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Vai's View: Vai's View: Making a difference

Published: Friday, June 3 2011 10:52 a.m. MDT

It is graduation season.

That also means seminary graduation. Outside the Intermountain West, where seminary teachers are on Church Education System payrolls, the rest of the country is staffed by volunteer teachers like Noramah Neu, my ward seminary teacher, who was called by our bishop.

Noramah Wheeler Neu waited two years for her 18th birthday to join the Church, because she wouldn't have her parents' blessing. A boy in choir invited her to visit his LDS ward when he learned Noramah was visiting her friends' churches every Sunday because she was dissatisfied with her family's church. After her baptism, she left home in Maple Valley, Wash., for Provo, Utah, to attend BYU. She walked on the track team and ran the 100- and 400-meter hurdles. At BYU, Noramah was part of the Cougars' 1986 conference championship team. A plaque with the team's photo shows Noramah sitting front row with her mane of red hair flowing onto a teammate's shoulder. It hangs prominently in her home.

Among track athletes, many regard the 400-meter as the toughest race in the sport because it's basically run at 100-meter speed for an entire lap. Imagine then if hurdles are placed on the track. Obviously, it is even more grueling than just the 400-meter. One of the most unheralded feats in sports is Edwin Moses' consecutive win streak of 122 races that spanned over 10 years in the 400-meter hurdles. It's a race that requires stamina, single-minded focus and a certain toughness — the same qualities that prepared Noramah Wheeler Neu to live a life that would separate and isolate her from immediate family because of her chosen faith.

She was committed enough to her new faith to accept a call to the Kobe, Japan Mission.

Following her mission, she resumed her studies at BYU, where she majored in history with a minor in Japanese because she found her calling in life in Kobe — teaching. "Watching people's lives change because of the truths I was teaching them was more powerful than I had expected," Noramah told me. "I knew teaching was something I'd want to do the rest of my life."

She chose teaching at the MTC over track when she had to choose one over the other because of schedule conflicts. She met her husband, Robert Neu, after her mission and they started a family of five — together raising children who are bright, confident and simply good. After graduation, she earned a teaching certificate and taught at American Fork High for a couple of years. But the children started coming in succession, so she focused on teaching her little ones at home.

Until the bishop called her to teach early morning seminary.

Noramah and Robert's oldest child is a BYU freshman and their youngest is in primary, so Noramah had to juggle her schedule somewhat to accept the call. Still an avid runner, she now runs a little later in the day, after the kids are off to school. She's fanatical about her two hours of preparation for each lesson — carving out time that must be observed by the entire family. Her motivation are the "ah ha!" moments that come when students begin connecting the dots of the doctrine she teaches.

The same discoveries she made when she was a teenager.

Like Noramah Wheeler Neu, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid is a convert to the Church.

Obviously, Andy has a more accomplished career, but they're both, nonetheless, former BYU athletes. In truth, they're both teachers. They just do so in different spheres and fall in different tax brackets. Andy would also agree that though he's more famous, Sister Neu's work is ultimately more important and has more impact for good in this world than what he does.

That's not to discount how much good Andy Reid has accomplished using his celebrity. This week I witnessed it firsthand.

Though we've been friends for 30 years, I try not to bother Andy for frivolous things because I know he's inundated with all kinds of requests. But every now and then something unique comes along that I deem worthy. This week I called Andy and asked him to accompany me to a special fundraising event that was out of town.

My former Cougar teammate accompanied me to Bushkill, Pa., in the Pocono Mountains on Wednesday to help raise money for Sgt. Jay Livziey, a Pennsylvania state trooper. Jay was recently diagnosed with leukemia and sadly, his insurance doesn't cover all of his medical costs. Earlier this week he received a bone marrow transplant in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, one of the best facilities in the world. Jay was still recovering so we didn't meet, but we met his two sons, Todd and Matt. Andy and I were so impressed with them, their love for their father, and the way they represented their family.

Fund-raising organizers reached out to me initially and then I invited Andy. Since the NFL is in a lockout, Andy had time he ordinarily wouldn't have had at this time of year. So, not only did he join me but brought a helmet and football along, which we signed and took turns auctioning to the golfers who gathered as part of the effort. To accommodate Andy's busy schedule, a private donor sent his helicopter — making what would've been a three-hour drive, just a 40-minute ride. View my report in the video link above.

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