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She Was Blind, But Now Can Really See Huskers

When Nebraska Public Address Announcer Patrick Combs directs fan attention to the field early in the first quarter of Saturday’s NU-Baylor game, there undoubtedly will be an appreciatively warm reception for Trischa Zorn-Hudson.

The most successful athlete in the history of the Paralympic Games, Zorn-Hudson was legally blind for every Nebraska football game she attended as a student-athlete, but Saturday, miraculously, she will finally see her first Husker game with meaningful sight.

Born without irises in her eyes, Zorn Hudson elected to participate in an FDA study and became the first person in the United States with a congenital disability to receive artificial iris implants, significantly improving her sight and accelerating her vision to become a lawyer.

"Every day has been like Christmas since having those two surgeries," Zorn-Hudson said Friday. "Now I get to enjoy one of the greatest gifts ever – a chance to actually see a Nebraska football game."


Former Nebraska swimmer Trischa Zorn-Hudson has won 41 gold medals while competing in seven Paralympic Games.

The first visually impaired athlete to receive a Division I scholarship in any sport, Zorn-Hudson became an All-Big Eight and a three-time academic All-Big Eight swimmer at Nebraska before graduating in 1987. She has gone on to win a record 55 medals – 41 gold, nine silver and five bronze – in seven Paralympic Games, which are contested 10 days after the actual Olympic Games in the same cities.

Want an Autograph? Go to Husker Pavilion Saturday from 10-11 a.m.

Saturday, Zorn-Hudson will join two ex-Husker football players she used to "watch" when she went to college – Steve Taylor and Lawrence Pete – for an autograph session from 10-11 a.m. at Husker Pavilion. The Nebraska baseball team also will be there to sign autographs.

Zorn-Hudson can’t help but wonder what it’ll be like standing in front of 85,000 fans on a Memorial Stadium turf she once worshipped, but couldn’t see in any detail.

"I love Nebraska football," she said. "I love hearing the crowd. I love Tom Osborne. The football program helped put the fire under me to think about how much more I could accomplish if I put my mind to it. It helped me understand why you don’t put limits on yourself, why you go all-out all the time, why you set goals and why you take risks. For me, being born with a physical disability turned out to be a gift, and ending up at Nebraska was a blessing. It was a good fit when I came here and turned out to be the perfect place for me."

Bryan Hudson, a staunch Green Bay Packer fan, will join his wife of a year-and-a-half on the field Saturday. So will her 16- and 13-year-old stepdaughters, Emelie and Erika Hudson, who have dual citizenships in Sweden and the United States. They spent Friday buying Nebraska-branded apparel and making a sign that says "Swedes for Huskers" to take to the game.

"It was a great honor to carry the U.S. flag at the Closing Ceremony in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens before 100,000 fans," Zorn-Hudson said. "But this honor means even more to me because Nebraska is the place that prepared me for life. To represent your country is one thing, but to represent your university 21 years after graduating . . . I can’t think of anything more thrilling or humbling than being honored at a Nebraska football game."

Her Mom Was a Husker Fan Before Her Daughter Came to Lincoln

You have to understand that Trischa Zorn-Hudson is the daughter of the late Donna Zorn, who "loved Nebraska football before I ever came here," she said. "I don’t know of anyone who was a bigger Nebraska fan than my mom. She could tell you every player and every player’s number. She admired Coach Osborne, and when I was offered a scholarship with two of my Mission Viejo teammates, she was grateful I was going to a place that she knew would take good care of me. She knew, even then, that Nebraska was just as interested in making better people as it was in making better players."

Her late father, Mike Zorn, owned a boat chartering business in Newport Beach, Calif. "My mom was the one who told me I had to set goals and have a roadmap for my life," she said. "My dad was a very quiet man. Like Coach Osborne, he was a man of great character. He would be just as proud of this honor as my mom would be, but he would insist I remain humble. I don’t like being the center of attention any more than he did, but if it helps someone else, I’m willing to tell my story."

Former Nebraska Women’s Swimming Coach Ray Huppert remembers recruiting Californians Melody Barker, Michelle Brochner and Zorn-Hudson from Mission Viejo at the same time. "Despite her disability, Trischa came within hundredths of a second of making our U.S. Olympic team as a backstroker at age 16," he recalled. "She was so driven. She used the markings in the pool to guide her. She could see silhouettes, but not details. It’s remarkable what she accomplished, especially when you consider she had to count strokes just to compete. Our whole team really respected her. They really took her into the family when she came here."

Joking that hindsight is 20-20, Zorn-Hudson said, "There is no doubt in my mind that Nebraska was the place I was supposed to be. My parents would never let me put restrictions on myself. They always told me to focus on what I could do, not what I couldn’t do. I didn’t have any adaptive student services until I came here, and Nebraska opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me, academically and athletically. I was never more motivated to compete in the classroom than I was when I came here."

For the first time, Zorn-Hudson had help with note-takers and used large-print computer software. Teachers gave her extra time to read, study and excel. "It’s amazing what you can accomplish when a program enables you to be on a level playing field with others," she said. "From elementary through high school, I experienced a lot of auditory learning, but at Nebraska, I used the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to help me become more aggressive in the classroom."

Nebraska Game Will Be Like a Packer Game . . . Only Better

Sonia Wright Sherman, a sorority sister, and her family are hosting the honored swimmer’s family this weekend. "We’re all coming to the Baylor game," Zorn-Hudson said. "It’s my husband’s first game in Lincoln. I told him it’ll be like a Packer game, only better."

Former Husker running back and Super Bowl MVP Roger Craig is Zorn-Hudson’s all-time favorite player. "We followed him when he played for the San Francisco 49ers," she said."After I graduated from college (and even though she couldn’t see anything beyond a blurred field), I went to the ’94 Orange Bowl and was there for Coach Osborne’s first national championship. I was in Miami when his last team beat Tennessee and Peyton Manning, too. That was just as memorable."

Zorn-Hudson has competed in Seoul, Barcelona, Sydney and Athens. She went to Beijing last summer as one of six members of an honor delegation appointed by President Bush.

"I wear a Nebraska shirt or sweatshirt almost everywhere I go, and I can’t tell you how much of a conversation piece that becomes when I travel," she said. "You should have seen the interest when I ate at the Nebraska Café in Seoul, or the people who wanted to talk about Coach Osborne in Madrid. I don’t think Nebraska truly understands how well respected Coach Osborne is almost everywhere you go. He’s such a motivator, such an encourager and so humble. He makes everyone, including me, aspire to go beyond wherever you thought you could go."

An elementary education/special education major at Nebraska, Zorn-Hudson taught for 10 years in the Indianapolis Public Schools, where she developed the Inclusionary Model to help students integrate with regular classroom experience and advance the opportunities and experiences of children with special needs.

Teaching and Law All About Helping People Who Need It

"My grandma was a teacher and wanted me to teach, too," she said. "I love teaching and I do miss the kids, but after 10 years, I was ready to do something different. I was 38 years old when I decided it was time to do what I always wanted to do since I was little, but didn’t think I’d ever have the chance – go to law school."

She earned her Juris Doctor degree as an honor student from the Indiana University School of Law in 2005. Now 44, Zorn-Hudson works for the Indiana Pro Bono Commission in Indianapolis.

The timing of law school coincided nicely with her dramatically improved eyesight. "Just a few years ago, I’d never even seen a star," she said. "Now, when I look up in the sky, I can see some of the bigger stars. It’s amazing."

No more amazing, though, than Zorn-Hudson being a star herself and having no idea that she is one.

"People ask me why I wanted to go into non-profit work, and I tell them because I want to affect people’s lives and help those who really need my services," she said. "Money can’t begin to pay for what I’m able to help people accomplish. I’m very fortunate. I was brought up in a service-oriented family. Growing up, we would make food and take it to orphanages in Mexico.

"I’ve always had a passion to affect people’s lives in a positive way and to show them that anything’s possible," she said. "I’m so grateful for what I have, and I never worry about what I don’t have. I’m also very grateful to have graduated from the University of Nebraska. There is no place like it . . . anywhere."


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