The Fayette Citizen-Opinion Page

Friday, February 13, 2004

A modern-day love story

By Rick Ryckeley
Fayette County Fire & Emergency Services

The best way to tell this story is just to tell it. Some of you may believe it. Some of you may not. Nevertheless, it happened just the way it’s written down here.

Blind dates never work out. Everyone knows that ... except I know of one that actually did. But that is the end of the story, and a happy ending it has been. The beginning of the story started many, many years ago.

A young man owned a karate studio in a small town. For years he took joy in teaching his students what he had learned about martial arts, hard work and discipline. Then one day he took a small group of his best students to a local elementary school for a karate demonstration and to talk about staying away from drugs. The show was a success. So much so that other schools in the small county wanted their students to hear the message also.

As the popularity of the small troop of karate students grew, so did the show. Some students broke boards with blows from their hands and feet. Others did karate moves to music, leaping high into the air and landing in complete splits on the floor! Still others broke concrete blocks with sledge hammers while their instructor lay on a bed of nails, concentrating as he held the blocks on his stomach to show the discipline it took to become a third-degree black belt.

At the closing of every demonstration, the young karate instructor had 10 pine boards held by ten of his best students. On each board the name of a drug was printed in large black letters: CRACK, POT, ANGEL DUST, ALCOHOL, ECSTASY, etc. Some were held high, some held low, and a one student even stood on a chair as he held the board over his head.

The instructor spun, kicked, punched and flew through the air, and each time he hit a board, it seemed to break with ease to the cheers of the elementary school students. The last board the instructor came to was held by the student standing on the chair. The instructor paused for a moment to remind the crowd of awe-stricken students why they had come to school that day and the message the troop of karate students had tried to bring to them. Then suddenly, the young karate instructor jumped up high in the air, spun around, and kicked the last board held over the head of his best student, breaking it in two. The crowd cheered as the two pieces of board tumbled to the gym floor!

With the show over, the instructor and his students took their bows and started to clean up. That’s when a young teacher caught the eye of the instructor, and he did what he had never done before. He picked up half of the last board he had broken, walked over and gave it to the shy teacher without saying a word. She thanked him as she led her students out of the gym. He packed up and went back to his karate studio. They never saw each other again. But that brief few seconds would change their lives forever.

In the years that followed, the shy teacher dated many times but never married. Every year her father asked why. Her answer was always the same: “The person I’m going to marry isn’t ready yet.”

That was the last show the karate instructor and his students ever did. Soon after, the failing economy forced the instructor to close his business that he loved and search out other employment. He became a firefighter, serving proudly the small county in which he lived. The elementary school teacher soon moved up to middle school and then, after three years, to high school. There, with her love of students and academics, she became the department chair of social studies — a bright young star rising quickly in the world of education.

She never forgot the karate instructor who came to her elementary school that day with his message of staying away from drugs. For years she used the board that he had broken and given to her as a hall pass for her high school students. The former karate instructor, now firefighter, never thought twice about the broken board he had given away nor the shy teacher he had given it to. As fast as her star rose, his fell.

Like many, with the bad economy he lost his business, his house, and soon after, realized that he was losing his wife. A year later, he had to move out. All was not lost, though. He had lost the love of his wife, but he still had the love of their only child.

Never one to give up, a year later and with his heart mended, he was ready to try again. His older brother’s fiancée set him up on a blind date with her roommate — a teacher. They met at a restaurant for dinner one cold October night. The small shy girl was already waiting for him when he arrived at the restaurant, sitting at a table that overlooked a waterfall. Oddly, in the light from the candle on the table, she looked faintly familiar to him. It was not until their fifth date that they discovered both had met seven years earlier. She was the teacher he had given the board to years ago without saying a word.

They fell in love, and two years later at the base of Bridal Veil Falls, the firefighter asked the teacher to marry him. She said yes. Many of her students past and present came to the wedding. Some were surprised to see who she was marrying. Not only were they her students, they had been his students too!

If you are alone on this day of love, remember that all is not lost; someone from your past that you didn’t even speak to can come into your world and make it wonderful again.

What about the teacher, the firefighter and his only child? How are they doing now? Well, you read about them every week. The Wife, The Boy, and me. Sometimes blind dates really do work out.

[Rick Ryckeley is employed by the Fayette County Department of Fire and Emergency Services. He can be reached at]

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