How It Started and Why You May Be Inspired To Help

To: Concerned friends and family members of Derek Ruth and Tyson Zimmer
Brian Nelson, Co-Coordinator
Monday, June 6th, 2011
Upcoming Fundraiser on Saturday June 18th, 2011

We’ve been working hard to get the first annual event off the ground. Great progress has been made. Unfortunately the process gained momentum a little late and we are scrambling to make it successful. We are ready to go but we need to get the word out.

The story I’m about to share might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up!

I really think this story could definitely give you that “certain chill” that comes over you when you experience something that could be God at work. It’s just one of those moments that makes you pause with amazement and tells you that you are on the right track!

After reading this story, if you feel God is at work in this project — please help us this week!

  • Please forward the email you received
  • Consider making phone calls
  • Spread the message on Facebook
  • RSVP as soon as possible

You can donate online or at the event.


Here’s How It Started…

I was elected to our parish council at our church two years ago. A few times at our parish council meetings over the past couple years we discussed the idea of a fundraiser for families of children with special needs. As a parish we’ve experienced many families with special situations in the past few years!

Many felt it was a good idea but knew it was a big undertaking with not enough time to start this year. The project was almost cancelled.

However, our pastor Father Connor has great faith and is willing to take on challenges. He kept the flame lit and persevered.

I remember the day I was on the phone with Father Connor and what he had just told me made it clear to me that this wasn’t just a coincidence.

I could see how our own family’s story and all the events seemed to lead to this moment. What would you think? What would you do?

July 12, 2008 – Our Journey Started

Sophia In NICU at Bryan LGH

Many of you reading this don’t know our family story and how it’s related so it’s important that I share this here. My name is Brian Nelson. My wife Michelle and I have 3 wonderful daughters.

As some of you know our daughter Sophia was born with Down syndrome on July 12, 2008. She spent her first few weeks in the hospital.

We didn’t know Sophia had Down syndrome. We were in a state of shock.

You begin learning so many new things you never expected to learn. Life has suddenly changed. You have so many questions.

It was overwhelming. I didn’t know what I was dealing with but I knew we needed to rely on our faith in a way we never had before.

So for the first time I sought spiritual help from a pastor. I didn’t know how a pastor could help. I just knew we could not get through the situation without help making sense of it from a spiritual perspective.

Father Connor came to the hospital and we really did not know him. Father Connor had just become our pastor a few weeks earlier.

Initially it seemed awkward having to get to know someone while at the same time opening up your heart that seems broken. However, we found we could have a conversation about our spiritual journey that we would never have with anyone else except a pastor.

Over the next couple weeks Michelle stayed at the hospital. Every day I would get our other two daughters up early and go to the hospital and we would not come home until late at night. It was exhausting but even harder on Michelle who never left.

We finally made it home a couple weeks later. Sophia had to be on oxygen and a heart monitor. People we never met brought us meals. We personally felt the love and support of our parish!

September 8, 2008 – Derek Ruth’s Journey Started

Derek Loved Playing Football

Derek On The Road to Recovery

Less than a couple months after the birth of Sophia I remember hearing of Derek Ruth’s injury. This time it wasn’t just on the television news. I saw him and his family every Sunday at our church.

An innocent tackle on the backfield resulted in a serious injury. Derek was life-flighted to a local hospital where doctors discovered that Derek suffered a traumatic brain injury.

For the first time I wasn’t just hearing about another story. I could relate to what his parents and family were going through on some level.

However, I also remember thinking just how much harder it must have been for them in many ways than it was for us. We were struggling with things our child might not ever be able to do. Derek was very accomplished. Now their family future was filled with lots of unanswered questions.

Fall of 2008 – Our Eyes Were Opened

Around the same time I found out a business owner I knew who lives right here in NW Lincoln had a little boy with Down syndrome shortly before our daughter was born.

However, he had numerous complications, had been in the hospital for months and it was unclear when he would ever be able to come home.

In 2008, only 26 babies were born with Down syndrome in Nebraska. Our daughter Sophia was one of them. Statistically the rate was less than 1 in 1000 live births. What are the chances I would know someone who also had a child with Down syndrome in the same year?!

Okay it happens. But one of Michelle’s high school classmates also had a little boy just a few years earlier who was also born with Down syndrome. There were only 60 students in her class! So what are the odds of all of this??

After a few more months we had someone from Lincoln Public Schools coming to our home for physical therapy visits. We soon learned of many other children in our area with various special needs (some of which are also in our parish).

Over the last couple years as we’ve been part of the Down Syndrome Association here in Lincoln we’ve continued to learn how fortunate we are with Sophia’s good health. We’ve also learned about so many other children and their families who struggle with even more complicated situations.

Fast Forward – Spring 2011

Father Connor brought up the idea of a special needs fundraiser. I told him you could count me in to help. However, I told him I wasn’t able to really coordinate the effort this year. Like everyone else I was just too busy to take on a project of this magnitude.

There were a few more meetings and several people were also interested in the cause and the consensus was that we probably needed to push it off into the future.

However, we also knew that Derek was going to New Orleans for additional therapy. We felt that many people in our parish wanted to show we still care and want to help Derek reach his goals.

So at our Parish Council meeting in late April we discussed scaling back this first year and continuing. Father Connor had already had Ryan Regnier working on organizing our first 5K run and walk. We also had a BBQ vendor who could cook up some great BBQ food.

Father Connor also had an awesome name. It was “Witness Through Fitness”. The word Witness means Martyrs.

I’ve always felt connected to Derek Ruth and his family’s story but I’ve never personally met them. Back when Derek was hurt we were dealing with Sophia just coming home.

So despite still not feeling like I had the time I decided to jump in to help. I began working on a web site and some other issues. Soon I had a web site ready to show Father Connor with all the graphics and the event honoring Derek.

The Timing of What Happened Next Was Just Too Much!

It was May 17th. I had a call scheduled with Father Connor to show him the new web site. He had to cut the call short because he had a meeting come up. He liked what he saw and a short while later I got the following email from him about the meeting he just had:

“We have another very special needs situation. A 6 year old with mass of cancer removed yesterday at Children’s Mercy. If that is not confirmation that all this work is doing the right thing.”

It Sent a Chill Up My Spine and I Could Feel My Hair Standing Up on the Back of My Neck! What timing!

Would you take this as a sign it is the right thing to do — right now? Put yourself in my shoes a minute. To me there’s just too many coincidences.

It also said to me that we must not shrink and just have a benefit. We must do it right. We must do it for others that follow.

This was an important milestone. The project had almost been cancelled. There were several big issues that had to be resolved that required the faith to move forward and that it would all work out.

So I made several changes to also include Tyson Zimmer in our 1st Annual Witness Through Fitness Special Needs Fundraiser.

May 2, 2011 – Tyson Zimmer’s Journey Started

Tyson at Children's Hospital In Omaha

Since Tyson’s Journey has just started many people don’t know his story. Tyson is an energetic six year old who had a malignant tumor recently removed at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Omaha. Tyson is the son of Liz Duering, a single mother, who attends North American Martyrs Church.

He will now begin a very long road to recovery. This road will bring many ups and downs for those closest to him. His treatment will demand many hours of his parents time and attention.

Witness Through Fitness event can help ease the financial burden that will unfortunately come along with his recovery. We can help with travel expenses and hidden costs that would otherwise prevent Tyson’s family from being there every step of the way.

A Note For Parishioners of North American Martyrs

It’s a great opportunity for our parish to come together for a cause that isn’t just for our parish. It’s an opportunity to evangelize and involve our entire community. This year’s event is for families in our parish but who knows what the future brings.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned the list of families in our parish may be much longer than you think. Some families have to put the rest of their lives on hold. Some families have to make long-term adjustments and daily sacrifices.

We can all feel great knowing we helped make a difference. I’m sure many of you receiving this feel that certain tug on your hearts when you hear stories like Derek or Tyson and wished you could do something to help.

So on May 17th I was quite inspired. I decided to put many other projects that were consuming my time on hold. I know what it is like to put your life on hold as a parent when you have a child in need of special care.

The Ruth family continues their daily sacrifices. They put their lives on hold to make special trips to help Derek make more progress in his recovery.

Liz Duering, Tyson’s Mom is at the beginning of the process when it can be so overwhelming. She is a single mother with two children. I can’t imagine how difficult it has been to manage everything especially with another 10-month old child.

So I joined Father Connor in this challenge because it’s the right thing to do. Little did I know how much work I would have to do and the challenges that we would face.


If you’ve ever felt that tug on your heart when you hear of these types of touching stories now is the time you can feel great knowing you did something to help!

You don’t need to put your lives on hold…but…if you could just take some actions today and over the next week you could make a big difference. By just spreading the word using email and Facebook you can make a big difference. All you have to do is share this page that tells the whole story!

We Have Faith That “if you build it they will come”

Scripture tells us “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” — Matthew 17:20

If you believe God’s hand is at work in this story please lend a hand today.

Here’s How You Can Help Right Now:

1. Please RSVP Yourself

You can do it right now online. Suggested donations are just $10 for 5K Run, the 1-Mile Walk, the BBQ cookout or a T-Shirt.

Options to RSVP and Donate:

  • ONLINE by clicking here.
  • REGISTRATION FORMS may be dropped off at the Parish office.
  • CALL Julie Crawford at 402-476-8088. She will record you reservation and you may pay at the event.

2. Use Facebook To Get The Word Out

If you are on Facebook, please post a comment at the bottom of this page so other people you know will learn about it. Talk it up to all of your Facebook friends and have them check out this same story.

Using Facebook you can help spread the message virally and potentially reach thousands of people. Each time you comment or like anything related to the fundraiser it will be instantly shared with your friends on Facebook.

3. Volunteer

If you belong to North American Martyrs, please volunteer to help support the event. It’s also a great way to meet someone new. Click here for details.

Perhaps this might be the first time you’ve ever volunteered or donated to someone you do not even know. If it is, jump in and experience that feeling you can get knowing that your good works have stored up treasures in heaven.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” — Matthew 6:19-21

Nelson Family at 2010 Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk. Abby (age ten), Olivia (age eight) and Sophia (almost three).

Your actions today can make a difference in ways you may not even realize. Our family has experienced many blessings. I have another story to share but we will have to save that for another time.

Thank you for taking action today,

Brian Nelson

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