A Whirlwind

Green is the color of the spring in Flint Hills of Kansas
Green is the color of the spring in Flint Hills of Kansas.

The photos and this story reflect our recent life. It has been a whirlwind filled with good times and bad, happiness and sadness. These extremes remind us that we need to be thankful for both, for only the Lord knows the path of our journey that remains our greatest joy. May I please share some bullet points that capture the good and bad aspects, along with various photos?

Since being a Kansan means you must talk about the weather, this spring has been good and bad, making this an excellent place to start.

  • The good is that the drought in Northeast Kansas ended. It is hard for me to remember the Flint Hills as green as right now. The state’s sprawling landmark gleams from the incredibly rain-drenched spring. Cattle and horses wander amid an abundance of grass on which to munch.
  • Unfortunately, the earlier drought stunted the state’s wheat crop, especially in the southwest. That is bad. Projections point to a much lower than usual harvest. The sadness is how this hurts the men, women, boys and girls who toil endlessly to bring crops, cattle and horses to the market. They should never be far from everyone’s thoughts and prayers.
  • Laura and I might be the happiest when we take a good road trip. We took off for Scottsdale, Arizona, in a rental Chevrolet Malibu in late May. We headed south to Wichita and onto Highways 400 and 54 in a steady rain. Laura drove from Wichita with me often hanging outside the passenger window stretching my seat belt to its limits for head-on-photos or through side windows rolled down with blowing rain spritzing the inside of the car. Surprisingly, that was good fun and likely very funny for drivers passing us.
  • We were happy when winds from the east began to gust up to 50 mph, pushing us along with excellent gas mileage. The bad was talking to a semi-driver at a gas stop in Liberal. He makes runs between Los Angeles and Kansas City twice a week. Sadly, he was heading into the wind. His tanks held 300 gallons of diesel fuel, but he only managed five miles to the gallon. The saddest part was it cost him over $1,500 to fill those tanks in our times of inflated gas prices.
  • Something happy came on the return trip through Liberal, though. I lined up a room for next February’s Liberal Pancake Race against Olney, England, on Shrove Tuesday. I’ll be staying along Pancake Blvd. before photographing the legendary race.
  • Thanks to various navigation apps, we took roads not often traveled through parts of New Mexico, where we happily viewed trains well over three miles long winding their way east and west, loaded and stacked high with shipping containers.
  • The bad was finally reaching Interstate 40 to find it packed with semis making their runs on the most direct path to Los Angeles. After a night in Albuquerque, we finished our span of the Interstate at Holbrook, Arizona, to head south through the scenic Tonto National Forest.
  • Those impressive views were both good and bad. Sadly, severe drought conditions throughout Arizona left the forest visibly dry with noticeable signs of past fire damage. Even worse were the electronic signs warning that even a cigarette butt tossed out a window could ignite an out-of-control wildfire.
  • Testing our Chevy through the winding roads that climbed mountains and then dared me to fly down the mountain passes towards the Valley of the Sun was very good. The bad is this didn’t make Laura happy. Sadly, I wasn’t at the wheel of my VW SportWagen with its new Bilstein sports suspension and lowered ride height. However, my passenger might have turned that happiness into genuine sorrow as she tossed back and forth.
  • While I worked for the Arizona Republic ages ago, I always loved the area and relished every trip I made. The good was seeing my friend Rob Schumacher, who was covering the NCAA Men’s Golf Tournament for the Republic and soon will be working the British Open at Saint Andrews in Scotland for USA Today. The bad was not being able to see my other great friend, Tom Story, as the workdays became too long. Sorry, Tom. Next time I promise.
  • There was happiness photographing the Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club for KU since the players and coaches all mean a great deal to me. Laura shined as she uploaded an SD card of images I selected onto my phone. KU’s golf SID, Daniel Berk, received almost all of the final 141 photos over four workdays before we left the golf club.
  • Our walking totals for the practice day and three rounds averaged seven miles daily. If you look at the photo of the statistics from the third round, please note that the map shows us always walking at high speed to stay ahead of players, find scenic backgrounds and make at least two runs through the five golfers playing in 18 holes. That exercise was good for us.
  • The sour note from the same photo is that we were on the course for over six hours. As much as I love the warmth of Arizona, it still takes time to adjust. Temperatures climbed to 104 degrees. Of course, as people love to say, “It’s a dry heat.” Indeed, it was. Humidity dropped to five percent often. That means that even though we were downing bottle after bottle of water and electrolytes, our mouths still were instantly dry. We were undoubtedly gassed every day by the time we returned to the hotel.
  • Happiness abounded while dining at the home of the long-time KU baseball coach Ritch and Cindi Price in the mountains of Desert Highlands at the far north end of Scottsdale. The bond between Skip and I goes way beyond the fact that we share April 10 birthdays with many people we know. Skip is my dearest KU friend, so it was a joy to watch him grill four of the most enormous steaks I’ve ever seen while soaking in the gorgeous views. Conversations between the four of us went deep into the night.
  • Knowing that Skip will no longer be the KU baseball coach, and the thought I cannot just pop into his office or walk onto the diamond to discuss life, brought great sadness. I bite my tongue and say no more about this change. I felt we both were fighting back the tears for most of the night. I believe with all my heart that baseball is not through with Skip, and I pray Skip is not done with baseball. Baseball needs people like Skip. We both will pray for him, Cindi and his sons. I just keep thinking this is an excellent reason for us to make returns to Arizona regularly.
  • On the other hand, the happiness we shared in Flagstaff on our final day in Arizona with Sharon Lokedi and Edward Cheserek over breakfast was as refreshing as the pine-scented winds and cooler temperatures could bring. Both are from Kenya. Sharon won the NCAA Outdoor Championship 10,000-meter race in 2018 for KU. Laura grew to know Sharon as her academic advisor. I photographed Sharon’s championship and many more races on cross country courses and the track that led to great respect and friendship between us. The bond between the three of us led to our growing relationship with Edward, Sharon’s fiancée.
  • Both run professionally and live and train in the high altitude of Flagstaff, a super-active town now renowned as an ultimate distance training destination. Sharon is making a name for herself in road racing with great results this spring as she prepares for the New York Marathon, her first at the 26.2-mile distance.
  • Meanwhile, Edward had just returned from an elite meet, The Pre, in Eugene, Oregon. As a collegiate runner for Oregon, Edward won 17 NCAA championship races in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. He is the winningest male athlete in NCAA history. His success made him a legend for Oregon’s track & field-crazed fans. At The Pre, he ran the 5,000- meter race, though he is building to peak for his soon World Championship qualifying race in Kenya. Even with the world record holder in the race, the public address announcer held Edward’s introduction for last, leading to a huge roar from the massive crowd.
  • The two had just returned from a morning run and were still energized. Our lengthy conversation still makes me smile as I recall all we discussed. Sharon went with us to shop at every outdoor store in the bustling town while Edward received a massage, as would Sharon later. We gathered once more before the road’s calling forced us to say our goodbyes – for now – to two of the nicest people we know. (FYI, the best breakfast burrito of all time at Flagstaff’s Tourist Home Café.)
  • Finally, back home after 2,587 miles and an impressive 33.3 mpg, we were both happy and sad to see our journey end.
  • Tragically, our sadness only deepened the following day when we were informed of the sudden death of a long-time friend Teresa Turnbull. Her husband, Jim, was my best man at Laura’s and my wedding. Teresa’s and Jim’s lives took a long and twisting path before they reached the incredible moment they were standing together to be married. Proudly, I delivered the marriage prayer at their wedding. My charge from God is to always be an even better friend to Jim. I pray I will not fail. Rest in peace, Teresa. God be with you, Jim. 
  • Even amid that sadness, life still calls, which is good. I captured photos of our grandson’s BMX racing in Raytown and photographed the long-running Jayhawk Open tennis finals in Topeka. I covered my first Jayhawk Open 53 years ago and still love photographing the prodigious tennis contested in my hometown.
  • Even more so, I believe I have photographed what my friend Mark Nordstrom told me could well be the future of men’s tennis – Cooper Woestendick. The 15-year-old Topeka native easily won the singles championship in straight sets. He comes from outstanding stock as the grandson of Delvy Lewis, a Washburn Rural High School and KU basketball legend. His mother, Kristi, played basketball at Rural and Washburn University. The family now lives in Olathe, while the budding star travels for tournaments and trains at United States Tennis Association National Campus in Orlando, Florida. 
  • Remember to write that name down. Then, years from now, as you watch Woestendick win one of the Grand Slams, think kindly of this story, please.
  • In the meantime, be happy and remember sadness is only the precursor to even greater happiness. God reminds me of that often. All my thanks.

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Jeff Jacobsen has photographed practically every big event the sports world has to offer during a professional career that spans over 53 years. Jacobsen has seen things up close that only a diehard sports fan could in their dreams. His work for the Topeka Capital-Journal, Arizona Republic, Kansas Athletics, Inc., many national publications and now Action Images Photography, Inc., cemented his reputation as one of the nation’s finest sports photographers.

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