J. Brady McCollough
J. Brady McCollough - Courtside Allen Field House


Sunday, April 24, 2005

Keeping up with Krishna

O'Hara two-sport standout Lee keeps busy on a very special day.


By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH

The Kansas City Star


The dresses and skirts all hang in Krishna Lee's closet, the trappings of a mother's desire for her daughter to be like all the other girls. Some were worn for just one night, and then cast away into the abyss.

 

They hang in front of Krishna on Saturday afternoon as she gets ready for her senior prom. Soon, she'll put on a new dress, along with all the old memories.

 

Krishna wore a dress for her school picture in seventh grade, at her mother's prodding. Her classmates teased Krishna, who at 5 feet 9 could already bench 180 pounds. When she came home, she told her mother she'd never wear a dress again.

 

Usually, it wasn't an issue. Krishna immersed herself in her athletics, whether it was basketball, track and field or swimming. She's a three-time state champion at O'Hara High School, twice in the discus and once in the shot put, and she's going to Missouri on a scholarship. There is rarely any time to wear dresses.

 

But on this day, there's no avoiding it. She sits in a chair in the middle of the room watching reruns of "SpongeBob SquarePants" as her friend, Porsha Anderson, fixes her hair.

 

Krishna belches.

 

Everybody laughs as the real Krishna fights through the gel being added to her fine hair.

 

This is the Krishna who didn't attend her junior prom because she chose to play AAU basketball in Topeka instead.

 

This is the Krishna who gladly admits that she has never been on a date. She says this lightly, as if the idea of going dateless through high school wouldn't send most girls into deep depression.

 

Here's the thing: Krishna just doesn't care.

 

"It doesn't bother me," Krishna says. "I'm busy enough with track, basketball, school and friends."

 

***

 

The clock strikes midnight at Kansas City International Airport on Saturday morning. Southwest Flight 2310 out of Phoenix lands comfortably, despite the squalling wind.

 

Kathleen Lee, Krishna's mother, walks off the plane. After six hours in airports since she left her business trip in San Diego to return home, Kathleen is tidy, not a hair out of place.

 

Kathleen, a marketing manager, had originally planned to be on the West Coast at a workshop until today. That is, until a couple of weeks ago when Kathleen found out that Krishna's prom date was planning to pick her up at her house on prom night.

 

No amount of meetings and sales pitches could keep Kathleen from witnessing her Krishna wearing a $100 dress, being picked up by a boy.

 

"Her size makes it tough for her to be a girly-girl," Kathleen says. "Being able to see her on the girly side ... I might even cry."

 

So Kathleen asked her boss if she could come back early. Of course, he understood. Krishna, however, told her mom that "it was no big deal."

 

Kathleen gave her daughter the omnipotent Mom stare.

 

"It's big," she said.

 

***

 

It's 11 a.m. at the Lee household, two and a half hours before she's due to throw at the Kansas Relays. Fried egg sandwiches are for brunch, Krishna and Kathleen putting forth a team effort in the kitchen.

 

They're already running behind when they realize they haven't ordered a boutonniere for Krishna's date, friend Miles Mayfield. They also need to buy some accessories for Krishna's dress.

 

When will they do these things, in between driving to Lawrence, competing, driving back, getting ready for prom, going to take pictures and driving to prom? It's a round trip of about 90 miles.

The Lees hop in their Toyota Camry and head for Lawrence. Krishna gets on her cell phone and dials Mayfield's mother, a close family friend. She gets off the phone with some news.

 

"So, my date's mother is picking up his own boutonniere," Krishna says. "Nice."

 

Snag No. 1 solved. Now, for snag No. 2. Kathleen sees a bridal shop in Lawrence on the way to Memorial Stadium. She drops Krishna off, then returns to the bridal shop, which has everything they need.

 

"It's all coming together," Kathleen says.

 

Krishna walks around Memorial Stadium like she runs the place, her shades on and her biceps showing. Her frame is statuesque.

 

As Krishna begins competing in the second flight of the discus preliminaries at 2:30 p.m., it seems as if she wants to make sure she doesn't miss another prom.

 

Her first throw goes 115 feet, a modest effort. Her second goes 105; it's as if KU has this Missouri recruit's kryptonite on site. Krishna is pacing like she always does when she's nervous. She takes time alone to get her head straight before throw No. 3.

She steps out of the ring on her third, nullifying the throw. Krishna is out before the finals, a shock to everyone in attendance.

 

It's 3:30 p.m., and the Lees head back for Kansas City actually on schedule. If she would have made the finals, making prom on time would have been a miracle.

 

"There's always an upside to things," Krishna says, halfheartedly.

 

On the drive back, she reviews the video Kathleen shot of her throws. She can't tell what went wrong. She puts up the camcorder and forgets about it.

 

This is prom day.

 

***

 

It's 4:30, and the Lees arrive at home. Krishna is supposed to be in Lee's Summit for group pictures at 6. It's a whirlwind. Krishna takes a five-minute shower. Kathleen starts ironing Krishna's dress. Anderson, Krishna's friend, has come to style Krishna's hair. Like the Chiefs earlier in the day, the Lees are on the clock.

 

Anderson, a senior at O'Hara, has only one instruction from Krishna. She wants it up.

 

Anderson starts by making "twisties" with the back of Krishna's hair. Soon, there's a hair emergency; they ran out of rubber bands for the twisties. As if by script, Kathleen has no rubber bands. She goes across the street to a neighbor's house to restock.

 

It's 5:35, and Krishna's bedroom has turned into a surgeon's office. Anderson works with her hair from behind, and Kathleen does her makeup and nails in the front. Krishna's eyes go to the back of her head as Kathleen applies eye liner.

 

Girls all over the city went through this same stuff hours ago. The average girl arrives on prom day in the early afternoon for a three-hour appointment. She gets a facial, pedicure, manicure, formal hairdressing and makeup for about $200.

 

Krishna didn't spend a dime for any of that, and according to the stylist Anderson, Krishna may just set a trend with this new 'do.

 

"Oh, oh yeah," Krishna says sarcastically. "That's me."

 

Mayfield, a junior at Grandview High School, is at the front door a few minutes before 6, Krishna's corsage and his own boutonniere in hand.

 

Mayfield has no idea he's the first guy to ever ring the doorbell at Krishna's Harrison Street home to take her out. It's silent as he and his father wait for Krishna to come down the stairs.

 

"What up!" Krishna yells, breaking the awkwardness in the room. She comes down the stairs in a bright red strapless dress with a sash over her broad shoulders. Anderson was right. Her creation -- an "up" hairstyle with bangs flowing to the left and twisties in the back -- is stunning.

 

One last bit of motherly care: The back of Krishna's dress doesn't have a hook. Kathleen grabs a safety pin, and after much finagling, it holds the dress in place. Kathleen can finally breathe. Whether Krishna can is another matter.

 

"It's amazing," Kathleen says as Krishna heads for her car. "She's wearing a dress. And she's wearing it pretty well, too."

 

As her daughter left for one of her last memorable moments as a high school student, Kathleen went upstairs to her bedroom, sat in her comfy chair and cried. She thought about the transformation that had occurred, how beautiful Krishna looked after hurling a discus with her hair tied back.

 

***

 

The term fashionably late definitely applies as Krishna and Miles pull up next to a Lee's Summit country home at 6:50 p.m. Luckily, nobody seems to care once they see Krishna.

 

"Baby, you look good!" one boy says. "You look good."

 

"Gorgeous," says a girlfriend.

 

There are six couples, and when they congregate in the living room, it's a cacophony of oooohs, ahhhs and awwws. The girls' dresses almost cover the colors of the rainbow. The eight mothers are in their element, taking pictures from every angle.

 

"Girls," Krishna says, "just keep those eyes moving."

 

If Kathleen could see Krishna now, mixing with all the other couples, she would be the embarrassing mother. She would shed those tears.

 

"Krishna," a mother says, "cute hair!"

 

Krishna smiles back. If there's one thing Krishna didn't have to learn for this night, it's her smile.

 

***

 

It's 8:30, and the prom dinner is over. The Courtyard Marriott Grand Ballroom in Blue Springs is rocking to Rednex's "Cotton Eye Joe." A boy dances in the middle of about 50 kids. "He does this at every dance," a girl says, laughing.

 

What happened next was no surprise. "Yeah!" by Usher, Lil' Jon and Ludacris blared through the speakers, the bass beat calling Krishna to the dance floor.

 

She mixes it up with her friends. Her arms are spread out and her body is low like she's about to throw a discus. She used that same balance hours later. She walks like an Egyptian, to the humor of her classmates, and then she starts digging their graves in rhythm with the beat.

 

They laugh together, realizing the sweetest thing of all. The night has only just begun.

J. Brady McCollough - Contact Me