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Life changed when UT coach assumed father role


UT women's track and cross country coach Kevin Hadsell is finding time to work at his home. Hadsell became guardian of his sister's children in February, 2006. They return to their mother this week.

The Blade/Lori King
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Today is the seventh Father's Day Kevin Hadsell will be presented a homemade card by three young siblings.

He is not their father but more like their rescuer.

Bouts with depression and alcoholism made Hadsell's sister unfit to raise her children, prompting the University of Toledo women's cross country and track and field coach to step in and take over custody.

An ever-present smile and laughter belie the challenges that encircled him when a family of one grew to a family of four in February, 2006. One of the children was hospitalized for more than one month -- almost dying -- and pushing Hadsell to the brink of foreclosure on his home amid mounting medical fees.

Those who know him best said he never broke character, never complained about a stiff neck after spending the night on a couch at St. Vincent Medical Center or bemoaned his roles as chauffeur, cook, housekeeper, or whatever else is required of a single parent.

He never envisioned encountering such concerns, not as a bachelor whose primary focus combined the revamping of the UT programs from the depths of despair and indulging in night life. Admittedly selfish, his focus broadened to include two nieces and a nephew. He turned down a plush job at Vanderbilt in 2006, recognizing the unfairness of uprooting the kids a few months after their separation from their mother. He detests laundry duty, but when the heating element gave out on his dryer last fall, he made two daily trips to the laundromat -- one for loading, the next for folding.

Hadsell once forgot to load his and the children's bags for a trip to New York. Upon arrival, he bought each of them a set of clothes, one for every day they'd be gone. He purchased one outfit for himself and wore it the entire time.

"Suddenly you go from someone who is carefree to someone who cares about everything," Hadsell said.

Despite his challenges at home, Hadsell, 42, was named Mid-American Conference coach of the year in women's cross country the last two seasons, an honor he has collected four times in his 14 seasons at UT. To children Alexandra, Cassandra, and Nikolas, and their mother, Wendy, another award should be presented to Hadsell: father of the year.

"Clearly, he's the single greatest person to me," said Wendy, who requested her and her children's last name not be used. "He did for my kids what I couldn't do."

Tough love

In 1994, Wendy lost a 2-year-old daughter to leukemia.

In 2005, she lost her husband to a heart attack.

A year later, she lost her three children to her brother after she spiraled into a destructive path of depression, booze, and unemployment.

Hadsell sensed something was amiss when the kids, then living in Columbus, spent a weekend with him, and Wendy didn't arrive at a midpoint destination to pick them up. She was in custody at a police station, it turned out, after driving the wrong way onto an exit ramp. She was drunk.

Despite pleas from her brother to seek help, Wendy worsened. One month later, on Valentine's Day, 2006, Hadsell took the kids for good after his parents encountered "a worst-case scenario" at Wendy's home. Dirty diapers outfitted the children, and the pain Wendy endured from spending the first Valentine's Day without her husband triggered deep depression.

At her lowest point, she consumed a fifth of vodka per day and surrendered to a life of promiscuity. A former optician, she couldn't keep a job. And now, her brother informed her, she wouldn't be keeping her children.

"If you get better," Kevin told her, "we'll go back. We'll reverse it."

Staying strong

It defies reasoning that Kevin's teams are more accomplished now than prior to December, 2010.

His life was upended when Alexandra, the oldest of his adopted children, nearly died a day after slipping and falling in the bath tub at their home in the Old West End.

Stopping home the following day on his lunch break to check on three kids that were home sick from school, Kevin realized Alexandra's illness was beyond the garden variety influenza. She vomited on herself, not realizing it, and so he took her to the hospital.

Physicians rushed her into surgery after determining she ruptured her small intestines in the fall. They braced Kevin for the worst.

"It gets me emotional thinking about it right now," he said. "Kids fall all the time. All the time. I can't believe that she could die right here just because she fell. How fair is that?"

It wasn't until four days after surgery that doctors were confident of Alexandra's recovery. Awaiting her, though, was a five-week stay in intensive care followed by six weeks of in-home nurse care.

Medical bills skyrocketed, pushing Kevin into preforeclosure on his home and forcing the family to move across town into a more affordable place. When Kevin was unable to attend the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association convention, members took up a collection, contributing $700 that he used to buy the kids a computer.

"Obviously, he was sad, and you could tell he was tired, but he did not let that affect his coaching," said runner Ari Fisher, who is one of eight All-Americans Kevin has coached at UT. "We didn't realize what he was going through."

The women's cross country team won its second straight Mid-American Conference title in October, months after Alexandra, now 12, returned to health. The Rockets finished 21st at the NCAA meet. The track and field squad was MAC runner-up in the indoor and the outdoor seasons, posting the best finishes under Hadsell. By overcoming crisis at home, Hadsell asserted, "I became a better coach."

"I think Kevin does some of his best work when there's an intense challenge around him or around his program," UT athletic director Mike O'Brien said. "That's when he rolls up his sleeves even more."

Wendy was thriving too. She stayed away from alcohol amid those traumatic times.

Going home

This will be the final Father's Day celebrated at Kevin's home. On Saturday, the kids will move back with Wendy, whose last taste of alcohol came nearly three years ago. She is employed again, at a halfway house of all places, where she tends to individuals who completed treatment for substance abuse.

Her children, ages 12, 10, and 9, are healthy and happy, she said, citing Kevin's influence.

"Kevin, over the last six years, has been their mother and their father," Wendy said. "He's been the only male influence they've had."

Soon to be an empty-nester, Kevin hopes to spend more time with his biological son, 17-year old Brent, who lives in Atlanta. Kevin and Brent's mother were wild and carefree when she got pregnant, a way of living that Kevin maintained until six years ago when he stepped in to avert a crisis that nearly destroyed his sister's family.

"I never would have thought Kevin would have been the one to come down and pick them up," Wendy said.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.

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