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

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

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.

Jordan+Russell+Amateur+Championship+Semifinals+6TY2eeEe9A3l

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

Consequences…you can’t escape them

Consequence [kon-si-kwens, noun]: the effect, result or outcome of something occurring earlier.

In the summer of 1978, before my final semester in college, I participated in a Christian summer camp in Northern Michigan sponsored by the Navigators.  It was called Camp Barakel and I learned many things that summer…but here is the lesson that had the biggest impact on me.

About 40 college age kids from various parts of the Midwest participated in the camp and it was led by a man named Don Herr.  Midway through the 8-week camp, we gathered for our evening fellowship but we knew something was wrong.

Earlier in the day, “Lisa” (I don’t recall her real name) had packed her bags and left the camp suddenly.  A couple of the young women got to say a tearful good-bye but no one knew what had happened.

That night Don Herr explained the situation,  “As you know by now, Lisa has left Camp Barakel and I want to tell you why.  This morning, Lisa asked to meet with Jenny (Don’s wife) and me.  Lisa had just learned that she is pregnant with her boyfriend’s child.  She has gone back home and will get married to her boyfriend and they will start a family.”

We all sat in stunned silence but then Don used the situation to teach us a valuable lesson.

“After learning the news, we prayed with Lisa this morning and she asked for God’s forgiveness.   I have no doubt that God has done just that.  Lisa also wanted to ask all of you for forgiveness as well.  I have forgiven her and you should all as well ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’  But here’s another truth, while God has forgiven Lisa of her sin, He will not take away the consequences of that sin.  I’m confident Lisa will be a good wife and mother, but she is embarrassed and knows that she has let down her parents and family.

God forgives our sin but doesn’t take away the consequences became the primary philosophy I used with Zach when he was growing up.  Zach knew that there was nothing he could do that would cause Maria and me to stop loving him, but he also knew that when he did things wrong, there would be consequences.

Thankfully, Zach didn’t need a lot of discipline.  But when he did things wrong, we would sit down and calmly (usually…but not always) discuss the bad behavior and determine what the consequences should be.

Consequences are something none of us can ever escape.  Oh, we can get away with things, sometimes for many years, but they always have a way of catching up with us.

Smoking, drinking to excess, eating too much, not exercising enough (two of my vices) are all things that take a toll on our bodies and almost always lead to negative consequences.

Most of our “weaknesses” have negative consequences but on the other side of the coin our “strengths” lead to positive consequences.  We will never eliminate all of our weaknesses but by focusing and improving on our strengths, we can all lead happier and healthier lives.


Medical/Personal update

I’ve got some Good, Better and Best news!

Good: Maria, Zach and I enjoyed a wonderful week of vacation in Grand Caymen last week.  We soaked up a lot of sun and Zach and I became “certified scuba divers.”  We dove with Living the Dream Divers and the husband/wife owners, Liz and Gary, were great!

In e-mails prior to our trip, I was up front with them about my illness and being on chemotherapy.  I could tell there was a hesitancy on their part as they had never had anyone on chemo dive with them before.  I reassured them that I am feeling strong and was confident that everything would be okay.  I also encouraged them to read “The Last Train.”  Liz wrote back saying “I read your blog.  You have to dive!  The big c…my mom died from colon cancer when she was 55.  I never got to take her diving.  It will be our honor to meet you and show you the wonders of the sea.”

Gary personally was our teacher and took us on our four certification dives.  We dove three more times going as deep as 100 feet.  The beauty of the coral reefs were amazing as we experienced a world we had never seen before.  There was also an abundance of sea life as we got up close views of eels, manta rays, octopus, sea turtles, and more fish than you can imagine.  It was a great experience and something I know we’ll do again.

Cayman Beach BumsDiving Buddies

Better: Just before going to the Caymen’s, I played golf at Pine Valley in New Jersey, ranked by many as the number one course in the world.  Dr. Steve Whitenack was our gracious host, while former Nebraska volleyball coach Terry Pettit (who made the arrangements) and Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles rounded out our foursome.

Pine Valley was as good…maybe even better…than advertised.  The natural beauty and challenge of the course is incredible!  Sandhills in western Nebraska has been my all-time favorite course to play, but now it has some serious competition.  And for my golfing buddies, I shot 81…and lightened Coach Miles’ wallet a little bit!

Pine Valley Golf CrewHole in One
(Left: Jeff Schmahl, Dr. Steve Whitenack, Tim Miles & Terry Pettit)
(Right: Tough tee shot on the famous 6th hole at Pine Valley)

Best: I had my 9th chemotherapy treatment on Monday and got some more good news from my oncologist, Dr. Allyson Ocean.  During my first round of six chemo treatments, my blood tumor marker numbers dropped from 1,772 to 274 and a CAT scan showed a significant reduction in the size of the tumors in my liver and pancreas.

As a result, Dr. Ocean dropped the strongest drug from my chemo regimen because oxaliplatin has a high level of toxicity and can have permanent side effects.  Dr. Ocean wants to save the oxaliplatin for later use if I need it.  So I wondered what would happen with my tumor marker numbers.  They’re still going down!  First to 188 and now 89.  That’s a 95% decrease!  Anything below 40 is considered normal/cancer free.

Dr. Ocean doesn’t try to paint a rosy picture or give false hope but this week she used the term “remission” as a possibility, something that almost never happens with a stage four pancreatic patient.  She also talked about the possibility of going off chemotherapy in the near future if my numbers continue to drop and we get a positive scan report in six weeks.

All are positive consequences of modern medicine, a positive attitude, and especially lots of prayer from the more than 2,000 riders on The Last Train.  Thank you all so much!


Next stop: I’m going to share two positive consequence stories from my days of working for the Nebraska and Texas A&M Athletic Departments that led to some amazing athletic achievements.