In the summer of 1999, I met Ken Valanais, or “V”, in a San Fransisco airport conference room. He was a social studies middle school teacher from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Thanks to a Japanese business/civic foundation, we were traveling to Japan to learn about the country so that we could integrate aspects of it into our teaching. At a SFO hotel, we took turns presenting our planned curriculum writing projects. Most of the twenty plus participants were K-12 teachers from the U.S. and Canada, a few, like me, were egghead professors.
After V’s presentation I walked right up to him and said something to the effect of, “That was the single best presentation of all. Your topic is highly relevant, your presentation was unusually clear, and best of all, you were wonderfully succinct. Great job.”
From that point forward, we were brothers. V hadn’t traveled outside of North America. He was more comfortable calling balls and strikes, watching Red Green, and fishing on the ice. It didn’t show, but he was nervous and a bit insecure when the egghead offered his effusive praise.
Throughout the trip, we took turns acting out all in the interest of laughs. Truth be told, he was a big middle schooler and I revert to my Lexington Lion self with ease.
By the trip’s end, we were bonded so much that we stayed in touch, even visiting in Victoria, B.C. eight years ago. A couple of times a month he’d email me and it would take me awhile to get back, but I always did. His messages were longer and more creative. He never cared about delays or brevity because I was his boy. Whenever a month would pass without our usual back-and-forth, he’d initiate. Every. single. time.
A month ago, it dawned on me that his ribald, pun-filled, sports missives had reached peak form. I told him he deserved a much bigger audience than me. He could’ve won Twitter or the blogosphere if he had tried.
Five years ago cancer struck. V was transparent about the battle, which he eventually won. So I was devastated to get this message from his wife a few days ago, “I have some very sad news to pass on to you. Ken passed away unexpectedly last night at 9:30 p.m., one day shy of his 70th birthday. He had been experiencing some breathing problems and had passed out on me twice. Was being treated in the hospital for blood clots to the lungs. . . They tried everything they could with using blood thinners and clot busters but nothing worked.”
Dammit V, way too early. How am I supposed to keep up with women’s curling now? My post-V world is a lot less fun and funny.
Except for the start, he played his last sports update to me fairly straight. V, from Canada’s heartland:
My Fans, especially the female ones, enjoy the “Cunning Linguist” style of my diatribes.
Tonight, I’m going Basic.
ALCS…. I don’t like the Yankees. I don’t like the Astros. Apparently, they don’t like each other. I’d like to see a Brawl in da Bronx this weekend.
NLCS…. I don’t like the Padre uniforms. I like the Phillies, their uniforms, and the Sports Scene in their city. The Eagles and Flyers are doing well. The Fans are Loud and Proud!
Joey Logano won the last race, and will be 1 of only 4, who can win the Championship this season. I’m fine with that, however he passed Ross Chastain for the win. If Ross joins the Final Four, that would be Cool.
Bubba Wallace attacked Kyle Larson, and has been suspended. That’s Good NASCAR, right there!
Hopefully, the Seattle fans are excited. The Winnipeg fans are getting more positive. I’m gonna wait a month or so. The ‘Peg is gonna be Hoppin’ on Saturday Night. The Jets host the Toronto Maple Leafs. It should be a Dandy. Son #1 will attend the game, wearing a Leafs jersey under his Jets jersey. He takes this stuff pretty seriously.
Oh yeah, Curling Season has started. The Kaitlin Lawes team from Wpg is very talented, and very pregnant. The skip is in her 8th month, and her 3rd is in her 4th. They’re in for quite a season.
Man, I miss you V. Rest in peace, rest in peace.