Advice to New Readers

Welcome to The Last Train!  If you’re a new reader, my advice would be to begin by reading the “Introduction” and then work your way up the topics from oldest to newest (see the recent posts on the right).  That way you will start from the beginning of this journey rather than joining on a later stop.  Welcome aboard…and I hope you become a regular “rider” on The Last Train!

Jeff Schmahl


A week ago at the end of a 30-minute phone conversation, a good friend of mine said, “you should start writing, it would be good for you, and you’re a good writer.”  Terry Pettit has written several books and has a mind that looks at life from just a slightly different perspective.  But in turning that crystal ever so slightly like Terry does, an array of light exposes an entirely different vantage point and I have always loved to discuss, argue, laugh, and be enriched in my time with him. Continue reading


When news of my big c diagnosis spread last spring, I received a lot of cards, letters, and e-mails.  Almost everyone wrote “our thoughts and prayers are with you.”  Many would conclude by saying “God Bless you.”

I have written those same words many times myself when sending a note or e-mail to someone who has suffered a setback or experienced a death in their family.

I certainly appreciate all of the notes and even more the faithful prayers by so many.  But today I’d like to talk about something that I think is even more important than thoughts, prayers, or asking for God’s blessings…and that is actually going out and “blessing” someone yourself.

You see, it’s really pretty easy to say a quick prayer on behalf of someone else or to ask God to bless someone.  But I think it is much more beneficial…and pleasing in God’s eyes…when you take time out of your life to be a blessing to another person.  That’s because blessings involve action on your part…they take time, sometimes money, and often sacrifice.

After my diagnosis, Marilyn Byrne, a big c survivor sent me the book “My Grandfather’s Blessings” written by Dr. Rachel Remen.  As part of her practice, Dr. Remen counsels patients with terminal and chronic illnesses.  Since she was 16 years old, Dr. Remen has also suffered from Chrohn’s disease, a chronic illness for which there is no cure.

Dr. Remen’s grandfather was a rabbi and in her book she talks about what she learned from him about blessings and she tells many stories of how terminally ill patients have actually blessed her life.

I learned a lot from Dr. Remen’s book and here are some of the things I liked best about what she said about being a blessing to others:

“We bless the life around us far more than we realize.  Many simple, ordinary things that we do can affect those around us in profound ways: the unexpected phone call, the brief touch, the willingness to listen generously, the warm smile or wink of recognition.  We can even bless total strangers and be blessed by them.”

“A woman once told me that she did not feel the need to reach out to those around her because she prayed every day.  Surely, this was enough.  But a prayer is about our relationship to God; a blessing is about our relationship to the spark of God in one another.  God may not need our attention as badly as the person next to us on the bus or behind us on line in the supermarket.”

“The power to repair the world is already in you.  When someone blesses you, it reminds you a little-untying the knots of belief and fear and self-doubt that have separated you from your own goodness.  Freeing you to bless and receive blessings from everything around you.”  My Grandfathers Blessings by Rachel Remen

I believe there are a couple of simple truths when it comes to blessings.  First, if you are unwilling to bless others then you will become incapable of truly receiving blessings…or at least recognizing the goodness in others.  Secondly, when you do go out of your way to be a blessing to others, you will receive a blessing in return that will bring joy and purpose to your life.

Over the last four months, I have been the beneficiary of more blessings than I can count.  So many people have gone out of their way to do nice things…to let me know that they care and are supporting myself, Maria, and Zach.  I hope everyone knows how thankful we are to have friends and family who are willing to give of themselves for our sake.

There is one little “blessing” story that I’d like to share with you. When I arrived at Texas A&M, Tracy Treps was in charge of the ticket office but a year or so later, her husband’s job promotion moved the family to Oklahoma.  A couple of years ago, Steve was hired as the head football coach at the new high school in College Station and the family moved back to Aggieland.  Tracy re-joined the ticket office as an assistant and I was thrilled to have someone with her experience and talent back on our team.  A month ago, I received a beautiful hand written note from Tracy and here is a portion of what she wrote.

“When I came back to College Station /12th Man Foundation 2½ years ago, I was a little insecure-not usually a trait of mine-about the reaction to my coming back.  But Jeff-when you saw me for that first time (after I had been gone 6½ years) your face lit up-you hugged me and you told me how happy you were to have me back-and I felt like you meant it!!  I cannot tell you what an impact that had on me that day and how just that one minute made me feel.  Later that day I told my husband that you made me feel so welcome and after that I knew I’d be okay.  I know this may not sound like a big deal to you but it was a very big deal for me.  Thank you!”

Blessings…what goes around comes around!

Reach out and touch someone…and in return…you will be touched as well.  Zach calls it “paying it forward”.


Medical/Personal Update:

Talk about blessings, I have definitely been on the receiving end when it comes to what is happening in my body!  Every two weeks, I get a new blood tumor marker number which is a primary indicator of how well the chemotherapy is working.  The lower the number, the better…and anything below 40 is considered “normal.”

Jeff’s tumor marker numbers:

March 31st           564

April 16th            1,382  (the start of chemotherapy)

May 1st               1,772

May 15th             1,195

May 29th              913

June 12th              504

June 26th              274

July 11th                188

July 24th                89

August 11th            62

August 25th           35

There are a lot of adjectives I could use to describe this.  Unbelievable, Incredible, Improbable…and especially Miraculous!

As I said back in topic two (Nicknames and Tattoos), my heart is filled with Happiness & Humility.

In the circle of life, however, there is also sadness.  Last week, the Texas A&M Athletics family lost a special person when Homer Jacobs died suddenly at the age of 49.  Homer was a great guy and will be missed by many.  He was very good at blessing others.

Life is precious…never take it for granted.

Next Stop: A Chemotherapy treatment

Positive Consequences

Last week I wrote about negative consequences so today I’d like to talk about positive consequences.

Having participated and worked in the world of college athletics for 38 years, I saw lots of success stories…and here are two of my favorite…both a result of positive consequences.

In January of 1991, the Nebraska football team had fallen on “hard” times. Oh, the Huskers were still winning at least nine games each season but the team was in the midst of a seven game bowl losing streak which included a number of lopsided losses to southern schools. Following a 45-21 loss to national champion Georgia Tech in the 1991 Citrus Bowl, Coach Tom Osborne decided some changes were needed.

College football was becoming more of a passing game and the Huskers needed more speed on defense. Instead of 250 pound linebackers to stop the run game, Nebraska started recruiting smaller, quicker linebackers. They needed more athletic linemen who could rush the quarterback and better defensive backs to cover the speedy receivers.

Offensively, Coach Osborne stuck to his guns with an option offense. But in the 90’s he brought in quarterbacks Tommie Frazier, Brook Berringer, Scott Frost, and Eric Crouch who were among the best ever option QB’s.

Always a hard working staff, the coaches dedicated themselves to work even harder, especially at recruiting. They wanted better leadership on the team, so a “Unity Council” was formed. The goal was not to be just good…but to be great…to field a team that could win a national championship.

The positive consequences of these changes were not immediate. The team still won only nine games in 1991 and 1992 while being manhandled by Miami and Florida State in bowl games. In 1993, Nebraska came within an eyelash of an undefeated season and winning the National Championship, but the heartbreaking 18-16 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl only served to motivate the team even more.

For the 1994 season, the Huskers chose “Unfinished Business” as their season long motto. And they finished that business by going 13-0 and winning the National Championship in a come-from-behind 24-17 win over Miami in the Orange Bowl.to3

The 1995 team is the best I’ve ever seen in college football. Undefeated and again National Champions, the 95 Huskers played four teams that finished in the top 10 rankings. They beat those four teams by an average of 31 points including a 62-24 win over No. 1 Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.

Following another undefeated National Championship season in 1997, Coach Osborne retired having won 255 games in 25 seasons. In his final four years, Nebraska was 49-2 including three National Titles.

Coach Osborne being carried off the field after winning
his first National Championship against Miami in 1994

My favorite “individual” sports success story occurred while working at Texas A&M. As part of my duties, I was the administrator overseeing the golf teams at A&M. Men’s Coach J.T. Higgins built the Aggies into a national power and won the National Championship in 2009. Coach Higgins and I became good friends and had a candid relationship.

In 2007, Coach Higgins told me that he had asked a local College Station golfer, Jordan Russell, to walk-on the A&M team. I had seen Jordan play and told Coach that I didn’t think he was good enough to be part of our team. He was a skinny kid who had only been recruited by one small college. But Coach Higgins said, “He’s a hometown kid, he’s smart, will work hard, and I think he has potential to be a good golfer.”

Not surprisingly, in his first year at A&M, Jordan was 12th on a 12-man team. In practice rounds on the tough Traditions course, he usually shot in the 80’s…more than 10 shots worse than the better golfers. But I also saw why Coach Higgins liked the kid…he was the hardest worker on the team and was determined to prove that he belonged. I also liked that Jordan practiced and played with the best players on the team…he wanted to learn from them and challenge himself against the best.

Jordan redshirted his first year at A&M and in his second year he was still not good enough to make the top five…but by now his hard work was showing results…more muscle from the weight room along with an ever-improving golf swing.

In the fall of year three, his sophomore season, Jordan still couldn’t make the line-up but he was getting very close. Over the Christmas break, Jordan was at Traditions all day every day working on his game. One day it was raining with the temperature in the 30’s…the golf pro told me two rounds were played that day…both by Jordan Russell. When I asked Jordan why in the world he would play on such a miserable day, he said, “we play tournaments in weather like this and I want to be ready for every condition.”

That spring of 2010, Jordan finally made the line-up…in fact he won a tournament by shooting 70-69-67 and was named an honorable mention All-American. The next year in his junior season, Jordan set the all-time season scoring record at Texas A&M and had the lowest round in school history with a 63. By the end of 2011, Jordan Russell was the 12th ranked amateur golfer in the world! In three years, he went from 12th on the A&M team to 12th in the world…amazing! (What a great judge of talent I have.) Jordan is now a professional golfer and with his talent, work ethic, and great attitude…don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more about this young man in the near future.


Both the Nebraska football team and Jordan Russell had positive consequences by setting goals, developing a plan and vision to reach those goals, lots of hard work and commitment, and of course a little luck along the way.

You can also have positive consequences from doing “little things”…like being nice to people, giving of your time to a worthy cause, having a positive outlook, praying for others…the list is endless and the benefits are priceless.

Medical/Personal Update

I’ve been having some “weird” thoughts lately…of course my friends would say what else is new?

When I was diagnosed with the big c four months ago, my doctors said I likely had one year to live…which was six months more than the average. I determined to make the most of every day and also made a mental list of the places I wanted to go and the people I wanted to see.

But now, with my tumor marker numbers dropping so significantly, I find myself in kind of a “limbo.” Do I only have eight months left…or will I go into remission and have years left to live?

I’m looking forward to my next scan in six weeks. I’d love nothing better than to start making some long-term plans for my future.

There has definitely been a positive consequence to having a negative diagnosis…and no matter what my future holds…I know that I am a better person for having gone through this experience.

Next Stop: Blessings