Phil Cahoy Jr.ís Greatest Legacy: Inspired Children
Randy York’s N-Sider
Official Blog of the Huskers
Among the seven student-athletes who will be enshrined into the 2016 University of Nebraska Athletic Hall of Fame Friday evening, 1980 Olympic gymnast Phil Cahoy Jr. has carved out a bio that is as powerful as anyone’s.
At Nebraska, Cahoy was a four-time individual national gymnastics champion and a 10-time All-American. He was also a dynamic driving force that helped the Huskers win four consecutive NCAA National Team Championships.
A longtime surgeon in Grand Island, Neb., Cahoy respects the past and embraces the future, but his greatest legacy was built after marrying his wife, Diana. In their collective minds, leaving a legacy is based on having children with happy memories and precious moments that reflect their faith, love and character.
“Of everything I’ve done athletically and academically, nothing compares to seeing your children grow and follow your advice and succeed in life,” Cahoy said.
Like Their Parents, Cahoys’ Daughter, Three Sons Have Great Expectations
In this case, the evidence is inherent in the Cahoy family’s highly motivated children.
Daughter Courtney graduated with a 3.75 grade-point average in Bio-Systems Engineering and is headed to medical school next year. Already accepted in Missouri, she’s trying one more time to qualify at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Son Steven is a senior Bio-Systems Engineering major at UNL. He’s focused on dentistry or optometry at the University of Nebraska. Steven didn’t start pole vaulting until his junior year in high school and has “gutted out” back injuries at Nebraska.
Son Kevin is a redshirt freshman at UNL and is also a pole vaulter on the track team. The 2015 Omaha World Herald High School Athlete of the Year chose track over the “N” for the football team as a safety or playing centerfield on the baseball team. Kevin is majoring in Biology and wants to enter the health field, too.
Youngest son Carson is a freshman at Grand Island Senior High and, like Steven, is the starting quarterback for the freshmen team. As an eighth-grader, Carson won the Middle School State Championship last May with a 12-8 jump in the pole vault.
Not surprisingly, Phil Jr. hopes Carson will follow his dad’s and brothers’ path to compete with “Nebraska” on his uniform someday.
A Proud and Loyal Husker Parent’s Explanation: I Love to See My Kids at UNL
Anyone reading this can recognize a proud and loyal parent. “I love to see my kids at UNL,” said Cahoy, who was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame 15 years ago.
Joining the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame “is personally one of the greatest honors that I can imagine because I bleed scarlet-and-cream and our family name is forever linked to Husker Athletics," said Cahoy, pictured at the apex of the 1983 national title team above.
Born and raised in South Omaha, Cahoy Jr. went to UNL, then UNMC in Omaha. He practices Orthopedic Sports Medicine in Grand Island and travels extensively throughout the state.
While scanning the state, “I’ve found that we have it all right here,” Cahoy said. “I’ve always known There is No Place Like Nebraska and have had no reason to doubt it.”
Back in the early 1980s, when Cahoy competed and attended classes at UNL, “we had the top gymnasts in the country,” he said. “Every practice was competing against the best on a daily basis. Everybody was talented so we tried to outwork each other.”
Talk about naturally breeding success. Using an old gymnastics pun, Cahoy said the academic side of the athletic department “bent over backwards to help us achieve what we strived for in the classroom because, back then, they truly knew that we had to become professionals in something other than sports.”
Four Straight NCAA Team Titles Meant Much More Than Individual Titles
Winning four NCAA team championships with lifelong friends “was unbelievable and the thing that I’m most proud of athletically,” Cahoy said. “I felt the same way finishing five years of a mentally and physically challenging Orthopedic residency.”
The University of Nebraska taught Cahoy that hard work, organization and reliability are the keys to success and he tries to pass on that thought to anyone willing to listen.
No one knows how hard Cahoy worked more than 2015 Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Jim Hartung, a two-time Olympian, 1984 Olympic gold medalist, 22-time All-American and 7-time NCAA event champion.
Hartung was another Omaha South graduate who trained under Phil Cahoy Sr., Phil’s father. "From a very young age, Phillip had major goals in his life,” Hartung said. “One of them was to be a great gymnast, and the other was to be a great doctor.”
He excelled at the highest levels in both endeavors, even though gymnastics didn't come easy for him. “Parts of it did, so did certain events, but other events were difficult for him because of how tall he was,” Hartung said. “Given his size, he had to work extra hard on those events.”
Hartung on Cahoy: I've Never Been Around Anybody with That Much Discipline
The constant grind of gymnastics practices and academic effort left little time for other things. “Phil managed to do other things, but he set his mind on a task and I've never seen anyone like him,” Hartung said. “I've never been around anybody with that much discipline at that young of an age. He knew what he wanted and he went for it."
Still an assistant coach at Nebraska, Hartung sees Cahoy from time to time. “I see his dad more often,” he said. “When Phillip comes to Lincoln to watch his kids in the pole vault, they'll come up every now and then, but he's a very busy guy."
Hartung believes the Cahoy family’s success reflects Phil Jr.’s will to succeed: "I'm sure he's instilled that pursuit of perfection in his kids,” Hartung said. “They're pretty strong and fast, and I'm sure he had a lot to do with his kids’ success."
Hartung cherishes the thought of Cahoy’s enshrinement the year after his own. “Phillip and I did everything together growing up,” Hartung said. “We started at Sokol down on 13th and Martha about the same time at a very young age.”
Hartung was six years old and Cahoy was five. They went to high school and were on the same team together. The same applied to their club team. “We went to college together, all the way to the World Championships together and the Olympics together,” Hartung said. “I'm glad to see my life-long teammate be honored in this way because I know how much it meant to me last year.”
Chmelka Calls Cahoy the Most Disciplined, Determined Person He Knows
In five straight years, Nebraska won five consecutive national championships with Hartung a member of the first four and Cahoy a member of the last four.
Nebraska Men’s Gymnastics Coach Chuck Chmelka calls Phil Cahoy Jr. “the most disciplined and determined person I know. His work ethic is to be applauded. I wish every one of my guys worked like Phil Cahoy.”
That was true even when Cahoy was a kid. “Phil definitely was the hardest worker in Sokol, hands down, and it paid off for him,” Chmelka said. “It went into his schooling and he carried it into his med school and truthfully, he's carrying it now into his life.”
Chmelka goes hunting with Cahoy once a year “and we really catch up on a lot of things,” he said. “Phil has a lot of irons in the fire. He's a busy, busy man. He loves it though. That's his life. That's what he does. That's who he is and what he's about."
Even though Cahoy's larger size was a disadvantage on a number of events, Chmelka said his former teammate maximized his talent and controlled what he could. “He had a beautiful line and a beautiful swing, but when he was little, it took a lot of effort and work to control what he did,” Chmelka said. "Phil was smart and didn't let it get him down or bother him. They challenged each other daily in the gym. It carried on all the way through college, on the national team, even on the Olympic team. It's a wonderful thing when it's channeled the right way."
Cahoy: We Are Who We Are; Parents Comfortable Leaving Young Adults
What attracted Cahoy and continues to attract student-athletes to Nebraska today is a simple statement. “We are who we are,” Cahoy said. “When we promise something, we try our hardest to deliver. I think the student-athletes and their parents understand that and feel comfortable leaving their young adults in our hands.”
The most important advice Cahoy ever heard was Listen with a capital “L”. “You don’t necessarily have to agree or believe what you hear, but you never know when you will learn something,” Cahoy told me.
“For minor sports, I believe that if you build it, they will come,” Cahoy said. “That’s the key. With limited scholarship money in minor sports, facilities and amenities are the key to successful programs. Look around. Our facilities and amenities are at the highest level possible. That’s why there really is no place like Nebraska.”
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