2014 Rare Disease Champion C.J. Zimmerer

Sometimes the spotlight simply finds those who have no desire to be on a big stage.

Reluctant or willing, how an individual handles those bright-lights moments is the true measure of their character.

CJ ZIMMERER2Nebraska’s C.J. Zimmerer doesn’t have an inherent big-stage bone in his body. After all, his chosen position on a college football field for the Huskers was fullback.

The best fullbacks embrace life in the shadows.

Diversely talented but willing to sacrifice and serve others first to further the bigger cause is part of the DNA of those who choose to play the position.

And that’s Zimmerer in a nutshell.

“College football players have such a unique stage that they can use in a lot of different ways,” said Zimmerer, the 2014 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion. “Every Saturday we have 90,000-plus fans in Memorial Stadium and millions more watching on TV.

“They are looking at your every move, so you have to take special care in making the things you do positive and something worthwhile. I never realized this as much as I did taking part in Uplifting Athletes.”

One particular Saturday last April vaulted Zimmerer, the first president of the Uplifting Athletes’ Chapter at Nebraska, and his teammates onto a national stage.

The day before the Huskers’ spring game Zimmerer and members of the Nebraska staff came up with a plan to involve then 7-year-old pediatric brain cancer survivor Jack Hoffman in the game.

1039815_10151511931607514_155881598_oNebraska head coach Bo Pelini signed off on the idea, and the 69-yard run by Jack in Lincoln that day emotionally moved a nation to the tune of nearly 8.5 million page views of the video on YouTube.

This is what Zimmerer, one of 22 players named to the 2013 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, remembers about that magical day.

“I had pretty much finished my portion of the spring game so I had some time to really enjoy the minutes leading up to the moment. I remember drawing up some plays with our quarterback Taylor Martinez and Jack. He had no idea what we were talking about but it didn’t matter simply because he was there and was a part of the team with us.

“I remember jogging onto the field and kind of ushering him along. It was the loudest ovation of the day and I instantly had chills down my spine. I got out there in my stance and tried to show Jack the way we stand as running backs and he kind of looked around and took it all in. As Taylor snapped the ball I slowly took off and was thrown off guard when he ran the other way. I have never had a running back leave a lead blocker that quickly!”

“But eventually he made is way back behind me and I tried to get him to turn on the jets and follow my blocks. Soon enough he took off and I was chasing him into the end zone. I grabbed him and tried to get him up above and on my shoulders. It was honestly the best and most memorable experience I had while playing college football … and I even scored a touchdown that day, too.”

The impact of that innocent, selfless gesture by the Huskers is still impacting the rare disease community today.

Jack won an ESPY for “Best Sports Moment” in 2013. The Hoffman family paid a visit to the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama.

But more importantly the partnership between Uplifting Athletes and Team Jack – the grass roots organization formed by Andy and Bri Hoffman shortly after their son was diagnosed – afforded this particular rare disease a national stage.

“The combination of Team Jack and Uplifting Athletes is truly an amazing one,” Zimmerer said. “It is so powerful because it shows what a family who really cares about something can really do with the help of people around them. I am, and will forever be, a member of Team Jack and without a doubt Uplifting Athletes because of that.”

Nebraska’s Chapter of Uplifting Athletes and Team Jack have powered together to raise more than a million dollars for pediatric brain cancer research.

Uplifting Athletes started a chapter at Nebraska in 2012 because of a friendship between Jack Hoffman and former Huskers and current Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead.

Two years later, Uplifting Athletes and Team Jack have become part of the fabric that helps define the University of Nebraska football program.

“Nebraska fans are, and always will be, the best fans in the country. The loyalty to their team and everything that team embodies is unlike anywhere else in the country,” Zimmerer said. “It wouldn’t matter what we supported, our fans would join us in the cause. But they joined in even more because it truly is an amazing cause. And they have helped make a huge difference.

“I am super excited to be a fan, and a normal Nebraskan again, now that football is over. And I look forward to being able to keep supporting this cause hand-in-hand with all the people in my state.”

One thought on “2014 Rare Disease Champion C.J. Zimmerer

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