Monday, August 31, 2009

Football In Heaven

John "Nellie" Nelson.

He was a good friend to Aaron and to me. He even rolled down the aisle at our wedding. It's hard to imagine PLU football, or our Alma mater in general without him zipping around campus in his electric wheelchair.

Doctors didn't think Nellie'd live to age thirty, but he lived fourteen years beyond their expectations, passing away yesterday from congestive heart failure.

On a personal note, I wonder if I ever would have noticed Aaron if Nellie hadn't been around. I remember seeing them hanging out in the lunchroom and watching Aaron feed Nellie. I remember thinking, "That's the kind of guy I want to marry ... the kind of guy who knows how to serve other people." My husband, even now, is incredibly servant-hearted, and I think he learned that at PLU. Through his friendship with Nellie.

That's who Nellie was to me. A teacher. He taught people just by being who he was, who God created him to be. Born in Singapore with a disease called Arthrogryposis, which locked all his joints together, Nellie spent his life wheelchair-bound. But at PLU he didn't let his disability disrupt his job or his social life. He lived his dream as a football coach. And he was a friend to hundreds, with his quick, hearty laugh and humble transparency.

That's why ten generations of six foot, hundred-eighty pound football players at PLU served him. That's why they fed him, transported him, took him to the bathroom. Because Nellie loved life and loved them. They learned that the glory you get on the football field is secondary to the glory of serving others.

Knowing Nellie shaped the man I married. And hundreds of other men like him.

And those football players, those coaches, they were all around him when he passed, giving him a Go Tunnel to heaven.

That's where Nellie gets to throw a football for the first time, intercept a pass, score a touchdown, kick a ball through the goal posts.

Attaway Nellie. Attaway. And thank you.

To watch a news clip from King 5 news about Nellie's incredible life, click here.

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