A friend and subscriber to this blog approached me at a KU track & field meet saying, “I can tell you must be really busy because you haven’t written a blog in a long time.” That certainly is the truth. Since I do value this friend’s opinion and interest in my blog, the time has come to get back to it.
At long last, it is again time to write about time. Since starting this blog in August of 2009, an annual post based on a song about time has highlighted the rush that comes to my life in the fall, or better said, late summer. My working life’s new year used to kick off with football games in September during my newspaper days. Since beginning my work at KU, the giant ball that drops in Time’s Square to signal a new year officially happens for me when the volleyballs, footballs and soccer balls drop on the court and practice fields the first week of August.
Somehow, in the rush of the most challenging fall ever for Laura and me, my time post never developed even though I have long known the perfect song. From the moment I heard Some Unheroic Hill by Ark Life, portions of the lyrics resonated with me.
Sometimes you’re gonna get off scot-free.
Sometimes you’re gonna pay with your teeth.
Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it just bleeds you.
Let me share a few stories and photographs that confirm the truth to those lyrics. Laura’s new work life seems to be the perfect place to start. Last May, the athletic department’s senior women’s administrator, Debbie Van Saun, asked Laura to consider taking on the academic needs of the KU track & field program. The director of athletics, Sheahon Zenger, quickly followed with a very detailed request.
Laura always told me that the last sport she ever would consider working with would be track & field. The request was a shocker that led us to hours of discussion and many prayers. To start with, the program’s 120+ student-athletes makes track & field the largest in the athletic department. Those athletes come in every size and shape and with every conceivable academic need. Those needs, in the eyes of the administration, were not being met, leading them to Laura.
The following is a completely prejudiced statement, but one very accurate. There is no one that could handle this monstrous task better than Laura. The administration knew that to be true. We talked and prayed endlessly about the monster Laura would be facing. My belief was that Laura would choose to retain her work with the rowing and swimming & diving teams. Then one morning she woke up announcing she would accept the position with track & field. That was only the first surprise. She reluctantly gave up rowing, but wanted to retain swimming & diving. That meant working with over 150 student-athletes with the help of only one graduate assistant, a very helpful Denesha Morris.
Now, a year into her new calling, Laura has found many great joys. Working with male athletes again is refreshing. The diversity is infectious fun. Her system of weekly meetings with every freshman and transfer is growing sound roots in the lives of not just the athletes but also coaches.
The “magic” still works, but she did not always get off scot-free.
Getting her plans up and running took a toll. She quickly discovered that track & field was not one big team but actually six, broken into vertical and horizontal jump teams, sprints, middle distances, long distances and throws, each with unique needs. Her cell phone seemed implanted in her ear, day and night. Text message came endlessly. The load stressed her in ways never seen in our 14 years of marriage.
There were always intense periods ahead of enrollment for spring and fall classes in our years together. Over the years I learned to deal with those. This year the stress never eased. Her stress became my stress. Our hope was always that her job would never get as stressful as mine. At least for this first year it did. We did not always handle it all as well as we hoped. Laura photographed less this year than in past years, and often separated from me. Since she does all that as an unpaid bonus to KU, she did so with my blessings. However, I missed her so much on so many shoots. To see her so weary was disturbing.
We use baseball season as a time of true connection. Until games grow in importance as a season moves along, we enjoy sitting together through nine innings sharing the best of times. This year we did that for only three games. We discovered that track & field has no off-season and all the spring sports spread us very thin.
In April, I turned 65. While that is only a number, and there are so many things I still want to photograph and grow in process as a photographer and man, the realization is that the time is coming when I no longer can maintain this pace. An aching and degenerating left knee reminded me of that far too often this past year. Over my 19 years at KU, each year something new and challenging arises. New challenges excite me even though none of my other tasks cease.
As Ark Life sings, Sometimes you’re gonna pay with your teeth.
This year with the help of a KU donor and friend, Rich Jantz, I was able to use a young photographer, Mike Gunnoe, for some work. He did a very good job for us. My hope was that this would lighten my load. Unfortunately, all of Gunnoe’s work only added to the monstrous list of events covered for KU that meant far too many seven-days-a-week loads.
Yet, through it all, this was my best year ever as KU’s photographer and my best in my 47-year career. I grew further in my skills with lighting, covered some of the most dramatic events in my history at KU and made many photographs I truly love. Now that I am back to writing again, I will share some of those images with you very soon as I prepare for a summer workshop in Denver in July.
Outside of KU, a number of Sports Illustrated assignments proved to be exciting and challenging for me, and the best assistant I know – Laura. The Kansas City Chiefs were the primary subject of our work. While we covered two games with specific needs, two assignment for action portraits of tight end Travis Kelce and punter Dustin Colquitt were very fulfilling. We enjoyed our time with both men and appreciated the fact Sports Illustrated used images from football and some basketball in six issues this year.
In April, 1964, my parents subscribed to Sports Illustrated for my birthday. I never have stopped reading and loving the photographs for 52 years. The magazine called often and used many of my photographs over those years. Yet, every time one of my photographs appears, I still am that 13-year-old kid filled with gee-whiz wonder as I leaf through magazine’s pages.
In January, I did a workshop in Indianapolis for an amazing group of University Photographers Association of America photographers. Roberts Camera and good friend Jody Grober hosted the event. Grober has handled my equipment needs for longer than I can remember. As one of the largest camera stores in America, Roberts and Grober have a devotion to not only supply great gear but to teach good photography. After an opening night social, lighting sessions and an evening presentation filled two days. That forced me so far out of my comfort zone, I feared I would surely “pay with my teeth.”
It helped that Joey Terrill was the other photographer asked to take part in the workshop. I am a huge admirer of his work and am proud to call him a close friend. Terrill is one of the most distinguished portrait photographers in the country. Just last month, Terrill was named a Nikon Ambassador. It is hard to explain fully what an honor it is to work alongside him while being completely intimidated by his skills.
Grober honored both of us when he told us for this first workshop that included going to sites for lighting work he needed two people he truly could trust to make the workshop a success. Thankfully, we did that which is a joy beyond belief for me.
The one time I paid with my teeth came in December when I failed to finished my year-long look back on past photography with what I hoped would be interesting stories. The work proved challenging. Digging out negatives for scans and researching facts to make sure my memory was not fooling me proved to be a major task. I wanted the stories to be good and match with the time of the year. Even though I knew what photos and story would run in the final few weeks, a very fun and funny thing happened on the way to publication.
KU volleyball did something very remarkable by advancing to the NCAA Final Four for the first time in school history. Even though they lost to eventual national champion Nebraska in the semi-final (I couldn’t lose either way in that match), their journey to Omaha was remarkable because of one match. After winning two matches in Lawrence, the team traveled to the University of San Diego for the western regional finals. A dominating victory over Loyola Marymount set up a match against the No. 1 seeded team in the 64-team bracket, the University of Southern California.
Held in the basketball arena on the beautiful University of San Diego campus, a stop worth seeing should you find yourself in San Diego, the fans of the Trojans were clearly confident of a victory. Then KU came out and took the first two sets in swift fashion. USC, proving they were worthy of the top seed, battled back to win the win the next two, hard-fought sets. That set up the 15-point fifth set.
This is where things really got interesting. USC fans, in typical California style, began to leave early to beat traffic up the I-5 as the Trojans powered their way to a 13-9 lead. With no margin for error, and only two points from defeat, KU proved to be amazing. Point-by-point they fought back. Long rallies of faultless play saved points. An impossible dig tied the match at 13-all. Finally on the longest point of the match, with the ball passing over the net 14 times, KU secured an improbable victory followed by a raucous celebration.
With volleyball all wrapped up, Laura and I flew back to San Diego after the Final Four to photograph a KU men’s basketball game at San Diego State on our 14th wedding anniversary. We flew in a day earlier than the team and left a day later to enjoy a much-needed anniversary break along the coast. By then my blog plans had gone astray.
…but the world is unfair to all of us, each in a special way, some find the weakness to go with the wind – others, as strong, only stay
Where then does all this leave us? Right where God intends at this point in our lives. At the end of the school year, the track & field teams led the conference with 30 Academic All-Big 12 selections. There are far more young men and women whose academic success will never garner Big 12 praise, but now are on a path to success they never would have realized without Laura’s efforts. Laura feels part of a team in ways she never had dreamed. A year in with a pattern of expectations set, we hope things will run smoother for her.
My desire to make meaningful, dynamic and beautiful photographs grows only greater. The athletes at KU continue to give me those opportunities that make my life a joy despite all the hours. The school years wear me out, but my belief is that next year will be my best.
Together Laura and I laughed, we cried, we prayed and we grew in our work life and our marriage. It is a gift beyond understanding to share my life with a wonderful woman as caring and devoted to me and to her calling as I am to mine and her. For that we thank God every day.
All this talk of magic and getting off scot-free is great for a song and for a tag to this post, but for us it is the belief we share from Proverbs 3-5.
Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.
Our year was not always straight, and we did not always understand. We stand strong against any winds only with God’s help. Our path for the future is straighter now than before because of the Lord’s tests in the past year. We have plans for the coming year to make our life together even better and to deal with the changes that will come at some point thereafter. Who knows, maybe God will lead us to a place like the one in the attached video along with Some Unheroic Hill as the music. We have no idea what hills will stand before us next year other than to make sure we face them together with our Savior.
Thanks for your patience in my writing absence.