Story by Tess Wahlmeier
LINCOLN (SNR) – Each year, North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln puts on “Witness through Fitness” to honor and support families with special needs in the parish.
This year, the honorees are Garrett Osmera, a 3-year-old with Down syndrome, and Shea McManus, a 13-year-old diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder.
The fundraiser includes a barbeque Friday, June 24 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. and a 5K run/1M walk Saturday, June 25 at 9 a.m. Suggested donations for the 5K and barbeque are $10 each, and t-shirts can also be purchased for $10.
One of the event’s sponsors, The Cattle National Bank & Trust Co., made it possible to provide free admission for students age 14 and under to the 1M walk or the 5K run, by making a donation for each student who participates.
Father Brian Connor, pastor of North American Martyrs, originally had the idea of “witnessing through fitness” (since the term “martyr” means “witness”).
Brian and Michelle Nelson, members of North American Martyrs, have been helping coordinate the event since its start in 2011, and said the whole parish really comes together each year through volunteering, donating, and praying for the families being honored.
“The event wouldn’t happen without all the hard work and time from the core team, Knights of Columbus, countless volunteers and over a couple dozen business sponsors,” Brian said.
“Everybody just comes together wherever they’re needed,” Michelle added. “Just knowing that you have the support of your church family behind you is huge.”
“If it raises a little bit of money,” Brian continued, “it helps, but it’s not about the money part of it so much as it is just being there as a community to support the families. It gives them an outlet to share their story, and financially can help in some way.”
The Osmera and the McManus families will each give a presentation at the barbeque. Through sharing their stories with others, the honorees give hope for other families in the parish often struggling with similar issues.
“One of the neat things about this is you get to know the families, and you get to know the child or the person with the disability, and it brings awareness to them,” Michelle said.
“You see these families in church and at other events, and you have no idea about what’s going on at home. I think it’s going to be a good thing to bring out Shea’s story because I’m sure a lot of other families struggle with the same types of things.”
“A lot of these honoree presentations end up being from the heart,” Brian said, “and for some people, it’s hard to talk about their challenges or share their story. Most people have no idea of just how much of an ordeal people go through, so it’s neat to hear their full story and I think that’s one of the things people like about the barbecue event.”
The Nelsons know firsthand the struggles as well as the blessings that often come with special needs. Their daughter, Sophia, was diagnosed with Down syndrome and spent her first couple of weeks in the NICU. She was one of last year’s honorees, and some of her most recent accomplishments include making her first confession and receiving her first Communion. Although she attends public school, Michelle said that Sophia is included in everything at Martyrs.
“Our parish is just very welcoming,” she said. “It’s like a second family. It doesn’t matter what type of disability your child may have, they’re very caring. Sophia is just like any other little kiddo: she made her first Communion and confession, so Garrett, there’s no reason he can’t do the same.”
With such a great need in the Lincoln community, Brian said he hopes in the future to work with other parishes to grow the event.
“We’ve got everything in place,” he said. “Other parishes could join the effort each year by naming an honoree from their own parish and then have their parishioners come walk or run as a parish team. When people register online they can choose which honoree they want to financially support.”
Whether it’s through running, volunteering, or just enjoying some good barbeque, Witness through Fitness is a fun event for all involved.
“We have music and everyone is pumped up, and the walkers are cheering on the runners – it’s really neat,” Michelle said.
The race will take place throughout the Fallbrook neighborhood, and is professionally timed. There will also be booths from all of the sponsors in the North American Martyrs gym during check-in. Additionally, the barbeque will feature a slideshow with updates from previous honorees.