Grace: Doc's prescription is 'If it's not fun, make it fun and do it' -
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Grace: Doc's prescription is 'If it's not fun, make it fun and do it'

John Seminara's life philosophy can be summed up in two words: Why not?

Why not play hockey at age 65? And why not be the team's captain?

Why not go running when it's 3 degrees out? And why not wear a pink bunny suit while you do it?

For that matter, why not snowshoe, cross-country ski, run and bike? Why not ice skate — for 24 hours straight?

“If it's worth doing,” the retired dentist said, “it's worth overdoing.”

I had to strap on a pair of ice skates the other day just to catch up with this active guy, who goes by the nickname “Doc.”

As we glided around the rink at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Doc told me about signing onto this marathon skating gig.

Why did he say yes?

Because it was a fundraiser for research on Parkinson's disease.

Because his good friend Colleen Wuebben suffered from the disease and then died last year.

Because he loves a challenge and a chance to be silly. For this 24-hour skate-a-thon, Doc had brought a number of costume changes.

“I try anything,” he explained. “If it's fun, do it. If it's not fun, make it fun and do it.”

Doc says he got his derring-do from his 94-year-old mother, Camilla, who loves to have fun. She once held great costume parties — something John has continued, holding a '50s-'60s party with other friends for nearly 20 years.

Recently, Camilla Seminara confessed to her son that as a child growing up in the Holy Name neighborhood she would go “planking.”


“The kids would lay down in the street on a dare,” Doc said. “I said, 'Mo-om!' ”

Doc did not ever attempt this. Even he could think of a few good reasons why not.

But in the same spirit as his mother, he adopted the “why not” mantra at Creighton Prep and had badges made for a pep rally with those words.

Then came adulthood and responsibility: college, dental school, a two-year stint in the Air Force, marriage to high school sweetheart Teresa and six children. Along the way, he met the Wuebben family and was tickled by Colleen's late mother, Phyllis, who was always up for anything.

“Why not?” Phyllis would ask.

Doc seized upon the message. He decided to be a fundraising team of one for the Parkinson's fundraiser this year and named his team “Why Not?” He printed the words in blocky black magic marker on a neon green sign, brought that sign everywhere and took pictures to prove it.

Here's the sign on New Year's Day, when Doc ran in Gretna's Resolution Run in 3-degree weather. Here's the sign, a few days later, up 7,259 feet atop Colorado's Horsetooth Mountain. And there outside UNMC, as we skate by another sign reminding us that Doc has 22 hours left on the ice, are his words: Why not?

Doc says he got real about exercise and diet right before his 20th high school reunion in 1986, when he carried 172 pounds on his 5-foot-8 frame. He started a diet program and dropped 25 pounds at the time; he now weighs about 160.

He started running and now runs enough to keep “a half marathon in my legs.”

That 13.1-mile race is coming up in May, when Doc will run as a pacer in the Lincoln half-marathon.

Doc also enjoys a number of other sports, especially mountain biking, “because you feel like a 12-year-old.”

Every Friday at 6a.m., Doc hits biking trails with a buddy and becomes a kid.

Still, I wonder about 24 hours on the ice for a man who at 65 is older — by far — than the three other marathon men at the fundraiser, whose ages are 47, 30 and 30. I keep thinking it's a good thing we're at the med center.

“I've been lucky with health,” Doc says explaining that he nearly died 3 years ago after surgery to remove his prostate.

He was hospitalized for nine days because of a complication. His kidneys shut down. His heart was inflamed. He was told later that being physically fit probably saved his life.

Three weeks after leaving the hospital, Doc was back on the ice playing hockey. He wasn't fully healed. But his team won. Doc delighted at what he told the losing side.

“I just want you to know,” he informed them, “you got beat by a guy in a diaper.”

We take ourselves too seriously, Doc says. We ought to laugh more. We ought to try new things.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

This sounds good in theory. Does it hold up on an outdoor ice rink for 24 hours?

I decided to check. The skate-a-thon started at noon.

Two hours in: “None of us have ever done this,” he said. “It's one of those 'why nots' again.”

Nine hours in: “So far, so good,” said a disco-clad Doc, doing a not-bad Michael Jackson shoulder roll to “Thriller.”

12 hours in: “I think the skivvy skate is going to be cold,” Doc said about the next costume change. At midnight he was dressed as a pink bunny, his pajamas an homage to Ralphie from the film, “A Christmas Story.” An hour later, he would strip down to boxer shorts and leg warmers and do 20 laps.

19 hours and 20 minutes in: “This is survival now,” admitted Doc, as dawn broke over the rink. “My feet are pretty darn sore.”

The marathoners were allowed five-minute breaks each hour. Over the course of this event, Doc had taken his skates off four times. One foot was giving him trouble.

“I checked my pulse. It's slightly elevated,” he said.

He was wearing a heavy coat and said the costumes “kind of got put on the back burner.”

23 hours, 58 minutes in, the sun was high and there was a party on the rink.

An exuberant Doc was dressed like a male professional figure skater. Puffy white shirt. Black pants and vest. Fedora.

He skated around the rink until the time was up.

“I made it!”

So did the other marathoners: Kevin Powers, Jim Hinrichs and Ronnie Stark.

All four skated to the front of the rink and ripped up a sign that told them how many hours were left.

But they left the other sign up. It said, of course, WHY NOT?

You may wonder what ol' Doc did after skating for 24 hours straight.

“Slept for three hours,” he said. “Went to a friend's wedding.”

And put his ice skates back on for his hockey game.

“When I got on the ice, I felt no different,” he said. “And we won 5 to 1.”

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