Tough week? A South Sound father and husband uses the Seahawks and flights of stairs for inspiration and stress relief.

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A few years back, on Memorial Day, I comforted a small boy and girl in the family’s kitchen. I had to distract ‘em as their father’s blue and lifeless body was wheeled past by medical personnel.

All told, in 15 years I’ve sat in on funerals for eight children’s parents.

I cry every time.

As an elementary counselor I know nearly every sad story in my community.

Though years of exposure to heartache have made dealing with the anguish a bit easier, some pain still pierces my heart. There it sits, soaks, and sours.

By some Friday evenings I withdraw from my family, choosing to self-medicate with sweets.

But the next morning I steal out the door of my South Sound home, fire up my ancient SUV and drive toward a giant staircase that overlooks a boat-filled inlet.

“Time to get well,” I mutter to nobody in particular.

My thoughts clamor so frenetically thaqt I have a hard remembering how many sets I’ve completed while trudging up and down. My solution?

Whispering aloud the jersey numbers of famous players.

As my foot lands on the first piece of wood I mutter, “Warren Moon,” and begin an inner dialogue:

Maybe No. 1  as a wee bit past his Oiler prime when he guided our beloved ‘Hawks, but that dude could still hurl the ball through Kingdome concrete.

I take a breath at the zenith, stop, and loosen-up before continuing.

Round two doesn’t immediately bring to mind a Seattle player, but I redeem myself on set three. It’s DangerRuss. Has ta be. Fran Tarkenton with muscles.

Padding up the incline I think about how my little boys idolize young Mr. Wilson, and I cannot help but pant a little prayer for him, “Help him… to always be… the roll model… he has been… so far.”

By now I’m vacuuming the flights. I argue with myself after I push past “4,” and think of 55.

Oh, Boz, we hardly knew ye. Still, you were a dominant college linebacker, and you have become—if the show “Brian and the Boz” is to be believed — a (gulp) humble man.

I’ve got nothin’ till seven. And that’s easy.

Name: John Kitna.

Home? T-Town.

College? Central WA.

Skills? Average.

Heart? Colossal.

I reach the lowest piece of lumber, place my hand on a concrete pillar, and pull a 180 to begin again. Wish I wouldn’t have eaten all those stupid doughnuts.

My breaths are ragged, yet I manage: “Eight. Hasselbeck.”

I can picture our fair city’s first Super Bowl, back in ’05 — the Game of the Ridiculous Refs — but chide myself:

Why am I still bitter at the officiating? Let it go, man.

Let. It. Go.

Thankfully, the prince of area gridders, Steve Largent, hustles his way to the forefront of my thoughts.

Sure, Largent’s jersey technically held an eight and a zero, but I cannot bring myself to leave him off of my list.

Everybody thought you were just a milk-drinkin’, receiving prodigy, but I still recall your VICIOUS, LEGAL and DESERVED hit on Mike Harden — the Bronco who leveled you earlier that year.

Naturally, my knees pump a little higher.

The second wind whisks heaviness from my heart. Mental snapshots of grieving children are beginning to fade.

I pass nine and settle on 10.

Jim, the smiling improviser, Zorn. Can’t help but picture he and Largent in a Dairy Farmers of Washington commercial “back in the day.”

I try not to catch my suddenly heavy high tops as I consider the conundrum of No. 11, Percy Harvin:

Great job in the Super Bowl. Bad job punching teammates.

In a fatigue-clouded fog, it’s hard to tell if I’m skipping numbers.

5. Jermaine Kearse. Big plays. Well done, sir.

6. Cue “Mario Cart” music: I envision Lockett weaving and accelerating to the end zone.

Wish I had your jitterbug feet, ’cause mine feel like I’m dragging an Evergreen.

Next is a fleeting vision of Dave Krieg in a royal blue, 17 jersey. While my wick-away clothes are now supersaturated, my memories tilt toward family:

My schizophrenic brother and I are in the Kingdome as Krieg’s squad torches the season’s eventual champion, the Giants. It’s one of the only happy recollections I have of my sibling.

Break time.

At the apex of my circuit, I place my hands atop my head — elbows out — and gulp lungfuls of oxygen. I lean over the ledge and gaze out on the quiet port.

After guzzling lukewarm water, I start anew — thankful that I have nearly purged myself from crippling flashbacks.

Tracking numerals over the next few rounds is inexact. Gotta keep going. Friggin’ Krispy Kreme.

I “snap to” at 23 — Wazzu to Seattle: Marcus Trufant. I conjure up images of him swathing opposing receivers before I move on.

Marshawn. No number or last name needed.

Echoes of my family member’s excited shrieks — during Beast Quake, 2007 — still reverberate around Fox Island. Thank you, man. Just, thank you.

25?

I dub thee, “The Shout from the Sound.” In my mind’s-eye I see Sherm living in foes jerseys while hand-fighting their psyches. Pray for mercy, opposing wideouts.

Twenty-eight. Should I get a Curt Warner throwback jersey? He was the first Hawk I ever idolized.

Images of Warner’s jump cuts and deceptively strong leg drive lift the corners of my mouth.

By my 29th circuit, I’m afraid I’ll trip, so I make sure my right hand continually brushes along the cold, metal railing.

Juxtaposed with my thumping footfalls are visions of Earl Thomas zooming from out of frame to send opponent’s feet air ward. It’s not the size of the man in the fight. …

Then the sadness is back.

If only for a moment.

My high-school teammate, Aaron Armstrong, wore number 30: Liberty High School’s mini-Barry Sanders.

Without you, old friend, we never would have won the ‘88 state championship. Why did that stray bullet have to hit ya in New Orleans?

I can hardly lift my knees.

I whisper to myself. “Oh, man, don’t start crying here. Not now. Not in public.”

I’m tempted to quit my workout right then and there. But I know that if I give up now, the enticement to surrender will only grow on subsequent Saturday sessions.

Thank the Lord for No. 31: Kam “Bam” Chancellor and his imaginary gavel of justice.

Hearkening back to his greatest hits powers me to completion — the first time he really waxed Vernon Davis, and my favorite:

First quarter. Super Bowl XVIII. Demaryius Thomas? You say you are 6 feet 3, 236 pounds? Have a seat, sir. Have a flippin’ seat.

That’s it for today.

31 flights of stairs.

Slightly fewer memories.

I alternately stretch and sip a sports drink.

While people driving by the base of the staircase must see me as a solitary, middle-aged man, they don’t realize that I’m not alone.

Not really.

Not yet.

But as I steer away, I leave behind a host of wounded little ones, a few professional athletes, my mentally ill sibling, and a long-lost friend.

Unencumbered from their weight, I go home and hug my bride and four precious children.

Unshackled from pain, I am a better man.

Jon Johansen works as an assistant principal and school counselor in Gig Harbor. He used to work a lot of overtime, but after almost losing his son to cancer, he gets his rear end home and spends time with his beloved brood. Read three previous stories by Johansen about Michael’s basketball exploits here, here and here.

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