Astronaut and Wounded Soldier Ready to Wear Red and Be Loud – Are You?
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Here's an interesting question. Among Husker fans that officially registered for the Red Out Around the World celebration and the hundreds of thousands who are expected to participate in the event Saturday, do you have anyone in mind who's truly unique?
Think about all those locked-in, red-out, died-in-the-wool Cornhusker fans around the world. Whether they're in Iceland or Imperial, surely you know someone whose story is worth sharing.
This is not a trick question nor is it intended for debate. The answer to truly unique and certainly elite is Clayton Anderson, who will be in Dan (Larry the Cable Guy) and Cara Whitney's suite Saturday and waving to an NCAA record 308th consecutive sellout crowd during pre-game introduction ceremonies.
Leave it to an astronaut to fly Nebraska's colors higher than anyone else ever imagined.
"I am honored to be a part of Red Out Around the World," Anderson said, knowing full well that he may be the only person who can actually say he had a true "Red Out Around the World" experience.
You might remember Anderson orbiting the Earth as a member of the 15th Expedition to the International Space Station and then later, with STS-131, giving Anderson that rare opportunity to walk in space.
Who Else Watched Big Red 215 Miles Above Earth?
"I believe I am the only person to have ever watched live Husker football games while soaring in orbit some 215 miles above the Earth's surface," Anderson said.
So "Go Big Red" to everyone who is bracing to connect with their beloved Huskers Saturday and especially to Ronald Stark, who lives in Palm Coast, Fla.
A University of Nebraska-Kearney graduate and a lifelong Husker fan, Stark has watched the last two space shuttle launches from his front door, so he's well aware of Anderson and his connection to everything red.
Stark knows that Anderson held a red cap with a white N on it while flying in space, and he knows that the Ashland, Neb., native carried into orbit a pair of gloves worn by Curtis Tomasevicz, a former Husker walk-on football player who won an Olympic bobsledding gold medal last winter.
Stark even knows that Anderson applied to NASA for 14 straight years to be an astronaut and was turned down 14 straight times before he was finally accepted on his 15th and final request.
The perseverance of a walk-on like Tomasevicz or an astronaut like Anderson, though, has nothing on the Ronald Stark Story. His is another script full of drama and trauma, and in an amazing way, his love for Nebraska football became an important part of his motivation to live.
On His Fourth Rotation, He Almost Lost His Life
On Sept. 3, 2007, on his fourth rotation to Iraq, Stark suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) while on mounted patrol. His heart stopped in flight, and he was resuscitated. Three days later, after he had been evacuated to Germany, Stark regained consciousness.
He went on to spend 19 days in Ward 68 at the Walter Reed Medical Center, the U.S. Army's flagship medical facility in Washington, D.C., where Stark, a Kearney native, was surrounded by his family, including his wife Katie, daughter Elizabeth and sons Douglas and Anthony.
"My right side was weak and unresponsive," Stark said. "I had to learn to walk, talk and take care of myself again," Stark said.
On Oct. 31 that same year, he was sent back to Fort Stewart, Ga., to become part of the new Wounded Warrior Transition Battalion, spending the next 26 months in physical, speech, occupational, balance and TBI therapies.
Then he had to face the Disability Evaluation System in the pilot program, and the result was not surprising - 90 percent disability from the Army, coupled with permanent retirement. He also received a 100 percent disability from the Veterans Administration, so eight months ago, Stark's retirement from the military was total and permanent.
"I take life one day at a time," he said. "Some days are good, others not so good. But I enjoy what I have to the fullest."
His Motivation: Doing Normal Family Things
Stark missed a lot while defending his country. "Now I intend to spend as much time as I can with my family," he said. "They're my motivation, and I want to do normal things with them for as long as I can."
Last week, for instance, Stark took both of his sons to a Cub Scout Cuberee. "I will never take anything like that for granted," he said, adding that the same principles apply to the family's passion for Big Red football and especially Saturday when the Starks gather around their TV at home to watch the Huskers battle Texas on either ABC or ESPN.
Like countless others, "We will all be wearing red in our house, and we will be loud cheering the Huskers on in our own living room," Stark said. "I grew up listening to the Huskers on the radio. For us, it seemed like watching the Orange Bowl on New Year's was almost an annual event."
No wonder Stark felt like every other young boy growing up and living the good life in Nebraska. "I wanted to attend the University of Nebraska and play on Saturdays," he said.
But when he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and instead continued to listen to the Huskers on Armed Forces Radio. "My mother sent me a Husker flag," he said, "and it was displayed prominently everywhere I went."
When Stark was in Korea, he rigged an AM receiver and speakers to listen to the 1989 Orange Bowl, a 23-3 Husker loss to Florida State.
Just Like His Huskers, Stark Never Lost Heart
Nebraska's disappointments became his disappointments, but like the Huskers, he never, ever, ever, lost heart, even when he watched Georgia Tech beat the Huskers while at a USO in Saudi Arabia. He knew it was only a matter time when Nebraska would reign again over the college football world.
When Stark attended Colby Community College in Kansas in 1992, "I was finally fortunate enough to watch or listen to almost every game," he said. "In 1994, when I graduated from junior college and got married, I enrolled at UNK, and got to follow the comeback and Coach Osborne's first national title."
A year later, he saw his first Husker game - a 57-0 win over Missouri in Lincoln. "That was my wife's baptism to Husker Nation," he said, "and she became just as hooked on it as I am. My oldest son was born that year, and whenever Nebraska scored, he would raise his arms signaling a touchdown. Needless to say, that was 1995, so he raised his arms a lot that year. We also wore out a lot of T-shirts."
Stark considers the 1997 national championship his favorite because Tom Osborne could leave the game the way a man of his stature should leave it - at the very top.
In 2002, Stark enlisted in the Army and went to Fort Stewart. The next January, he was in Kuwait for yet another invasion of Iraq.
In the ensuing years, "being in SEC country, it was nearly impossible to watch a Husker game unless it was nationally televised," Stark said. "I'd keep track of everything on Huskers.com and listen to games on my computer."
In Operation Iraqi Freedom III, he was so into Nebraska football that he would adjust his patrol schedule around Husker game broadcasts.
His Comeback Matched the Huskers' Timing
In the fall of 2007, when Stark came dangerously close to losing his life, he had to rebuild his life one day at a time.
A year later, Stark celebrated his climb back in a way he will never forget, and Nebraska football's dramatic rebound in the same timeframe was a big part of his reward. As a Christmas present, his wife purchased tickets and tailgate passes for the entire family, so they could all watch the Huskers beat Clemson in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2009, in Jacksonville.
"We had an absolute blast that day," Stark said.
Check out the photo at the top of this column. Stark is the one wearing the red sweatshirt, the red hair and the sunglasses he says are needed because Nebraska's future is so bright in its last year in the Big 12 that it can't help but pave the way into Big Ten prosperity. His wife, Katie, is holding daughter Elizabeth. Son Douglas is wearing the corncob hat, and son Anthony is trying to figure out why everyone is so happy.
"As someone who has been around the world, I understand the importance of Red Out Around the World," Stark said. "I've had the opportunity to view Husker games from the Far East to the Middle East and back here at home. And I just want to thank Nebraska and Huskers.com for giving me a piece of home no matter where I was."
Stark is confident that other Husker fans around the world feel the same way.
So please take a few minutes and tell us your own story about why Red Out Around the World is important to you.
Or, perhaps, share a story about someone like Ronald Stark, who has used passion and perseverance - the two best traits in his favorite team - to overcome every challenge that life has thrown his way.
Voices from Husker Fans Around the World
Hello, Hello, Hello from two BIG RED fans in Yangshuo, China!! We're signing in on the World Wide Red Out!! We teach English in China, and it is a great fun to have all of our students enthusiastically chanting "GO BIG RED"!! They do it with great enthusiasm, beautiful smiles, understanding and the true Nebraska spirit!! So add 28 Chinese students to the list of BIG RED fans around the world! GO BIG RED and beat Texas. Darrell and Linda Scott, Yangshuo, China
We have our red on for the red out today as we prepare to watch the game via internet ESPN. Go Huskers!! Bob and Mary Bolton, Rudme, Denmark
I'm another soldier who has just come home from Iraq, whereI would stay up at night while I was deployed last fall to watch Nebraska football. I was the only one in my work area that would hang a Husker flag for all to see. I grew up in North Platte and have family in both Fairbury and Lincoln, so it's nothing but Husker football. In fact, down here at Fort Bliss, I have my Blackshirts flag hanging for all to see. All I gotta say is GO BIG RED!!! SPC Megan Adams, Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas
Yes, Red Out Day is special. In 1980 I was A-rank Trumpet in the "Pride of all Nebraska" UNL marching band. I didn't realize the significance of the assignment until just now. We hear pre-game in our sleep still today, 30 years later. What a blessing, and what fun. The family will someday understand. Randy Carlson, Dixon, Illinois
My entire family, including my husband, daughter and two sons (one is an Iraq war veteran) and their families will be watching from Wyoming, where there is a sea of red. GO BIG RED!!!! Cheryl Nelson, Sheridan, Wyoming
We are Big Red fans reporting in from Colorado for the Red Out. GO BIG RED!! John and Marjory Burton, Littleton, Colorado
On Sept. 27, 1992, Bruce Moore, a friend of mine and a walk-on, started against Arizona State. I lived in Colorado at the time and decided to come home that weekend and watch him play. It was awesome. He had an interception return (54 yards) for a touchdown, and I was so happy for him. On the drive back to Colorado the next day, I rolled my car five times and broke my neck, my cheek and my jaw bones. I was paralyzed for three months from the chin down. The only thing I looked forward to was Nebraska football. On Saturdays, they would give me earphones to wear. The worst day was the loss to Iowa State, and the best day was the whooping we put on Colorado on Halloween. I will admit that hospital workers threatened to take my earphones away after the Iowa State game, but I got so upset, they changed their minds. I was able to regain full mobility, and my doctors told me that my recovery must have been because of Nebraska football. They thought that saved me and said they'd never witnessed such love for one team. Nebraska football gave me something to look forward to every week, so I can relate to Ronald Stark's difficult recovery. I knew that if I didn't do my therapy, there would be no earphones on game day. For me, every game day is Red Out Around the World Day, but I'm still happy that everyone is coming together for this one. It's important to Big Red fans everywhere. Chet Reed, York, Nebraska
We are season ticket holders and split time between Chicago and Palm Coast, Fla. I was surprised when I read your piece about Ron Stark and found out he also lives in Palm Coast. We went to the same Gator Bowl game, and perhaps we crossed paths with Ron at the game. When we return to Palm Coast in mid-November, we will be sure to give Ron a phone call and chat about Husker football. GBR! Bruce and Rosie Brown, Chicago, Illinois
I'm a pastor from Hawaii who grew up listening to Nebraska football in the Trumbull/Hastings area. I loved the N-Sider on Dan Hutchison in Brazil, and the one about Tommie Frazier. I'm en route to Israel and Jordan, taking a group from my church on a Holy Land Trip and to minister to impoverished Iraqi refugees and Palestinians in Jordan. On Saturday, Oct. 16, I will be participating in the Red Out in Amman, Jordan, so I'll be up in the middle of the night listening over the Internet on Huskers.com. Go Big Red. Aloha, Ron Arnold, Honolulu, Hawaii
I have been a die-hard Husker since the day I was born. I watched the Huskers every Saturday while I was growing up, and in my three deployments, I have not missed a Nebraska football game, thanks to Huskers.com. That's why I serve my country, so I can help keep the wonderful Sea of Red safe. I will be wearing red and cheering my Huskers to victory Saturday against Texas and every Saturday after that. And you can plan on me not missing a game in that stadium once I get home to Nebraska. SGT Jeremy Milliman, Basra, Iraq
I have been a fan of the Huskers since I met my wife 21 years ago, and she converted me from being a Penn State fan. I will be wearing red and cheering on the Huskers from this part of the world. Troy Wilt, U.S. Army, Bagram, Afghanistan
I'll be wearing my RED in Uganda, Africa, on October 16...LOUD AND PROUD! Go Big Red! Brian Ballweg, Entebbe, Uganda, 1999 and 2003 UNL alumni
I've traveled all around the world for work, and the only way I can keep tabs on the game is by listening to Husker Game Day online. It is free again this year, and it works. Streaming video or complicated web players don't work on slow rural networks. The truly remote red fans use Husker Radio! Just wish I could I could find out who the other people are in my countries! Go Big Red! Luke Miller, Tripoli, Libya
Count me among those coming together for Red Out Around the World on October 16, joining everyone else to wear red, be loud and be proud. Hank Williams, Springfield, Missouri
I don't have an amazing story like Ronald Stark but will still give my two cents on why the Red Out is important to me. I am 28 years old and grew up in Lincoln. I attended UNL and not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to take some time off school after four years. I took a position with a retail company that has taken me from Omaha to Lincoln to Boise and now Edmonton. I have never been so proud to be a Husker since leaving the state. Through all of these moves and certain trying times, I have figured out my passion in life, and that's Nebraska football. I love sports, and I find it fascinating that hundreds of employees here in Canada are now able to talk Nebraska football with me. My goal is to go back to school, major in Sports Management and eventually become a part of what I love most ... Nebraska Athletics! GBR! John Vigna, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Go Huskers and watch out Ohio State, Oregon, Boise and TCU. We are back and ready to show college football the tradition of good old Nebraska football. I grew up in Eustis, Nebraska, and have always been a huge Husker fan. I have spent the past 15 years here in a sea of Crimson Tide and War Eagle fans and have continued to love my Huskers through thick and thin. I am so happy times are good again, and everyone is celebrating a Red Out Around the World. Dana Proctor, Daphne, Alabama
GO BIG RED for the Red Out Around the World from New England. I've been a fan here since the '70s and looking to move to Nebraska in a year or two. Can't wait to see the Huskers in the Big Ten. Leo Hallgren, Jaffrey, New Hampshire
The Northern Nevadans for Nebraska (NN4N) are proud to announce a new watch site to our chapter for the Red Out Around the World game against Texas - Archie's in Reno. On Saturday, we will be celebrating with Husker fans everywhere and generating money for our annual scholarship fund. Nate Bennett, Reno, Nevada
Have lived in various places around the U.S. and was great to attend alumni club tail gate parties. We are now living in Nebraska again. Worked in South Korea for a short stint and was home sick, but able to listen to a Nebraska games live via the internet. It was awesome to get that on the other side of the world in real time. Sure everyone feels the same way this weekend. From the Bohemian Alps of Nebraska, Go Big RED on Red Out Day! Jan Bostelman, Brainard, Nebraska
Red Out Around the World is a great idea. As a native transplant from Omaha years ago to Pennsylvania, we will be wearing red and supporting the cause. Marty Smith, Pennsburg, Pennsylvania
Currently deployed here and will be following the Huskers for Red Out Around the World. Born and raised in Lincoln. Always makes me proud of home to watch the Sea of Red. SPC Nicholas Olsen, Kandahar, Afghanistan
We live in Texas but are Lifetime Nebraska Alumni Memebers! We fly our Nebraska flag every game day, wear our red Nebraska shirts, and have one of the few personalized Texas license plates for Nebraska that is "TX4GBR"! These have just been released by the Texas Motor Vehicle Licensing Department. For Red Out Around the World, we will be yelling GO BIG RED from very loudly!!! Mike and Betty Primeaux, Midland, Texas
It is going to be a great day in Texas when my Cornhuskers and their 11-row harvesting machine shred Bevo in Lincoln. Mark Arneson, Dallas, Texas
I am 650 miles south of the border and am hoping to find a live stream of the Nebraska-Texas game on ESPN. If not, I will listen to the free live radio feed on Huskers.com. Alvin Weiss, Cuernavaca, Mexico
Talk about the power of red around the world. In the early 1990s, just after the first Gulf War, a friend and I took a tour of Greece and the Greek Islands. I took a couple of red Nebraska tees to wear, and I had a young man stop me on the island of Santorini and tell me he had attended the University of Nebraska and loved the Big Red. He said he would be returning to the University in the fall to continue his studies and that it was the best school anywhere with the best football team. Linda Wiegert, Grand Island, Nebraska
I got a text message from my daughter-in-law this morning to make sure I had on Husker Red or I was out of the family. I have the Husker flag flying in my front yard, and I have on my Husker Red. GO BIG RED Gene Saatmann, Forest City, Iowa
Nebraska football is ALL about men like Clayton Anderson, Curtis Tomasevicz and Ronald Stark, and that is why RED OUT AROUND THE WORLD will be such a huge success! No Nebraska State, no NFL team in Omaha or Lincoln, just our beloved Cornhuskers! Dr. Tom Osborne and Bo Pelini have brought back our cherished traditions and proved that we are back in more ways than one! Looking forward to RED OUT AROUND THE WORLD and as always....GO BIG RED!!! Tom Gunlicks, Canton, South Dakota