Vai's View: Vai's View: Food for thought from BYU's Education Week

Published: Friday, Aug. 19 2011 12:03 p.m. MDT

BYU Legends host Curt Doussett and Vai Sikahema are seen in LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

Byron Kirkland

Arrived in Salt Lake with my family for Education Week late Saturday night. Spoke at a fireside Sunday night to the three Tongan stakes in Utah at the Riverton stake center. The fireside was hosted by the Tongan South Stake and their stake president, Isi Tausinga, is a childhood friend who has always been a younger brother to me.

President Tausinga and I have been best friends since our childhood in Tonga; our parents were best friends, our families traveled to the New Zealand temple together and immigrated to the states about the same time. He grew up in Salt Lake while I was raised in Mesa, Ariz.

We were called to South Dakota as missionaries and though we were never companions, we were always in the same areas and spent a lot of time together. After our missions, he was one of my groomsmen and he took a liking to one of my wife's bridesmaids, Mona Meyers. When we came out of the Mesa Temple after our sealing for pictures, Isi and Mona were no where to be found, so they're missing from our wedding photos but they do appear in our reception pictures.

A few months later, they announced their engagement. President Tausinga's stake roared with laughter when I told that story. Our children have never been with one another, so we were thrilled watching them connect and it appears another generation of Tausingas and Sikahemas will be best friends.

Later in the week, we spent an evening with one of my favorite missionary companions, Jed Bindrup. Jed and his beautiful wife Ann had us over to their home in Draper for a barbecue. Elder Bindrup was my senior companion and the zone leader of the Rapid City Zone. He was probably the hardest working missionary I ever worked with and was an exceptional teacher because of his incredible memory. I was stunned that Jed remembered small details like our shared birthdays, though he pointed out that since I was born in Tonga, I'm actually a full day older.

We re-connected in February at our mission president's funeral and when we bumped into a former stake president from our mission, Jed correctly recalled a talk that man gave 30 years ago in which he referenced the air crash of two 747s on the Spanish island of Tenerife that killed nearly 600 people in 1977, the deadliest aviation disaster in history. Needless to say, I was as astounded as our former stake president.

It wasn't really surprising that Jed Bindrup returned from South Dakota, graduated from Utah State, then the University of Utah medical school, followed by an internship in Roanoke, Va. He completed his residency at the University of Rochester Hospital in New York, then a fellowship at Harvard's Children's Hospital in Boston.

Today, Jed Bindrup is a successful plastic surgeon. As with the Tausingas, our children connected easily. Imagine our pride as old missionary companions as we knelt as families at evening's end to express our gratitude to God for our blessings. It was difficult to contain my emotion as I could vividly see two young missionaries kneeling in South Dakota nearly 30 years ago in a musty apartment with little idea that we'd share this moment with our families in 2011.

Yesterday, I took my recently returned missionary son, Leonard Trey, to the MTC for lunch at the invitation of President Lon Nally, a counselor in the MTC Presidency. President Nally was a young executive at Conoco-Phillips in the early '80s stationed in Rapid City, S.D. As missionaries, we often taught in Lon and Kaye Nally's home. President Nally once showed me a 16mm motivational film produced by Phillips66 for their sales staff that featured coaching legend Vince Lombardi. I thought the principles Lombardi taught were so universal that I borrowed the film to show fellow missionaries at our leadership training seminars. Over lunch, President Nally kidded me that after I left Rapid City, the Lombardi film disappeared. I assured him that even if I had taken it, I still didn't have a projector to show it. We shared a good laugh over the memory.

It was an awesome sight to see a thousand missionaries in the MTC during lunch. The lunch room is twice the size from when I was there in 1982 and there's hand sanitizer dispensers at every line before they get their food and after they dispose of their trays. It seems everyone walks around rubbing their hands. Clearly, cleanliness is next to godliness.

Mid-week, I shot the second and final part of a segment for BYUtv for their upcoming fall series called, "Legends." I wasn't being self-deprecating when I told the producers I don't consider myself a "BYU Legend." I was just being honest. I played in some of the biggest games in the program's history and had memorable moments, but not a career. But I do recognize that being the first Tongan to attend BYU on a football scholarship after immigrating to the United States as a boy to be a prize fighter is unique and my unexpected success in the NFL and post-NFL career in broadcasting has elevated my status. In late June, a crew came east to interview my family and follow me around for two or three days.

The program's host is Curt Doussett, a local actor and host who has shows on the Discovery and History Channel. Curt and I bonded immediately. He's handsome, talented and an "everyman" kinda host. An interesting portion of each "Legend's" profile will have Curt challenging the legend in some sort of physical competition. I won't give it away, but we shot my challenge in LaVell Edwards Stadium and it was a blast. Look for it in October.

Also shot a BYU promo that will feature myself, Steve Young, Jimmer Freddette, Chad Lewis, Bronco Mendenhall and LaVell Edwards. The promo has us interacting with a live cougar — not Demi Moore. I mean, a real life 200-pound puma. Really. It's pretty cool and was produced by my friend Julie Walker. She's scary talented. You'll know it when you see it.

Finally, a word about Education Week. When I was a student, I was always annoyed every August because scores of old people completely took over the campus, making it difficult to get around because they walked so slowly. It also made it tough to find parking or get a burger in the Cougar Eat.

Now, I'm proud that I'm one of those old people. And though I can speed-walk, I shuffle slowly just to annoy young students. I'm subsidizing their tuition, so I'm not really concerned. Perhaps if I knew all that when I was a BYU student, I wouldn't have been so annoyed. Amazingly, there is a class at Ed Week that addresses this very condition from which I suffer. It's called, "Quicken your step, don't be a nuisance!" Just kidding.

Education Week is amazing. There seems to be a class for everything under the sun. We discovered it three years ago and haven't it missed since. We always get dorm rooms just to enhance the experience. We have a teenage daughter, a married son and two RM young single adult sons, so we take classes that suit our needs and typically we meet for lunch and try to take at least one class together as a family. I told my kids I'd have been a better student if I could've gone each day to the classes I wanted, ate lunch when I wanted, and left for home when I wanted. My smart-aleck daughter responded, "Dad, isn't that basically what you did? Your whole BYU experience was like Ed Week." Touche.

A highlight was sitting in all week in Justin Su'a class. Justin is a sports psychology consultant who works with professional athletes in finding that elusive place jocks call the "zone." Justin just happens to be a masterful teacher and his personality, experience and credentials make him a very popular guest lecturer. His class revolved around, "Spiritual Peak Performance: Look unto the Lord in Every Thought; Doubt Not, Fear Not." I've known Justin since he was an All-American pitcher on BYU's baseball team and his signature split-finger fast ball befuddled hitters in the Mountain West Conference.

Justin is Samoan, grew up in Southern California, and is unique because he played baseball rather than football. He wasn't baptized till 13 because that's when his dad returned to church activity. Justin served a mission to Nicaragua, returned to resume his studies playing baseball, married his beautiful wife Melissa and graduated in communications. Injuries prevented a pro career so he sought my advice on being a sportscaster. He interned for my good friend Fred Rogan at KNBC in Los Angeles, but that helped him realize TV wasn't for him. So, he returned to Utah, earned a master's degree from the U. and became a successful sports psychology consultant working with pro and Olympic athletes to maximize their talent. I was so proud listening and watching him teach. Each of his classes filled to capacity so they created an overflow room.

Justin Su'a is a terrific candidate for "BYU Legends." Certainly, he's more qualified than me.

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