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

Introduction

May 6, 2014

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

Locker rooms and Leadership

Locker rooms are very interesting places.  They are the private refuge of athletes.  Most of the time, locker rooms are filled with fun, laughter and camaraderie…a place where teams become a family.  Oh…locker rooms also have unmistakable smells…the remnants of sweaty jerseys, socks, and jocks that are in need of a good washing.

Nowadays, the locker rooms in major college athletics have become palatial digs filled with opulence, luxury, and more athletic shoes than you can imagine.  10, 15, sometimes as many as 20 pairs of shoes in a single locker.  If you haven’t seen a major college locker room lately…put it on your list…you will be amazed.

Locker rooms can also be places of celebration.  Getting to videotape in the locker room following Nebraska’s football national championships in 1994, 1995, and 1997 are some of the most thrilling and memorable moments of my life.

But locker rooms are most interesting right before an athletic event.  The room is thick with emotion, intensity, and nervousness.  Trips to the bathroom are frequent.  Smells of atomic balm and sweat permeate the air.  Many times there is an eerie quiet made even more intense with the occasional shout of encouragement by a nervous or psyched-up teammate.

All of these things are intensified even more in a football locker room.  The extreme physical nature of the game dictates such…as the athletes ready for a violent, painful, and dangerous encounter.

That brings me to my most memorable pre-game locker room experience.  The year was 1995.  Nebraska was playing at Michigan State in East Lansing.  The Huskers were the defending national champions and ranked number two in the country…but the Spartans and first-year head coach Nick Saban were a formidable and talented foe…especially playing on their home field in front of a sellout crowd of 74,000.

Legendary Nebraska Coach Bob Devaney was on the Michigan St. trip.  Coach Devaney was born and raised in Michigan, he coached high school football there and began his college coaching career as an assistant at Michigan St.

In 1995, Coach Devaney was 80 years old and unfortunately his memory and health were quickly fading because of dementia.  Amazingly, though, Coach Devaney’s infectious personality and long-term memory returned when in East Lansing that weekend.  He remembered ticket takers, secretaries, equipment managers…so many people he knew from more than 40 years in his past.

Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne asked Coach Devaney to speak to the Husker team in the locker room before the game…and he asked me to video tape what we all knew would likely be the final time for a legend to make a locker room speech.

The cramped Michigan St. visitor’s locker room was very warm with little ventilation on a 90 degree September afternoon.  Sweat was pouring off everyone’s face.  But Coach Devaney, in his coat and tie, had an impact on the players.  His words weren’t particularly powerful, but his presence was…Coach Devaney back in his element…in the locker room addressing a football team before a big game.

(click on the link below to see Coach Devaney’s final locker room talk)
Bob Devaney’s Final Locker Room Talk

As Coach Devaney moved to the side, Coach Osborne asked everyone to “take a knee” for the traditional pre-game silent prayer.  Coach Devaney was between myself and fellow HuskerVision staffer Rick Schwieger and he too started taking a knee.  But as he was kneeling, Coach fell to the left and thankfully Rick was there to catch him.  I put my camera down and we lowered Coach into a sitting position.  His face was bright red, his eyes were glazed, and he was breathing hard.

After the twenty seconds or so of silence, Coach Osborne said “amen” and then in typical fashion everyone left the locker room except the players.  I caught the attention of one of the student trainers and said “Coach Devaney needs help, grab one of the team doctors and get back in here with some cold towels.”

The last couple of minutes in the locker room are always a players only moment when the captains address the team in what is an emotion filled time.   Fiery speeches, shouts, screams, and the slapping of pads ensued…all the while with Coach Devaney on the floor leaning up against Rick.  I got his suit jacket off, loosened his tie, and tried unsuccessfully to get him to drink some water.

I couldn’t help but think fate had decreed that Coach Devaney was going to die at this very moment…in a football locker room…with the Husker team…at Michigan State.

The final captain to speak that day was defensive tackle Christian Peter…a 290 pound mass of muscle and intensity.  As he waved a Spartan bobble head doll, Christian said something like this…minus a few expletives.  “Men, today we are going to go out and show Michigan St. what Nebraska football is all about.  SMASH MOUTH FOOTBALL!!!!  That’s what we’re going to do…SMASH THEM!  Just like this stupid Spartan bobble head…we are going to SMASH THEM!”

And then Christian proceeded to do exactly that…he smashed the bobble head doll against his forehead!  Blood immediately began trickling down his forehead and his mission had been accomplished.  The team was in an absolute frenzy!

The players excitedly left the locker room ready to do battle.  Thankfully, a team doctor and trainer came back in and started attending to Coach Devaney.  I wondered silently if he would survive the day.

Once on the field, I quickly went to the Nebraska sideline to see what kind of shape Christian was in.  There was Dr. Pat Clare stitching up Christian’s forehead…and when the defense took the field…Christian was leading the way.

Nebraska dominated the game from the opening kickoff en-route to a 50-10 thrashing of the Spartans.  It still ranks as the most lop-sided home loss in Coach Nick Saban’s illustrious career.  (Coach Saban’s worst loss ever occurred in 1996 when Nebraska beat Michigan St. 55-14 in Lincoln…and that’s just some “good bull” for you Husker fans!)

Following the game, I heard a reporter ask Christian what happened to his forehead and he replied “oh, just a scratch I got in the game.”  Coach Devaney also recovered and was on the team plane for the ride home.

I asked Christian a couple of days later about the bobble head incident, if his plan all along was to smash the doll against his forehead and he told me, “Hell no…I’m not that crazy!  I was planning to throw the doll against a concrete wall but there were some players standing over there and I was afraid I’d hit them.  So I panicked and the next thing I knew blood was dripping in my eyes.  But it sure got the guys going, didn’t it!”

In my 30 plus years of working in the world of college athletics, Christian Peter was the best leader/motivator of teammates that I ever witnessed.  In practice, the weight room, and especially in games, he was always pushing not just himself but all of his teammates to give it their all.

Coach Devaney, who died at the age of 82, was also a tremendous leader.  Both he and Christian possessed an inner fire…a passion…that made those around them better…made others strive for excellence.

Christian Peter and Coach Devaney were far from perfect, the flaws in both men were easily detectable.  But flaws shouldn’t prevent people from rising to leadership roles.  In today’s world, there is so much scrutiny and criticism…it’s almost as if the news media and others demand that our leaders be perfect.

It takes passion to be a great leader…not perfection.


Medical/Personal Update: Some Sobering News

You’ve probably noticed that it’s been a while since my last, Last Train.  I’ve been busy, haven’t been in the mood to write, but mainly I’ve been waiting and hoping to be able to pass along some encouraging news on the medical front.

Unfortunately, my tumor marker numbers are continuing to rise which means the chemotherapy is not working as well as we hoped and my tumors are likely growing.  We’ll get a clearer picture when I have a CAT scan later this week.

Here’s a bi-monthly snapshot of my tumor marker numbers.
(the lower the number the better)

March 2014       564

May 2014           1,772

July 2014            188

Sep. 2014            24 (normal is 37 & below)

Nov. 2014            25

Jan. 2015             148

March 2015         407

On the good news side, I am still doing well physically and leading an active lifestyle both at work and play.  This Friday, we leave for six days of skiing at Vail, Colorado on our annual family ski trip.  And then in early April, I’m going to Florida for 90 holes of golf in three days with some Texas golf buddies.

So don’t feel too sorry for me just yet!  J


Next Stop: Just Keep Swimming!

My Rollercoaster Ride

I love rollercoasters…always have…always will. But right now I’m on a rollercoaster ride that I don’t like very much.

I have ups on this rollercoaster…but unfortunately there are quite a few downs as well. More on that in a bit.

My fascination with rollercoasters began in high school and then hit its zenith while Zach was growing up. We’ve visited dozens of theme parks across the U.S.A. and ridden some of the best coasters the country has to offer.

One of our favorite groups to ride with were Zach’s cousins…from both sides of the family. Worlds of Fun in Kansas City was our favorite meeting place and in typical “Uncle Jeff” form, I was the one who coerced, bribed, bullied, and convinced the cousins to ride a coaster for the first time…or to take on the latest, greatest, highest, and fastest that the theme parks had to offer.

Some might claim I was part sadist with the cousins…but I prefer to believe that my goal was to create lifelong memories, to challenge them to face their fears, to gain confidence…and most of all to have fun! I’d feel guilty when the rides would sometimes begin or end in tears…but darned if the little twerps didn’t jump right back on…and it wasn’t long before they were the ones challenging me!

When I was first diagnosed last April, I got a special e-mail from my niece Molly Adler. I’d like to share it with you…the ”Jillsey” she refers to is my oldest sister and her mom.

Uncle Jeff, 

I am literally dumbfounded. Silenced. Humbled. I don’t even know what to say. Jillsey told us last week and I am still searching for the words… You have been the best uncle a girl could ever hope for. Despite not living terribly near each other, I think our families did a great job maintaining special, meaningful relationships. I can’t even begin to recount all of the amazing memories. And of course the horrific: you convincing me that I would be just fine going down the elevator drop ride and just as we were about to drop, my bottom lip started quivering and my tough facade disappeared instantly ;). Classic Uncle Jeff! What a ride it has been indeed. 

Even a whisper of the word cancer brings me back to the day Jillsey broke the news to us about her illness back in… 2002? 2003? Its funny that I cant even remember the exact year, but I literally can completely remember that moment as if it were yesterday. I thought my world was crashing down. I can only imagine what you guys are going through. It’s not easy stuff. 

I know you are incredibly proud of the life you have led so far and you should be. It’s truly amazing. Beautiful, funny wife… smart, successful son… fulfilling career (from sports to cookies! Who would have thunk it??). You certainly have had a lifetime of happiness. 

I know my family wasn’t necessarily raised to be particularly religious, but I still have my Mama so I know good things can happen to good people and that miracles are possible, so if there were a time for prayer, this is it. As I told Zach, I’m bringing out the big guns, crossing fingers and toes, asking for favors and praying with all my might. 

I am sending so much hope and love to you guys. 

Love always, 

Molly

The “Mollser” is now Dr. Molly Adler and lives in San Francisco. Like all the cousins, she loves adventures and recently went skydiving for the first time.

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Molly – then and now

Now…more on my current rollercoaster ride. In trying to remain optimistic, positive, and encouraging…I haven’t shared a lot of the downs that I’ve been going through the last four months. But today, I’ll do so.

Bottom line…it’s no fun getting sick. For the first 57 years of my life, I was very rarely sick. I called in sick about once a year. But now, out of every 14 days, I get sick for about three to five days. And this isn’t just your ordinary…got a little cold type of sick. This is like having a full-blown case of the flu. Because of extreme nausea, I don’t eat, don’t drink…and I make quite a few trips to the bathroom during those three to five days. Thankfully, I usually sleep quite a bit which helps the bad days go by rather quickly.

The good news is that once I get over my chemotherapy sickness, I bounce back to “normal” fairly quickly and then I feel pretty good…that is until the next chemotherapy treatment.

I would love to get off chemo sometime in the near future…but the reality of the situation is that I might be on chemo for the rest of my life. And if that’s what it takes to stay alive…then I am okay with that.

I share all of this not asking for sympathy…but rather to try and be as honest as possible in sharing with you my journey…and let you know what it’s like to live with the big c.

I also continue to count myself as one of the “lucky” ones…not just for the wonderful life I’ve had…but to be one of the few pancreatic patients who has actually gotten better with treatment and am still able to lead a fairly normal life.


Medical/Personal Update:

Maria and I are in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico for five days escaping the cold and enjoying some fun in the sun. We’ll golf, snorkel, and sightsee…but mostly we’ll lay by the beach or pool and enjoy a margarita or two.

Jeff and Maria in Mexico1Jeff and Maria in Mexico2

This is one of the reasons I remain so thankful…despite being stage four and undergoing chemotherapy every two weeks…it hasn’t stopped me from scuba diving, skiing, playing 144 holes of golf in four days, and taking numerous trips to visit friends and family.

These trips really re-energize me…and I plan to stick with this routine for as long as possible!


Next Stop: A special Husker football locker room story…that’s never been told!