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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

August 14, 2013 at 12:33 PM

My Dad’s greatest birthday gift: Meeting Steve Sarkisian

Family and friends gather around Chuck Below and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian on his birthday. Photo courtesy of Kim Jackson

Family and friends gather around Chuck Below (holding trophy) and Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian (front row, left) on Below’s 85th birthday June 22.
Photo courtesy of Kim Jackson

By Kim Jackson

Kim Below Jackson lives in Atlanta with her husband George. Both graduated from the University of Washington School of Business in the 1970s. Her father, Chuck Below, is a 1953 UW graduate and a lifelong Husky fan.

Everyone in my family is a Washington Husky fan. No matter what, we follow the football program closely. Our home in Atlanta has become a purple-and-gold UW shrine, and my husband and I have been Tyee Club members for more than 20 years.

But something happened this summer that touched us so deeply that it made our connection to the UW and its football program even stronger.

Dad is in hospice care for Stage 4 head and neck cancer. His 85th birthday was June 22, and Brett, the youngest of my three sons, suggested we ask if Steve Sarkisian, the Washington football coach, could visit him. We figured it was worth a try.

After contacting several people at the University of Washington, I heard back from Tyee officials and then Jared Blank, head of football operations. Jared asked if we could get Dad to the East Practice Field next to Husky Stadium on his birthday.

My husband and I, and all three of our sons, flew in from Atlanta, and others traveled from other parts of the country. On a beautiful Saturday, we all dressed in our Husky gear and surprised Dad, who is now in a wheelchair, by taking him to the Husky football facilities.  Jared not only provided us with a personal tour, he even asked Dad to present the winning trophy to the team playing at a football camp. Dad presented the trophy and delivered a wonderful, inspirational speech. All of the young men shook his hand.

He talked about playing to their full potential, about doing your best. “Leave it all on field,” he told them.

The day turned into an amazing family reunion that none of us will ever forget. Dad and all four of his children, along with their spouses and most of his grandchildren were there, soaking in the Husky atmosphere.

We were introduced to Coach Sark and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.  It was one of the kindest gestures I have ever witnessed. Dad had tears in his eyes. Even after a major stroke, Dad’s rarely at a loss for words. But several times that day, he was speechless. Still, he managed to offer some advice to Coach Sark and tell him he expected his team to win 10 or 11 games in 2013.

I can’t thank University of Washington Athletics enough. They went to great effort to make my Dad’s last birthday a memorable one.  We have been lifelong Husky fans and the kindness shown by the staff was nearly indescribable.

Almost two months later, Dad is still alive and he still talks about that day. He’s a miracle man. Our dream for him would be if he can watch the season-opening Aug. 31 game against Boise State on TV. My brother has given up his tickets so he can be by Dad’s side to watch the game.

That wonderful day in June was my Dad’s greatest gift on his final birthday. We’re convinced it prolonged his life.

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