This short video is definitive proof that life is cruel. There in the front is my wife, Laura, taking a leap off the diving platform along with Tegan Thornberry at the swimming complex in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Thornberry is the team’s director of operations. Laura the team’s academic advisor. Both are accompanying the team on the annual seven-day training trip to a warm locale during winter break. The weather is gorgeous. The sun is intense. Laura is enjoying herself which thrills me.
There is only one major, big-time problem. I am not there!
Trust me there are many people enjoying every moment of my suffering. From the day KU’s senior women’s administrator, Debbie Van Saun, and Laura’s boss, Paul Buskirk, told Laura she would accompany the team in an administrative role, the witty comments and facetious questions have rolled in like the surf at the island’s Dogman Beach.
Van Saun jokes how she knows winter has arrived because she no longer sees me in shorts. She has relished telling me how much fun Laura was sure to have on the trip. Clark Campbell, the team’s head coach, seriously asked Laura how badly I would take the crushing news. Buskirk, with tongue in cheek, offered to send his children over to the house to make sure I would not have time to mope.
Friday night, the assistant swim coach, Jen Fox, could be heard in the background during a phone call crying out with delight, “Tell him we went surfing today,” fully aware of the pain inflicted even though rough seas made it impossible for all but the most skilled regulars. Thornberry asked how upset I would be when everyone went stand up paddling in the coming day? My only response was, “I hope Laura loves it so much she will let me buy a pair for us to paddle on local lakes.”
As adventurous as this all sounds, there is one important aspect of these trips making me the most jealous. Beyond the training benefits, the swimmers and divers main goal is to come back to wintry Lawrence as tan as possible. Basking in the intense Caribbean sun is a must. My biggest personal rub about Laura’s time away is the fact she really does not like tanning. The fair-skinned, red-head can tan some, but she really can burn.
“Tegan, Beth (team massage therapist Beth Morford), and I are laying on the pool deck getting some sun,” Laura said over the phone one day, meaning Laura had coated herself in 100 SPF sun block. I had to ask whether her stomach had ever been exposed to the sun unblocked. She admitted probably not. Sorry skin cancer purists, if Laura spends a week in Puerto Rico, some serious bikini tan lines need to be revealed in the privacy of our bedroom upon her return. She called later from the beach to say she was going “naked” in the afternoon, meaning the super-strong Coppertone stayed in the bottle and has often since.
What we have here is a sun block woman bathing in tropical rays while her deep tanning oil husband remains in Kansas photographing basketball games in Allen Fieldhouse where the game lights offer no “harmful UV waves.” Deep in the recesses of Laura’s heart, I know she was hoping for bitter cold and deep snow while she is gone. At least the warmer Kansas weather has taken a bit of the sting out the trip for me and prevented Laura from further delight of rubbing my nose in deep snow.
All jealousy aside, a road trip provides Laura the chance to further bond with the swimmers and divers. There is just something about being on a long road trip that does it. The same goes for Laura’s time with Tegan, Beth and team trainer, Emily. They have shared something very special and will be better friends because of it. Heaven only knows what deep secrets rum sucked out of a hollowed-out coconut helped reveal. As long the words “Norse god” get used to describe me, who cares.
Meanwhile, I am left at home getting brief glimpses of a life filled with sun, sand and sea. Through phone calls and e-mails, I relished the tale of the team’s two-hour bus ride west from San Juan to the team resort in Rincon. Most KU bus travel comes on lush buses equipped with individual TV screens, power and wireless internet.
The bus waiting in San Juan was something out of the movie Major League. From her temporary administratively powerful front row seat, Laura could see the sparks flash from the dashboard when the bus hit a major rut in the road. Meanwhile further back, the pine tree air fresheners taped to the ceiling bounced with aromatic delight as team gear went flying and the driver cried out in shock and delight.
Soon, Laura and the crew will be back on that bus headed back to KU and the second semester, but not before going para-sailing. Writing all this is so hard, but I am so happy KU blessed Laura with this refreshing break. Her husband will be anxiously waiting to pick her up and check out the tan lines on the woman I love and miss so much.
Laura has already mentioned plans are for a longer training trip next winter to Hawaii. Hopefully, Laura will be able to go again. There is one certainty if she does: I will be in Hawaii with her even if I have to stuff myself into one of her bags.