Tag Archives: golf

Like a Kid Again

September 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Don Byers’ teammates on the Bellevue University golf team saw the notion of shooting your age—one of the rarest feats in the sport—as a canard of the wildest conceit.

But the athlete who played for one semester with the Bruins came within a mere stroke of doing just that last year during a golf vacation in Arizona.

That’s because Byers, who is 61 (and shot a 62 on a Par 62 course that day in the desert), had a four-decade advantage over most of his collegiate competitors.

This most unlikely of feel-good sports stories began with a chance meeting on the first tee of his home course, Champions Run, when he was introduced to Rob Brown, the school’s head golf coach and a friend of one of Byers’ golfing buddies. 

There was nothing senescent about Byers’ swing that day. He was crushing it—with drives of nearly 300 yards and playing well under par.

Brown came to learn that Byers was a former pitcher who had blown out his arm before ever taking the mound for the University of Nebraska-Omaha baseball team back when Gerald R. Ford was in the White House. The coach playfully inquired as to whether Byers had any remaining college athletics eligibility.

But Brown, it turned out, wasn’t joking, and he discovered that Byers could play for Bellevue University because the Bruins play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. While the NCAA restricts student-athletes to playing within five years of graduating from high school, there is no such limit in the NAIA. So the longtime insurance agent, who lives in Elkhorn with his wife, Debra, enrolled at the university with an undeclared major and green goals.

Byers encountered several challenges in joining a team of students who could be his grandkids, the first being that he was no longer the lean, lanky, 6-foot-4-inch fire-baller of his youth. 

When uniforms were issued, the father of three and grandfather of four explained, “Coach handed me a pair of 38-inch-waist pants, the largest size they come, and I just kind of stared at them. I hadn’t worn a 38 in, well, quite a while.”

The team’s winter training regimen incorporates CrossFit, and Byers’ return to college athletics led to him shedding 50 pounds the hard way.

“The whole floor around me was soaked at the end of our first workout,” he says, “but the other guys hadn’t even begun to break a sweat.” 

And it wasn’t the end of the workout, one of his teammates explained. “That was just the warm-up!” Byers recalls, “I could barely walk the next day.”

As he came back into fighting weight—and shape— he looked forward to contributing on the course. 

He played in three rounds in the spring 2018 semester: shooting 21 strokes over par in two rounds at the March 30-31 TPC Deere Run Invitational in Silvis, Illinois, then finishing seven strokes over par at the April 17 Midland University Spring Invitational.

Records on the subject are sketchy, but Byers is among the oldest players in any sport in the history of college athletics, and his back-to-school story was featured in Sports Illustrated, the Golf Channel, Golf Digest, ESPN’s website, and USA Today.

Although he only pursued collegiate golf for five months, Byers insists his quest was anything
but quixotic.

“I’ve always been competitive,” Byers says, “and this [was] no lark. My goal was to make the team and then make the starting five” on the squad of seven golfers. “I was treated like everyone else. I earned my place.”

Visit bubruins.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Armana Chanel

October 11, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Golfer Lorii Myers once said that true sportsmanship means taking the high road and walking off the course with pride whether you win or lose. Omaha’s Armana Chanel is definitely walking the high road to golfing success on the national mini-tour circuit (the minor leagues of professional golf).

Born and raised in Omaha as Armana Chanel Christianson, Chanel has always been an athlete.

“I played pretty much every sport you can think of before the age of 12: racquetball, basketball, soccer, swimming, volleyball, tennis, track, taekwondo, softball,” Chanel says. “Golf was the last sport I tried before going to high school, and it just kind of clicked.”

The Millard North graduate got her major start in golf playing Division I at Creighton University, later playing Division II golf at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

“For me, golf is one of the most frustrating but rewarding things I have ever done,” Chanel says. “I am competitive, so I really enjoy and look forward to tournaments.”

Chanel says, as do most golfers, that the game is a way of life.

“You can practice every day for hours and still have things to work on the next week or next month,” says Chanel, a self-described perfectionist who loves a fun challenge. “It’s a constant learning process; it never ends. A lot of what I get from golf is internal.”

Chanel says she has been fortunate to not encounter many external setbacks, but being a female athlete in any sport comes with its own unique frustrations.

“There are little things that have made it difficult to be a woman playing a sport seriously. In high school it was subtle things like my name not being announced after I won state. Now it’s things like, if I want sponsorships or exemptions, it’s important to have a really strong social media following,” Chanel says of her growing and supportive fan base. “I have a pretty good following on social media, and I’m pretty open about my journey and how I play. I get a lot of messages of support; it’s pretty nice to see.”

“For me, it feels like it’s not a matter of IF I make it, but WHEN I make it. I have partial status on the Symetra Tour [previously known as the LPGA Futures Tour], which is a stage below the LPGA.”

Many athletes are goal-oriented by nature, and Chanel hopes to see herself progress athletically and professionally.

“Right now, my goal is [entering the] LPGA. I’m working hard on my game, my equipment, my fitness, and my mental game to make sure I make it there. For me, it feels like it’s not a matter of if I make it, but when I make it. I have partial status on the Symetra Tour [previously known as the LPGA Futures Tour], which is a stage below the LPGA. I’m hoping to be able to play in a few of those events towards the end of the season.”

Chanel also sought to improve her status at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament (also known as Q-School) in August. Stage I of the tournament began at Mission Hills Country Club on August 21-27 at Rancho Mirage, California. Stages II and III follow in Florida during October through December.

Until she advances to the LPGA Tour, she remains fighting to break out of the minors.

“Playing on mini tours is a lot of hours, a lot of traveling, and for very little money,” Chanel says. “I played well enough last year that I was able to break even. But I love the game and the competition, and have such a strong desire to play at the highest level, so I’ll continue to do what I need to keep competing and getting better.”

Visit armanachristianson.com and follow Chanel on Twitter, @ArmanaChanel, for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Johnny Rodgers

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Johnny Rodgers turned 65 this year. He looks great. The 1972 Heisman Trophy winner and Husker football legend is also busy. He likes it that way.

“Well, I think that retiring, to me, is being in the position to do the things you want to do. I don’t think that retiring is getting somewhere and doing nothing,” Rodgers says. He then adds with a chuckle: “The law of use says, ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it.’ And I’ve found that a lot of people, as soon as they retire and start doing nothing, they die.”

Rodgers is far from retired…and he’s aiming to live to age 100. He works as vice president of new business development for the U.S. and Canada at Rural Media Group Inc., which operates both RFD-TV (the huge rural-focused television network) and Rural Radio on SiriusXM. He also recently published a book and audio book, titled, Ten Minutes of Insanity. The self-help book and audiobook provide insights into moments when a person can “mess themselves up” or “set themselves up.” Rodgers speaks from youthful personal experience coupled with an older man’s perspective.

Referring back to his college years, a “mess yourself up” situation is “like the gas station fiasco that I was involved with,” he says. The opposite, positive kind of moment is “like the punt return against Oklahoma. You’ve got to be pretty insane to stand back there and wait for them to come.” He adds that each scenario “presents dramatic results, just in a different way.”

Johnny-Rodgers1Rodgers has a website in the works (which should be live this fall) aimed at providing help and perspective to business leaders, entrepreneurs, and athletes. “What I really want to do is to help athletes—professional athletes of football, basketball, baseball, all of them—transition from sports to public speaking,” he says. “And to be able to set up mechanisms for them to be able to tell their stories.”

Denny Drake, who has worked with Rodgers for more than 20 years on a variety of charitable and business projects, says Rodgers has always been open to trying new ideas, and to receiving critiques and wisdom from others. Drake is the president and CEO of the marketing company Performance Solutions Worldwide. He is also connected to the Jet Award (named after Rodgers), which honors the top return specialist in college football, and the Johnny Rodgers Youth Foundation. Rodgers serves as the youth foundation’s president; Drake is its CEO.   

“Johnny is a really good idea guy. He’s a good visionary of things,” Drake says. The two men are also working together on Authentic Collegiate Jeans, a venture to provide jeans with school and university logos that should launch this fall.   

With all that is going on in his life, Rodgers says he remains thoughtful about maintaining himself, too. When he was young man, it was about being a high-caliber athlete. Now, it is about being a quality person. He’s a fan of fish and organic chicken, but might only eat one traditional meal a day. For additional nutrition, he consumes kale and greens, frozen cherries and blueberries, and other healthy foods in liquid form in the morning, and fruit or protein bars in the afternoon, prior to dinner. He also tries to drink at least a half a gallon of lemon water every day. 

Rodgers plays tennis, golf, and racquetball weekly, and plays at a higher level now after having knee replacement surgery this past year. Rodgers says (with a smile) that 60 is the new 40.

“At 60, you’re smarter than you’ve ever been,” he says.  “And at 20, you’re about as dumb as you’ve ever been.”

Johnny Rodgers has long been known for his unique take on many subjects. Below are some of his quips to reporter Tim Kaldahl.

On Mike Riley, the University of Nebraska’s head football coach:
“Mike is probably a mix between Osborne and Devaney, as I see it.”

On the future of Nebraska football:
“I think our future is so bright that we’ve got to wear shades.”

On current concerns about the safety of football:
“I can’t think, overall, that it’s any more dangerous than it always has been, and I think that that risk factor is what people liked all the time. The possibility that, you know, you could get jacked.” (Rodgers chuckles.)

On good habits for life:
“And you don’t want a habit that’s taking you down. You want to create the type of habits that build you up, so you have to make a change.”

On staying mentally focused and goal setting:
“Thoughts are not just things. Thoughts are the cause of things. So if you can hold a thought long enough, you can have it.” 

Visit thejetaward.com for more information. Sixty-Plus

A Whirling Dervish Named Jane

June 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) rolls around in July, Omahan Jane Reuss will saddle up with her Team Angry mates for the 15th consecutive year.

Reuss has cycled since childhood. Back then she would traverse the Interstate to Council Bluffs to get her Gitano serviced. Nowadays, she treks 80 miles on a single ride. She and her husband, Jerry, a retired Omaha firefighter, keep a getaway cabin in North Bend, Nebraska. The ride there takes four-and-a-half hours, but Reuss says it’s a breeze.

Getting on a bike and going somewhere, anywhere, is her therapy.


“I just love it. It’s like my time. Nobody can ask me anything,” Reuss says. “I don’t have to do anything except ride my bike, listen to music, or a book on tape. It’s time off from my normal routine.”

Reuss also golfs, swims, skis, and works out at the gym. Jerry joins her on shorter rides, and the pair play sand volleyball together.

“There are some mornings when I think I should just sleep in,” she says. “But I don’t know who I am if I can’t be active.”

Though she used to run, rollerblade, and even compete in women’s triathlons, she prefers cycling now.

“It’s a great, stress-free activity for any age, especially as you get older,” Reuss says. “I’m seriously more comfortable on my bike than anywhere else.”

For years she’s commanded the road atop a Greg LeMond road model bicycle she’s affectionately dubbed “Old Blue.”

Reuss can’t wait to do the week-long RAGBRAI again with riders she considers family.

“We do feel a real camaraderie. We do a lot of bike rides during the year away from RAGBRAI. We’ve gotten to be good friends,” Reuss says.

Then there’s the folks she encounters along the way.

“I love meeting people. The townsfolk are great,” Reuss says. “It’s a big party for them. They love us because we spend money.”

She and fellow team members stay with host families while completing the 460-plus mile route.

Beyond the social aspects, Reuss enjoys testing her limits.


“I love the physicality of it. I love that I can do that,” Reuss says. “I love the sense of community and accomplishment.”

Not everything’s ideal. She’s waited out tornados in barns, slept in tight quarters on hard floors, and taken communal showers in school gyms. On one ride she took a hard fall that left her with a broken rib and punctured lung. After treatment, Reuss kept riding.

Reuss says she relishes challenges. Projects fill her garage and house.

“Thank goodness Jerry doesn’t mind,” she says. “He’s very supportive.”

In addition to bicycling, Reuss creates sculptures, often bicycle-themed, and works part-time at the Saddlebrook Branch of the Omaha Public Library. She sells her art at the Garden Gallery in Elkhorn, and even has a new commission to make a metal eagle for Eagle Run Golf Course.

In July, Reuss will be all geared up in jersey and gloves with a headband reading, “Not a sagger.” Once again she will ride from sunrise to sundown atop “Old Blue,” passing more than 400 miles of the Grant Wood landscapes called Iowa.

“I’m determined to do all the miles.”


Joint Griefs

May 22, 2015 by

This article originally appeared in May/June 2015 edition of 60-Plus.

If you’ve never complained of knee pain, consider yourself lucky. The knee is the largest joint in the body and one of the most commonly injured.

While acute or overuse injuries are the most common causes of knee pain, arthritis is also a common source of discomfort.

To avoid knee pain and injuries, there are some things you can do to help keep your knees healthy and strong, says Dr. Beau Konigsberg, an orthopedic surgeon at Nebraska Medicine.

One of the most important of these is to maintain a healthy weight, says Dr. Konigsberg. Losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight can dramatically reduce your chances of developing knee arthritis, which is the most common cause of knee pain among people in their 60s and 70s, says Dr. Konigsberg. It is estimated that every extra pound you pack on puts about four extra pounds of pressure on your knees.

Staying active is also key to keeping the knee joint supple and to prevent injury, he says. A knee that isn’t used stiffens and the muscles around it will weaken.

Maintaining flexibility, as well as regular strengthening exercises is also important. Focus on the muscles and tendons that connect directly to the knee, such as the hamstrings and the quadriceps, which help support the knees and reduce stress on the knee joints.

There has also been a lot of attention in the news surrounding glucosamine and chondroitin. “While there have been no studies that have proven these supplements can regrow cartilage or slow the degenerative process,” says Dr. Konigsberg,  “some people swear that they provide some relief of knee pain.”

If knee pain becomes debilitating, it might be time to consider a knee replacement. Thousands of knee replacements are performed each year, and for many people, they provide significant relief and a return to mobility, notes Dr. Konigsberg. If you have lost weight, tried anti-inflammatories and cortisone injections and still have significant pain that may be waking you up at night, it may be time to consider a knee replacement.

“A knee replacement is considered only after all other treatment options have been exhausted,” says Dr. Konigsberg.

For 70-year-old Dennis Chin, a knee replacement allowed him to resume his favorite pastime—playing golf. Chin had injured his knee several times in high school sports and had undergone several arthroscopic knee surgeries.

Over the years, the pain in his knee returned and gradually got worse. When he retired, he stepped up his golf game, which made the pain worse. “I was using my club as a crutch and taking Aleve everyday,” he says.

But when the pain began waking him up at night and he could barely get through a golf game, Chin knew he had to do something. Dr. Konigsberg took X-rays and said there was so much damage that his only real option was a knee replacement.

Chin had a knee replacement in January 2013 and was back on the golf course by March. Now he plays five times a week and sometimes twice a day.

“I have no pain and I’m not limping anymore,” says Chin. “No one can even tell that I had an operation.”

Chin couldn’t be happier. He’s doing what he loves and that’s what retirement is all about.


Omaha’s Hole in One

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by 2013 U.S. Senior Open

When officials with the United States Golf Association (USGA) began the selection process for the 2013 U.S. Senior Open more than five years ago, one city and one course stood above the rest.

Prior to an expansive renovation of the Omaha Country Club in 2007, every time Omaha tried to lure a major golf event to town, the USGA declined, saying there was no course in the state of Nebraska that was capable of hosting this level of national championship.

Not anymore.Fred-Couples_Web

“The USGA was impressed with what the club and [designer] Keith Foster had done when they renovated the golf course,” says Tim Flaherty, senior director, U.S. Women’s and U.S. Senior Opens for the USGA. “By bringing back the Maxwell features [put in place during a 1952 renovation of OCC by renowned golf course architect Perry Maxwell] and by lengthening the course, we felt it was a worthy test for the Senior Open. Our number-one issue is the golf course, and we really feel like Omaha Country Club is a hidden gem that a national audience will not be familiar with.

“We were also impressed with the club leadership and [general chairman] Patrick Duffy in particular. These championships are a collaborative effort, and we felt like the club would be a wonderful partner in this endeavor. Lastly, we were intrigued with the city of Omaha and all of the success it’s had with major, national events. There is a strong corporate base which supports events of this kind and that was readily apparent when we made the decision to accept the club’s invitation.”

“This championship will go down in the record books for being what we anticipate to be the biggest Senior Open in history.” – Liz Leckemby, Championship Director

Convincing the USGA to host such a widely followed and prestigious event as the U.S. Senior Open was quite a coup for Omaha. It’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase Omaha to an international audience, as the championship will be broadcast live on ESPN and NBC to more than 100 countries for four days between July 8 and 14.

With internationally known names like Tom Watson, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Couples, and Mark O’Meara—among many other former tour championships—competing for the title, Championship Director Liz Leckemby says spectators will experience an event like none other in Nebraska.

According to Leckemby, Omaha and the Omaha Country Club were selected from an elite list of clubs interested in hosting the championships—some past sites and some new contenders. This is the first time the U.S. Senior Open has been in the state of Nebraska, although there have been two smaller USGA championships held in the state.Crowd-2_Web

“Because the Senior Open is the biggest event for the players over 50, it provides the largest purse, and the trophy is the one the players all want to win, so we never need to go out and actively recruit players to come to this event,” Leckemby says. “This championship will go down in the record books for being what we anticipate to be the biggest Senior Open in history, so while having the top-name players is important, if someone does not make the field list due to injury or another reason, the championship will go on.”

“The rookie class for 2013 is pretty exciting, as we have Colin Montgomery, Steve Elkington, Vijay Singh, and Rocco Mediate who will all be eligible for their first U.S. Senior Open.”

“These are significant results and confirmation that Omaha is a great town for these types of events.” – Tim Flaherty, USGA Senior Director

From an economic impact, Leckemby says the USGA is conservatively expecting a crowd of 150,000 for the week to watch the 156 players and their caddies. Add in a few hundred media and broadcasters, volunteers, spectators, manufacturers, rules officials, USGA staff, USGA executive committee, and some vendors traveling to, staying and eating, and spending money in the city, and Leckemby is anticipating an economic impact of $30 million-plus to the local community.

She adds that the local public and private communities, as well as large and small companies, have been tremendous in supporting the championship. Ticket sales have been strong in both Omaha and Lincoln, and companies understand why it’s important to support major national championships like the U.S. Senior Open.Fred-Funk_Web

Flaherty agrees with Leckemby in predicting this championship is poised to be the most successful Senior Open in history. The event has already eclipsed the previous benchmark for corporate support, and ticket sales will end up in the top two or three championships in history.

“These are significant results and confirmation that Omaha is a great town for these types of events,” Flaherty says. “The club has been a pleasure to work with, and our championship staff is excited to be there in July. Successful Senior Opens are the ones that transcend the club and the USGA and truly become a community event. The unprecedented corporate support, strong ticket sales, and a full volunteer force are all indicators of a successful championship on the horizon.”

Leckemby says she expects the coverage and notoriety Omaha will get as host city of the Senior Open will intrigue organizers and decision-makers of sporting and entertainment events to investigate and ultimately choose the city for a variety of reasons.

“Anytime you can feature a successful event to a national and international audience, it opens the door for future events,” Leckemby says. “There are many people who may be learning about Omaha for the first time when the NBC broadcast coverage opens at the Senior Open on Saturday afternoon.

“I personally grew up in New Jersey, an hour outside of NYC, so Omaha was never a place I knew much about. I think this championship will do wonders to educate people about Omaha, and the golf fans in particular.”

A Major Moment

A total of 200 phone lines, 125 shuttle buses, 700 cases of beer, 250 kegs, 200 golf carts, and 196 portable restrooms…sounds like a big party and it is! Add in a celebrity guest list that includes big-name golfers, such as Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Hale Irwin, Corey Pavin, plus 152 other professional and amateur players and the party just got bigger and better.

The U.S. Senior Open, July 8 through the 14 at the Omaha Country Club, is expected to attract 150,000 spectators throughout the week-long event and put Omaha center stage in front of an international audience. The premier golf event for the senior tour will be broadcast to more than 100 countries and will include four days of live television coverage on ESPN and NBC Sports. That means millions will see what Omaha has to offer, generating valuable awareness for our city, as well as building upon Omaha’s growing reputation as a destination that knows how to successfully host big events.

And if there was any doubt as to the value tourism brings to our city, not only will the U.S. Senior Open provide premium media exposure, it will add $30 million to the local economy—$30 million in one week…Now that’s a party worth celebrating.

Questions or comments? Email us at info@visitomaha.com.