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Rosina Paolini


Rosina Paolini doesn’t always keep a weed whacker in her trunk, but she probably should. That, and bug spray.

On an average week, Rosina and her husband, Karl, spend upwards of 8-10 hours in Wilderness Park. Some of the time they’re hiking, but a lot of the time they’re clearing the trails to help the city keep up with the big task of maintaining the park.

She doesn’t spend this amount of time in the park because she’s paid or even asked to do it, she does it because she loves the park. It’s become who she is in a way that’s hard for her to describe but easy to understand because of the way she talks about the park… or rather, the way she can’t stop talking about the park.

Wilderness Park feels like home to Rosina for a lot of reasons, but it’s not where her story starts.

Rosina was born in Algeria, a country in northern Africa. She said her birth parents were most likely killed in The Algerian War, which plagued the area and left children to fend for themselves. As a baby, Rosina was placed in a foster home where she was adopted by American missionaries.

They hadn’t planned on adopting from Algeria, but once they saw how malnourished and small Rosina was they knew that they could either adopt her or leave her to die. After her adoption, she and her parents spent 6 years in Algeria before moving to Lincoln.

In many senses, her childhood was just as ‘typical’ as any other Nebraska-native. She went to school, rode her bike and played outside. She had a childhood friend who frequented Wilderness Park with her family and introduced Rosina to the trails, wildflowers and animals of the park. It quickly became the girls’ playground as they hiked, learned to spot rare birds and tell imaginative stories.

As Rosina grew up, the park served as the backdrop for her life. It’s where she could go when she needed a quiet space, a place to run, catch up with friends, bike, think and breathe.

When Rosina got to high school she quickly got bored of her classes. Her lack of direction, coupled with her rebellion and general teenage angst led her to drop out.

Eventually she earned her GED and realized that what she really wanted to do was be a physical therapist. She’d always loved learning about how the body worked and enjoyed people, so it seemed like a natural fit.

Rosina majored in psychology and biology and graduated as a physical therapy assistant. Now, she works at a skilled nursing facility in Lincoln where she spends a lot of her time interacting with the residents. She loves the way her work allows her to connect with others in a way that’s meaningful and genuine. It’s allowed her to use her skills in a way that’s helpful to others and rewarding in its own right.

This kind of connection is much of what she loves about Wilderness Park too. The connection between the runners, bikers and explorers, the connection to the land, animals and plant species and the connection to herself.

When budgets were cut and Rosina and many others started to notice a lack of maintenance in the park, she and her husband stepped up. Their philosophy was ‘If we don’t do it, who will?’ and what started out as a volunteer effort to enhance the park has become supplemental over the last 10 years.

It’s hard work — especially for someone who is almost 57, Rosina said with a laugh — but it’ also something she’s not planning on stopping anytime soon.

When Rosina walks along the trails, she’s confident in where she’s going because she’s been on the trail hundreds of times and because she feels like the park is hers. It’s a place where she’s invested. A place she feels responsible for maintaining, protecting, promoting and sharing with the community.

It’s a place she’d be lost without.

Rosina said she’s not quite sure how she grew to love the park so much. Maybe it’s because she grew up here. Her best days start with a 6a.m. run in the park and her most memorable weekends consist of meeting old and new families while she and her husband clear brush from the trails. It’s where she finds her sense of place and purpose in the chaos of a busy world.

Rosina said it’s hard to figure out where her story ends and the Wilderness Park story starts. There’s something about the park that makes her come to life in a way that few other things do. It’s a place she feels settled, free and at home.

She wears a bracelet that has a single phrase on it – ‘Live what you love.’ In many ways that’s what Rosina’s story has been about – finding what she loves and living it out every day. She’s motivated by more than goodwill or a sense of pride in her work, it’s about living out love… the best way she knows how.

Stefanie Urbom


When Stefanie Urbom meets with patients for the first time she oftentimes uses her own story as part of the introduction.

“My mom had cancer…” she says, honestly, explaining her mom’s surgery, recovery and the number of years she’s been cancer-free.

She does this because a lot of her patients are skeptical and nervous about opening up. They look at Stefanie and think, ‘What could this young, healthy girl know about helping someone like me…’

Their skepticism is valid, Stefanie said, but what her patients often don’t understand is that Stefanie has interacted with cancer in a way that shifted both her personal and professional life forever.

As a kid, Stefanie said she was always helping people. Whether it was kids at school who needed a little extra attention, or a friend with a problem, she liked to be an advocate for the underdog. Which is why it seemed like a no-brainer for her to pursue a career in the medical field.

She graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan and then attended physical therapy school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. It was while she was going through school that her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I was devastated,” she said. “I was very scared of the big C word – you just think the worst.”

Stefanie felt paralyzed and limited by her options to help her mom. Sure, she could provide emotional support, but at times that didn’t seem like enough. She watched as her mom lost her hair after chemotherapy, as she struggled with short term memory loss, fatigue and the emotional and physical pain and that followed her mastectomy.

Her mom wasn’t herself, she didn’t feel like herself and that was the hardest part for Stefanie to watch. But the one thing Stefanie could do was research how to help her mom deal with the physical repercussions of treatment and surgery. She quickly realized that her mom could benefit from physical therapy during her recovery.

After graduating from physical therapy school, Stefanie continued to study the use of physical therapy for cancer recovery and also became a certified lymphedema therapist. She realized that while people are often unaware of the benefits physical therapy can have for a patient undergoing treatment for cancer, helping these patients regain their strength, maintain activity level and manage pain are crucial parts of their care.”

Currently about half of the patients she sees have cancer. Stefanie works with them to reduce pain and improve their quality of life.

It’s a heavy job, because not all of her patients make it through their therapy programs, but Stefanie said she doesn’t think about it that way. She goes in to each day thinking about what she can give her patients, independent of how many days they have left. She makes it her mission to help her patients laugh during therapy, to talk about something other than cancer and to help them feel like themselves again.

Stefanie said she tries not to let the sad stories distract her from the reason she does her work, but it’s still difficult. She has hard days and can get overwhelmed by sadness when she sees something that reminds her of a patient who has died.

In the same way that cancer has defined the story of so many of her patients, being a physical therapist who works closely with cancer patients has shaped Stefanie in ways she hadn’t anticipated.

It’s made her a professional who craves knowledge so that she can provide the best care possible and it’s made her a wife and mother who is grateful for her family’s health.

But she’s also realized cancer, even her mom’s battle with cancer, isn’t the only thing that defines her story.

Stefanie is a young mom and wife who tries to balance working full-time and being attentive to her young children and husband. She’s ambitious and outgoing, she loves to have fun but also enjoys the simple things in life.

Her story is about using her own experience to help others. It’s about learning how to lean in to moments that others often shy away from, and seeing people beyond their current circumstances.

It’s also been about stepping back and watching how other stories have impacted her own story, learning from those moments and choosing to keep moving forward.

Her story has been shaped by some hard circumstances, but it’s also a story that she’s still trying to understand herself. She’s trying to figure out what’s next,  how to continue to grow personally and professionally and how to piece all of these elements together.

“It’s a process,” she said, one that builds over time, one patient at a time, one day at a time and one moment at a time.

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