, Husker Heroes have dedicated roughly 6,000 hours to more than 220 service projects that have directly had an impact on more than 25,000 individuals. One recipient of Nebraska’s love was Malique (Ari) Anderson, who was diagnosed with Leukemia. His Make-A-Wish became a skybox and red-carpet treatment at the Nebraska-UCLA football game. He went from his hospital room to a limousine that took him to Memorial Stadium, where he got a tour and a chance to meet coaches, student-athletes and the ESPN. Two months later, the 18-year-old died. His mom and dad were at the Heroes Breakfast Monday to watch a video of his experience and to thank Nebraska’s Life Skills Department for making their late son feel like a part of the Big Red family.

Nebraska receiver Sam Burtch leads Uplifting Athletes and still finds time to visit Madonna Rehabilitation.

35 Nebraska Student-Athletes Earn Hero Leadership Awards

Thirty-five Nebraska Student-Athletes earned 2013-14 Hero Leadership Awards. Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst presented the individual awards Monday morning. The honorees, listed alphabetically, includes: Ameer Abdullah, Football; Brena Andrews, Track & Field; Samantha Areman, Soccer; Sam Burtch, Football; Court Clark, Tennis; Hannah Dittmar, Soccer; Tatum Edwards, Softball; Taylor Edwards, Softball; Sarah Firestone, Track & Field; Jake Griess, Track & Field; Shannon Guy, Swimming & Diving; Devandrew Johnson, Track & Field; Dwayne Johnson, Football; Sarah Larson, Cross Country; Maggy Lehmicke, Tennis; Courtney Love, Football; Tanner Lubach, Baseball; Maggie Malone, Track & Field; Payton Michaud, Swimming & Diving; Sadie Murren, Basketball; Graham Nabity, Football; Ian Ousley, Wrestling; Brent Qvale, Football; Trevor Roach, Football; Amber Rolfzen , Volleyball; Kadie Rolfzen, Volleyball; Andrea Ruiz, Bowling; Cody Rush, Track & Field; Jamie Schleppenbach, Gymnastics; Eric Schryver, Gymnastics; Shavon Shields, Basketball; Morgan Smejkal, Golf; Trevor Vidlak, Cross Country; Aaron Wong, Golf; Chad Wright, Track & Field.

First Tom Osborne Citizenship Team Launches New Era

Last but far from least, Nebraska announced 215 inaugural members of the first-ever Tom Osborne Citizenship Team. The newly created reward pays tribute to Nebraska’s legendary head football coach and athletic director. Osborne and his wife, Nancy, co-founded the TeamMates Mentoring Program. Under Osborne’s leadership, the Nebraska Life Skills Program was among the first institutions nationwide to implement a comprehensive approach to Life Skills. The design of the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team Medallion is symbolic of five areas the NCAA deems important – personal development, career development, academic support, service/leadership, and athletics. Osborne citizenship winners must complete a minimum of six new service projects, and/or mentor in the academic calendar year and be in both good academic and athletic standing. “When you think about the level of commitment these student-athletes take on in addition to their academic and athletic pursuits, you appreciate what it takes,” Eichorst said.

Osborne communicated to the first Tom Osborne Citizenship Team via video. “I’m in Europe, and we’re going down the Rhine River, but my wife won’t let me fish in it,” he told the honorees. They laughed, of course, knowing that if Osborne had been able to attend the event, he would have enjoyed seeing the kids who benefit from Nebraska’s heart and soul champions. Make sure you check out the names of dedicated student-athletes equipped with a servant's heart and a Husker's soul. This is, after all, the first official Nebraska class pf difference-makers for decades to come. They will continue to raise up everybody that they possibly can.

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