Ute safety Kimball Christianson and his twin brother, Howard, made a pact this summer that they would never again feel sorry for themselves.
After three years as a starter on the Utah football team, Kimball took spring semester and spring practices off to study for medical-school entrance exams and partly because he was a little weary of the same old same old. He considered retiring from football to concentrate on qualifying for med school. Howard, a former Ute linebacker, was retired involuntarily by a cheap hit that destroyed his knee in the Las Vegas Bowl last December. He had already lost 1 1/2 years of football to an elbow injury.
Now Kimball is out on the Ute practice field trying to win back his starting job, which was perhaps lost to freshman sensation Arnold Parker last spring. Utah began two-a-day practices Friday in preparation for the Sept. 2 opening game with Arizona.
None of that fazes the Christiansons now.
Not after what they saw this summer.
After that, "It would be like mocking the world," says Kimball, to ever again think that anything in their lives was difficult.
The twins from Provo spent six weeks working with the mentally and physically disabled and those dying from disease in impoverished Calcutta, India, volunteering their services in 117-degree heat and 100-percent humidity at the facility built by Mother Teresa and run by the Sisters of Charity — where their older sister volunteered a few years ago. "She just loved it," said Kimball, who, with his brother, has volunteered for years at hospitals in Salt Lake and Utah County.
After six weeks of disinfecting, sweeping with homemade straw brooms, feeding the half-starved, bathing the sick, clipping their nails, washing their clothing by hand on washboards and doing all they could to care for the ill, malnourished, weak and orphaned Kimball and Howard are even more determined than ever. They are extra anxious to become family practice doctors who can return periodically to such places as Prem Dan, the second house built by Mother Teresa, and make even more of an impact with their medicine. "That's where my interest is," says Kimball.
"Even though I didn't make a huge difference (as just one person)," said Kimball after his first football practice Friday morning, "it does make a big difference, you know? That is an enriching experience to learn that about yourself, that you can contribute. It really puts everything in perspective — (in this country) we're worried about the luxuries."
At first when they arrived in Calcutta and were taking a taxi from the airport, the brothers were stunned at the poverty and said to each other, "Let's get out of here. What did we do? It was tough to get into it," says Kimball. The Christiansons were persuaded to stay once they met the sisters and saw their devotion.
Some of their work was repetitious, Kimball says, "but every day was meaningful."
The Christiansons, who did LDS missions in Germany, did not speak any of the languages used in Calcutta but were able to communicate through the language of care.
Kimball's favorite work was in a nearby facility that cared for children whose fathers were dying of tuberculosis. The sisters invited the region's most-needy to come and eat a rice soup that the brothers helped serve. "I loved that the most," says Kimball, who enjoys working with children and liked talking with the mothers.
While there, Kimball dropped 20 pounds, but once back home, he was able to regain it quickly for football. "I was just starved," he says.
Before going to India, both Christiansons worked in an Orem facility caring for severely handicapped people, and Howard is still working there, though he will move to Salt Lake City again soon for the final semester of school. Both passed their MCAT exams, Howard getting a higher score while Kimball wants to take it again Aug. 19 to improve his chances of getting accepted to a medical school.
"They're pretty extraordinary kids," says Ute coach Ron McBride of the Christiansons.
NOTES: In the first practice of the 2000 fall session, offensive lineman Joe McCullum re-cracked a broken bone in his right foot and will be out at least six weeks. He had surgery Feb. 1 for a foot fracture and reinjured that in the spring . . . Also, linebacker Matt Ward suffered a back injury and will see a doctor Monday . . . The main thing coaches sought Friday was concentration, said McBride. "I was very pleased with how they went about business," he said.