She was baking cinnamon rolls when I phoned in an attempt to find the heart behind yet another of the gestures that makes professional bass fishing intangibly special.
This time, “intangibly special” was found in the form of a half-dozen envelopes that stood out like a donkey at The Kentucky Derby on the front seat of KVD’s Tundra. Each of the six envelopes labeled with the name of a fellow Bassmaster Elite Series competitor in his mother’s handwriting.
Inside the envelopes, newspaper and magazine articles the 70-something mother of bass fishing’s most dominant angler had taken the time to clip from publications and laminate.
“Mom gives me a pile of envelopes to deliver to the guys three or four times a year,” explained the career long Quantum pro and 7-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, who dubs as a postman without stamps. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” he added.
Holly Lane, wife of Bassmaster Classic Champ Chris Lane, has seen the goodness first hand. “Oh yes, absolutely. Chris and Bobby were both so excited to get them,” said Holly of the envelopes, who’s been Chris’ wife, and Bobby’s sister-in-law, for 12 years. “I think it’s awesome that she follows all the guys, not just Kevin, and then takes the time to cut ‘em all out, and laminate them too,” said Holly, a loving mother of four.
As the cinnamon rolls baked, I asked for her thoughts about Kevin’s phenomenal success. But it quickly became obvious that this wasn’t going to be about Kevin, and certainly not about “KVD”, her brown envelopes, or the laminated articles inside them.
Instead, it was going to be a lesson in humility. A story of how competitive success can only be best enjoyed when punctuated with character and generosity.
“Oh yea, I’m competitive, it’s true,” she laughed. “From baking, to making flower arrangements, to playing dominoes, I want to do it really well. I want to do it the very best I can,” made clear the bride of 53 years.
“In fact, I didn’t do real well in dominoes this winter,” she said in a way that I’ve heard Kevin explain himself on the weigh-in stage after a very rare tough day on the water. Classy. Humble. But hungry like a spring grizzly on a salmon stream.
Let’s just say the snowbirds down in Lakeland, Florida better bring their “A game” when Dick and Nadine return south with their dominoes next November to escape Michigan’s harsh winters.
But for the VanDams, tenacity must come generosity. Winning is mission critical, but only if you compliment it with humility. “I’m not surprised by Kevin’s success, I mean all my boys love to fish,” she said, as if she were talking about a guy that dominated the Tuesday night trail down at the local pond last year.
“I was talking to a guy at a business in Battle Creek the other day, and when he saw my last name was VanDam he asked me if I was Kevin’s mom,” she explained. “And then he got all excited when I said I was. I think that’s kinda crazy,” she laughed. “I mean, he’s (Kevin) just human,” she added.
Yep Mom, “just human” … in the same way Jordan was a decent dribbler.
Then after a second look in the oven to make sure the cinnamon rolls she intends to share with her neighbors weren’t burning, she told me about trophies. Some the kind you win in bowling leagues and Bassmaster Classics. And others that mean way more to a mother like Nadine VanDam. “What I’m most proud of Kevin for is that he never let it go to his head,” she said with the voice only a mother’s heart can deliver. “He’s a good kid.”
“I mean whaddya do with trophies?” she asked. “I used to have a bunch of bowling trophies that I won.”
Note the key words “used to have”.
But like the cinnamon rolls, and laminated newspaper articles -- she gave the bowling trophies away too. They went to an underprivileged children’s home in Kalamazoo in an attempt to boost spirits. But pride in Kevin being a “good kid” … now that’s a trophy she’ll hold firmly in her generous heart forever.