The bottle of perfume that sat on his dresser, the clothes she left behind, the picture of her that sat on his desk, all have been packed away in boxes for safekeeping. Lorin Maurer has been gone for five years, her life tragically and senselessly ending when Flight 3407 crashed on a cold, rainy night in Clarence.
Kevin Kuwik waited to greet her at the airport that evening with dozens of other families who were nameless, faceless people at the time. They were picking up their father, their mother, their sister, brother, child. Kuwik was meeting the love of his life, a woman who understood him and his journey like none other, for his brother’s wedding.
She had been working in Princeton’s athletic department after her swimming career ended at Rowan University in New Jersey, where she was a three-time academic All-American. She was an intelligent and upbeat woman who, like Kevin, was intent on reaching goals rather than making excuses for failure.
Lorin got it.
And that meant she got him.
“It was worth its weight in gold,” Kuwik said Wednesday. “In general, for me, I like someone that has a ‘can do’ attitude when something is presented. You don’t look for reasons why not to do something. You’re more like, ‘Let’s find a way. Let’s try.’ She was like that, which is how I am. It was a really good match.”
When she was among the 49 people who perished in the flight from Newark, he was left looking for answers and trying, and failing, to make sense of it all.
You don’t endure his experiences and not come away a changed person and, in his case, a better one. But the essence of the man remained the same. He grew up in Lackawanna and graduated from St. Francis High with a vision to become a basketball coach and pass along whatever he could to whoever would listen.
That much continued after Kuwik immersed himself with the other 3407 families who took their fight for stricter regulations and higher standards for aviation to the highest level of government. The process left him with an extended family of sorts, a group that shared profound sadness and individual grief that drove a common cause.
They are people like him, humble people, selfless people, people who tapped into inner strength that they didn’t know existed, people who refused to give up and came together, tireless people who possessed many of the same qualities that his blood brothers shared during his tour in Iraq.
“Lorin was wonderful, and the 3407 family group that I became part of was really phenomenal for the last five years,” Kuwik said Wednesday. “I certainly didn’t sign up for it, but that group has become an integral part of my life. Everything we’ve done in D.C. and everything we’ve done here in Buffalo, it’s a really powerful group.”
This is not to compare basketball with tragedy or war. In fact, there is no comparison. But there are parallels that can be drawn in general terms when it comes to overcoming adversity. The victims will never be forgotten, but there also comes a point for people left behind to march forward, to keep living. How? Good question.
Kuwik poured himself back into basketball. He’s an assistant coach at the University of Dayton, the latest addition to a resume that outlines a man more than a career. He returned to his hometown this week for the NCAA Tournament with the Flyers, who will play Ohio State this afternoon in First Niagara Center.
He admittedly was uncomfortable talking about himself Wednesday. He attempted to push the attention toward his players. But to ignore his story would have been a disservice to him, his team and his family. People should know about Kuwik if only because he’s an example of everything right.
His commitment to making the world a better place can be found in his DNA. His parents, Edward and Karen, were teachers in Lackawanna before his father became mayor. His brother, Keith, is a principal in Clarence. His uncle, Bill Moore, taught and coached in Lackawanna and led the Steelers to two state football championships.
Kuwik didn’t just attend Notre Dame, an accomplishment in itself. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and was president of his senior class. He was a student assistant basketball coach for three years under John MacLeod and served in the ROTC program. He was a guy you wanted on your team.
The United States did, too.
Kuwik served with the 113th Battalion of the Indiana National Guard in Iraq in 2004-05 after taking leave from Ohio University, where he was an assistant. He took a two-week leave from Iraq to coach at Ohio during the postseason before returning for another nine months. He came home with the Bronze Star, the highest award for merit in the Army.
He also returned with a greater appreciation for life in the States. People here think they have problems? Spend a year in Iraq.
“When you’re over there for a year, you’re faced with adversity in so many different ways,” Kuwik said. “You bond with the guys you’re with because, really, that’s all you have. It’s the most powerful team you could be a part of. Those were the biggest lessons that I came back with.”
It makes you wonder how basketball could remain important when adding up everything he’s accomplished and all that he’s overcome. Sports seem trivial when mixed with the grand scheme of life and death. Kuwik figured it helped him gain greater perspective, which made him a better coach.
At 39, he hasn’t just picked up the pieces. He spent years picking up lessons that he could pass along to his players. He worked under Brad Stevens for a year at Butler. He was a video coordinator for two seasons at Ohio State before joining Archie Miller as an assistant at Dayton.
Kuwik has been intent on teaching the game, certainly, but also the world beyond the game. He embraced the learning process without becoming consumed by wins and losses. At the same time, he recognized that something special was happening this season when Dayton overcame a 1-5 start in the conference and started winning. He helped bring people together.
It didn’t always make sense. For years, he kept mementos from his time with Lorin and embraced details that triggered her memory – the perfume, the clothes, the picture. He once couldn’t walk past Seat 11 behind the Ohio State bench, where she sat for games, without thinking about her. But he pushed forward. He kept living.
You might think flying into Buffalo would be difficult given the tragedy, but that’s no longer the case. He flew into town Tuesday thinking about seeing his family and friends, and friends who have become part of his extended family. And his girlfriend was in Buffalo to support him Wednesday.
Kuwik wasn’t comfortable sharing her name. He wanted to keep her identity private while understanding his own place in public. He respectfully answered questions about Lorin and spoke in reverent tones about his girlfriend.
“I’m a person that’s about looking forward,” he said. “Whatever has happened already, make the best of it moving forward. Don’t dwell on the past.”