Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Randy Neeff, Harvard Class Of 1990

TigerBlog was getting ready to walk out of Jadwin Gym Saturday night after the men’s basketball game when he ran into Randy Neeff, Harvard class of 1990, he believes.

She would have been class of 1989 had a bad car accident the summer after she graduated high school not pushed her back a year, so TB is pretty sure she was class of 1990.

TB met her after the accident, around when she had healed to the point of being ready to go to college but unable to do so until the following fall semester. He and his friend Corey became friends with Randy back then, and he stayed in contact with her while she attended Harvard. After that, they drifted apart.

TB remembers a time back in one of those summers when his friend Frank , who was living in Virginia at the time, invited him and Corey to a party he was having. TB immediately enlisted his then roommate Ed Mikus Jr., and right as they were leaving, Randy called to see what was up.

Told to be ready in 10 minutes, Randy said “why not?” and was in the car shortly thereafter. It was the kind of spur-of-the-moment weekend that can be had when you’re young and then be remembered long, long after the fact.

Randy Neeff was beautiful back then. Her smile was omnipresent; she laughed easily. She wore wayfarer sunglasses and had long reddish hair that, much like her face, sparkled in the summer sun. She had a zest for life that let her drop everything and head to a party four hours away at the house of someone she never met and coupled that with an intellectual drive that took her to the nation’s second-best undergraduate college.

TB, Corey and Ed Mikus Jr. have talked about that weekend at various times through the years, and the conversation has always come around to wondering whatever happened to Randy Neeff.

Now, all these decades later, she flashes the same smile from the same beautiful face and laughs just as easily. TigerBlog in seconds was taken back to Randy as a 19-year-old, even as she looked up at him from her wheelchair.

Perhaps it was the long-term effect of that original car accident. Maybe it was that zest that took her mountain climbing and on other adventures that ultimately led to one nasty fall from a cliff.

Whatever the cause, Randy these days sees the world from her chair. She struggles to talk and be heard, but she does not struggle to smile or laugh. She still has her zest, even if her mobility is severely hampered.

She and TB reconnected a few months back, through LinkedIn, of all things. They’ve gone to dinner, to see “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty,” talked about old times and new times.

TB didn’t know she was at the basketball game Saturday night until it ended and she was wheeling her way through the double doors into the hallway near the ticket office.

She has a live-in caregiver, an affable woman named Katie, and her family is in the area. She gets out as much as she can, whether it’s to dinner or the movies or even a Princeton basketball game against her alma mater.

By the time TB saw her, Harvard had beaten Princeton 59-47 in a game that was close for 35 minutes or so. Princeton was done in by an unfortunate sequence when it was a one-point game when Hans Brace missed a dunk and then Harvard came down and knocked down a three-pointer on its next possession.

Often turning points in games are hard to pick up on as they happen. This was not one of those times. Had Brace’s dunk gone in, Princeton would have been up one with about six minutes left, and the crowd would have raised the noise level considerably.

Instead, Harvard came down and dropped in a three-pointer. Princeton went from about to go up one to down four. Another minute later it was a six-point game after a Harvard dunk of its own.

In many ways, this defines the 2014 Ivy League season for Princeton men’s basketball. Close to breaking through – only to be knocked back down in a very frustrating manner.

Princeton is now 3-6 in the league, while Harvard is 9-1. Yale lost to Columbia Sunday to fall to 8-2 in what is a two-team race.

Princeton can make it essentially a one-team race by beating the Bulldogs Friday night at Jadwin. Yale desperately needs to be within one game of Harvard when they play the Crimson on March 7, and that means sweeping Princeton and Penn this weekend.

Or they could get some help, and if any team wants to knock off Harvard, it’s Columbia, who takes on the Crimson this weekend. Columbia, you may recall, came within a disputed block/charge in overtime of beating Harvard the first time around.

As for the Tigers, there is still the goal of winning out and finishing above .500 in the league. Regardless, the 2014 season will go down as one of the tougher ones, after the way the 2013 part of the season – the non-league part – went for Princeton, who gave every indication that it would be the other team in a two-team race with Harvard come late February.

Randy Neeff, of course, is rooting for the Crimson. TB doesn’t blame her. It’s her alma mater.

Katie had gone to pull Randy’s specially equipped van to the DeNunzio Circle, so TB waited with her for a few minutes. At that time, Gary Walters walked by, so TB introduced him to his old friend.

Gary strained to hear her soft voice talk about how she was a Harvard grad, how she jokingly apologized for her team’s beating Princeton.

Then it was off to the parking lot and into the van. She needs a neck brace to stabilize her as she is driven, and she needs her chair to lock into place on the passenger side, which has no front seat.

She joked to TB earlier that she had been able to renew her driver’s license and that nobody at the DMV even blinked at the fact that she was in a chair.

Her body has been beaten down through the years, but her sense of humor is still intact.

Corey got in on the reunion at P.F. Chang’s for dinner not that long ago, and as Randy motored her way through the door, he greeted her by saying “don’t get up,” in a manner that made all three laugh hilariously.

Someone who spent her days saying “why me” wouldn’t laugh at that. Randy Neeff did.

And she talks about the day when she will get up out of that chair and walk again and go back to climbing her mountains,  even if some mountains may now seem insurmountable.

1 comment:

CAZ said...

Beautiful story - THX!