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The ultimate cheerleader: Kyle Whittingham talks about his mother

By Kyle Whittingham

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, March 19 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Kyle Whittingham stands with his mother, Nancy.

Courtesy of Kyle Whittingham

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "Life's Lessons From Mothers of Faith," compiled by Gary W. Toyn and published by Covenant Communications.Click here for more excerpts from "Life Lessons from Mothers of Faith."

Growing up wasn’t easy for my mom. As a child, she was always teased for being the “chubby girl.” It didn’t help that her father owned a bakery and brought home unsold jelly doughnuts and other goodies. On other nights, her father would give away his leftover pastries to homeless people and others down on their luck, and he often asked my mother to help him. Giving to others came easily to him, and my mother has kept that important lesson with her since then.

My mother was the youngest of three children, but she was seven years younger than her next-oldest sibling. She didn’t have much interaction with her older brother and sister and consequently developed a very strong bond with her father. They were best friends.

Her father worked hard to build his bakery business. He would wake up early to prepare the day’s baked goods, and he often went to bed late in order to manage the business’s finances. Burning the candle on both ends took its toll on his health, and when my mom was only 14, her father died suddenly at age 52 of complications related to high blood pressure. She was devastated. It was hard for a young teen to deal with such a tragic loss, and it is still something she rarely talks about today.

Because of this tragedy in her life, she was forced to grow up fast. But she soon became a beautiful girl who all the boys liked. Not only did she grow up to become a gorgeous cheerleader at her high school, but after graduating, she attended BYU on a cheerleading scholarship. When she was a sophomore, a friend introduced her to Fred Whittingham, a strapping young freshman linebacker who had come to Provo from Rhode Island to play football for coach Hal Kopp. After a whirlwind romance, they were married, and then they moved to California, where my father decided to play at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

After my dad graduated in 1962, my parents embarked on a career in the National Football League. He played for the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. He rarely played for more than a year in a city during his 10-year career. During the season, my parents decided it was best for our family to remain in the Los Angeles area. My mom was left to manage the family affairs for much of the year while my dad was away.

When my mom was pregnant with my younger sister, my father couldn’t leave the team to be with her, so she went to Salt Lake City to be with her mother until she had the baby. She was unsure of how far along she was in her pregnancy, and upon arrival in Utah, the doctors determined she was two weeks overdue. They decided to take the baby by C-section. The baby had apparently ingested some toxins and was near death when she was born. After two days on a ventilator, she died. My mother never let on about how much she suffered emotionally from that event.

After a decade of playing in the NFL, we remained in Southern California while my dad began his coaching career. It was difficult for us to establish friendships outside our family, and my mom became one of my best friends. During my stint playing pro football, and after I began my own coaching career, my mother was always there for me, offering me encouragement and reminding me to hang in there and be tough.

In 2003, my father passed away due to complications from surgery, leaving my mom alone again without her life-long companion. It was difficult for her, yet she was never one to complain or feel sorry for herself. She just kept going.

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