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All in a Day's Work: Jenni Greenway on Making a Difference and Being a Mom

Posted Sep 21, 2016

There’s more than one athlete in the Greenway family.

Jenni Capistra grew up in Shorewood, Illinois, and was involved with sports from a young age. As the youngest of three children, Jenni developed a competitive nature early on and credits some of her athletic success to sibling rivalry.

“I kind of had to fight, and they weren’t easy on me, ever,” Jenni said, before adding, “Maybe that’s why I’m a runner – maybe I was trying to run from them.”

Jenni joined the Joliet Township cross country team as a fifth grader and never looked back. She went on to excel in high school and later ran both cross country and track at the University of Iowa. College athletics – and a mutual friend – brought Jenni and Chad together, but it wasn’t love at first sight.

“I had just turned 18 when I met Chad and thought he was a great guy, but I never thought he’d end up being my husband,” Jenni said.

As the school year went on, however, Jenni and Chad found themselves forming a friendship. They shared a passion for sports and spent time studying and training together. They started dating that spring, and the rest is history.

“Chad’s an amazing guy, and we clicked right away […] we just got along from day one,” Jenni said. “We had a lot of similarities. We were very competitive in both school and athletics, and we wanted to make an impact on our surroundings.”

Making a difference

Both the Greenway and Capistra families instilled a passion in their children for making a difference. Chad and Jenni were married in July of 2006, and they knew that helping others would be a central part of their relationship.

The two come from humble, blue-collar backgrounds – Chad’s parents were farmers; Jenni’s worked in the school system.

“We didn’t have tons of extras,” Jenni said. “But you don’t need to give a million dollars to make an impact.”

When Chad was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2006 shortly before the Greenways’ wedding, it gave the couple a platform from which to reach an exponentially larger population.

In 2008, Chad and Jenni made a $100,000 donation to Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to support children’s cancer patients and their families. That same year, they established the Lead the Way Foundation.

“We were taught at a young age how to [help],” Jenni said. “And now that we’re in the NFL, we’re so grateful to have a platform that actually facilitates that to so many people and changes so many lives. It’s pretty awesome.”

The primary focus of the Lead The Way Foundation is to provide seriously ill and physically challenged children throughout the Twin Cities and Upper Midwest with daily support and life-changing experiences. Because the Greenways both came from such family-oriented oriented upbringings, they both agreed immediately that they wanted to be purposeful in supporting children and families.

Jenni said it’s an honor to use so many donations for good, and she takes that responsibility seriously.

“It’s wonderful having a cause that people are passionate about, as passionate as we are, and they’re trusting us with their money,” Jenni said. “You can donate five dollars, 10, whatever it is, and make an impact.”

Beyond accepting direct donations to their foundation, the Greenways also sponsor a variety of events to bring in funds, including the annual Father’s Day Gridiron Gallop, the TendHER Heart Luncheon and the “Chad’s Locker” program.

Jenni’s first idea was the 5K, because she wanted to use her passion for running as a way to reach others and make a difference. Next, she and Chad established a presence in local children’s hospitals by installing lockers full of electronics for patients to use while hospitalized. Finally, they kicked off an annual spring brunch for mothers of chronically ill children in 2011.

“That was a no-brainer,” Jenni said. “You go into a hospital and you see all the mothers – not that the dads aren’t there, too, but usually the dads [are working]. So you see these moms, who sacrifice so much. You see that, and you’re like, ‘We have to do something for them.’ You see these things, and it kind of snowballs. What we experience builds on those next events.

“We hope to keep doing that all throughout Chad’s retirement,” she added. “We want this to last as a family foundation and not just as a ‘Chad Greenway, football player’ foundation.”

Chad said he’s incredibly grateful that Jenni plays such a major role in the Lead the Way Foundation and has a presence at all of the events.

“She’s really what makes our foundation so great and makes it so personable,” Chad said. “Specifically with the TendHER Heart and the 5K – they’re events she really puts her whole heart into, and it shows with the quality of the product.”

Jenni said even before their work grew into an official foundation, being involved in the hospitals was incredibly important to her and Chad. She remembers him joining other players for hospital visits or returning to spend time with specific families or patients.

“People are in such dire need of something, and if visiting a room is going to help them smile, it’s 100 percent – he’s like, ‘I’ll be there.’ ”

Keeping up with the Greenways

It’s that shared mindset that makes the Greenways such a strong couple and so effective in the community, and it’s a mentality they’ve worked to pass on to their own family.

Chad and Jenni have three daughters – Maddyn, 9; Beckett, 6; and Blakely, 2 – with a fourth on the way. Although the family is grateful for a comfortable lifestyle, Jenni’s goal is to make sure her children stay grounded and are raised in a similar way to their parents.

Jenni remembers growing up and being taught to appreciate everything she was given. She had a pair of Nike shoes that she treated “like gold” and was careful not to damage them or take anything for granted.

Maddyn and Beckett are already learning the same values. Jenni feels it’s important to teach money management and the importance of a strong work ethic.

“We were raised working our butts off,” Jenni said, smiling. “We had jobs, we had sports, we had academics, and we were taught to balance things. That’s one thing we’re going to make sure our kids have, too.”

Jenni is proud watching her two oldest daughters already showing so much compassion for others. In school, their teachers often observe them asking about, checking in on and watching out for their classmates.

“That’s what we want to make sure of – that they’re friends with everybody, that they care for people, that they ask how people are doing,” Jeni said. “Because that will get you way farther in life than anything else.”

At their core, the Greenways are just a regular family of (almost) six. From Chad’s football schedule to Jenni leading fitness classes and the girls’ school and extracurricular activities, life sometimes moves at a frenzied pace.

“Chad’s the coach for baseball, which we’re at Mondays,” Jenni said. “Then Tuesdays we have soccer, Wednesdays is both basketball and soccer, and that’s how it goes. We just kind of wake up and roll.”

It’s a face-paced life, and Chad said Jenni is the glue that holds their family together.

“She’s our CEO,” Chad said, smiling. “She’s in charge of everything, and she has us all running smoothly. Without her, I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like.

“She’s amazing in every different way, and we love her,” he added.

Chad and Jenni both take turns volunteering at the girls’ school as “hallway helpers” that assist students with homework during the day.

“I think kids get disappointed when I show up and they thought it was Chad’s turn,” Jenni said with a laugh. “I can see the disappointment on their face when I sit down and they’re like, ‘Oh – I thought Chad Greenway was coming.’ But that’s OK – I can handle that.”

Crazy or not, Jenni wouldn’t trade their busy weeks for anything. She said people may be surprised that they’re “a pretty normal family” in their schedule of school, sports, home, dinner, baths, bedtime, repeat.

“We’re just doing life.”