Rich Seubert is a big man with a “Giant” heart. That’s why he established an endowment to support heart research, in the name of his beloved grandmother, Celine Seubert.
At 6 feet, 3 inches and weighing 310 pounds, he fit right in as a starting offensive lineman for the New York Giants professional football team. He lives in New Jersey, a metropolis that’s a completely different world than the rural one he grew up in at tiny Rozellville, Wisconsin. But he clearly hasn’t forgotten his roots or the world-class Marshfield Clinic, just a 10-minute drive from Rozellville.
In 2008 Seubert established the Celine Seubert Endowment for Cardiology Research at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute. To support it, he and the Clinic created Rich Seubert’s Celebrity Trap Shoot. Going into its third year, the event and related activities had already raised more than $600,000 toward its initial goal of $1 million.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Seubert said of starting the endowment. “I’ve participated in a lot of charity events in the past decade, but this was the first time I’ve done a charity event like this. "But we couldn’t ask for more generosity, and all the sponsors have been great. People care about it. I think everybody knows that heart disease kills one in three people, so if our story makes a difference and helps other families get the chance to spend more time with their grandmothers, it’s well worth it."
Seubert’s home was above the family restaurant, Buck-A-Neer Supper Club. His family’s home was connected by a porch to the home of his grandparents, Dick and Celine. Home was a great place to play cards, go fishing and just hang out. But Celine had life-threatening heart problems, so it looked like Seubert’s boyhood time with her would be limited.
She was on a list for a heart transplant, a relatively new development back then, and in August of 1987 she got the call that a heart was available. At age 59, past the usual cutoff of 55 years, Celine received her heart as the 136th heart transplant recipient at University Hospital in Minneapolis.
“At that time, my doctors gave me five years to live, which was as long as anyone had lived with a heart transplant,” Celine said. Although there have been bumps along the way, she’s surprised almost everybody by not only surviving, but thriving, now looking toward the 23rd anniversary of her transplant. But Rich wasn’t surprised. “She’s tough and she’s stubborn. I like to say I inherited those traits,” he said.
Seubert suffered a potential career-ending leg fracture in 2003 and missed football action for a year and a half, but he said that was nothing compared to the life and death struggle his grandma faced. For her part, she got back to work at the restaurant as soon as she could after the transplant. Although the heart stopped briefly, it resumed beating shortly afterward and has been fine ever since.
Seubert, along with his sister, Christina Zaleski, worked together to conceive the idea of the trap shoot. Christina’s current, on-going role is to organize all the event volunteers, which is largely all extended family members. She also provides a further connection to Marshfield Clinic through her work for the Clinic as lead genetic counselor.
Seubert wanted something different that reflected his central Wisconsin upbringing and love of the outdoors. He also wanted it to be fun for everyone involved, as well as a money-maker for the cause. It has scored big on all three counts, especially with the revenues from entry fees, sponsorships and auctions.
Seubert and his teammates remain the big draw. At the initial trap shoot in 2008, four of Seubert’s fellow linemen from the Super Bowl champion Giants came to the event. This year he expected 10 teammates, including his line-mates Kareem McKenzie, Kevin Boothe and Guy Whimper, Jr.; running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw; tight end Kevin Boss; linebackers Adam Koets and Chase Blackburn; and defensive end Dave Tollefson. Also attending was Jim Sorgi, the Giants’ new backup quarterback and a former University of Wisconsin star.
To add a little fun, this year’s event featured a chance to outshoot the football players. “Kareem (McKenzie) is a pretty good shot but most of us (Giants) are not as good at this as some of the other participants,” Seubert said. “Others will probably win every time but our job is to make sure people have fun." Getting an opportunity to meet and compete with these gentle Giants up close is rare, of course, and the idea is to have it be a relaxed event that’s fun for everyone.
“We’re really just normal people. We have a good job and we love what we do, but this event is a chance to have fun and meet people,” he said. “These guys all appreciate what this means to me and my family. Everybody’s got something close to their heart and we like to help each other out."
To grandma Celine, it’s “more than an honor, and something I could see my grandson wanting to do. It’s still overwhelming in terms of how much money we are raising and how the whole family has pulled together to make this happen." She also credits a team of Marshfield Clinic cardiologists, including Humberto Vidaillet, M.D. and Juan Mesa, M.D., for the excellent care she’s received since the transplant.
All proceeds from the event support the Celine Seubert Endowment for Cardiology Research at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute. There, researchers are searching for breakthroughs in diagnostic and therapeutic techniques to fight heart disease.
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