When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength. Thanks to the teachings of Buddha, I have been able to take this second way. – The Dalai Lama
You could say Kevin Kuwik also followed the Dalai Lama’s path when facing tragedy.
Finding purpose after suffering a great tragedy, motivation in a beloved’s death, Kuwik has had an impact far beyond the basketball court.
It was February 2009. Kuwik, now the assistant basketball coach at the University of Dayton, was anticipating the arrival of his girlfriend, Lorin Maurer, from Newark, N.J., before the wedding of Kuwik’s brother. But the celebration was not to be. Maurer was a passenger on Continental Flight 3407 that crashed in Buffalo, N.Y., killing all 49 passengers onboard.
Kuwik and Maurer had met at the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio. Kuwik, then the director of basketball operations at Butler University, and Maurer, the Athletics Friends manager at Princeton, planned a special weekend for Keith Kuwik’s wedding. But their joyful anticipation of that weekend turned to tragedy when the plane experienced aerodynamic stall, later attributed to pilot error by the National Transportation Safety Board.
[caption id="attachment_180" align="alignleft" width="241"] Scott Mauer, above, wearing a ribbon and photo of his daughter Lorin, testifies during a 2009 Senate committee hearing on air safety. At top, Terry Maurer (left) and Kevin Kuwik react to testimony. (Photos by Win McNamee/Getty Images)[/caption]
But Kuwik, calling on the strength he earned while serving in the US Army, found a purpose with that loss. He was inspired by Scott's the determination of Lorin’s father, Scott Maurer, to make sure other families wouldn’t suffer the same loss. Kuwik's father had been a politician in Buffalo, serving as both mayor and county legislator, and Kevin Kuwik thought some of his contacts could help.
Starting with the National Transportation Safety Board’s public hearing into the crash in May 2009, Kuwik's group made more than 70 trips to Washington. They attended every public hearing on the crash held by the House and Senate aviation subcommittees. They met with members of the Senate and House of Representatives, where surviving family members would share their stories.
They met with President Obama and former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood
Their focus was regional airline safety and “One Level of Safety” where regional carriers adhered to the standards set by the major airlines. In the case of Flight 3407, Colgan Air was found to have taken shortcuts in hiring, training and supporting their pilots.
The group also discovered that few passengers understood regional carriers because they often flew under a major carrier’s name.
The group’s diligence helped lead to passage of the landmark Airline Safety Act of 2010, which called for stronger regional airline safety standards in the areas of entry level pilot qualifications, training, and pilot fatigue.
Having a national impact is not a new for Kuwik. Army, Kuwik He missed the 2004-05 regular season at Ohio University, – where he was an assistant, to serve an 18-month tour of duty as an Army captain in Mosul, Iraq.
"Just as when I got the letter in the mail to report for duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, my motto has been, ‘Turn a negative into a positive,’" Kuwik said.
Kuwik and his team of advocates continue to lobby legislators in Washington to ensure that the FAA implements all provisions of the safety law.
"In this case, unfortunately we cannot bring back the wonderful people lost on Flight 3407, however in their honor we have found a way to hopefully prevent other families and friends from having to suffer the pain that we have had to endure," Kuwik said.
"I learned that we truly have a government that is ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people,’ as alluded to in the Constitution, although just like in the college basketball landscape, where the odds are often stacked against the low- and mid-major programs, it is extremely difficult, in the absence of money and the right connections, for ordinary citizens to make their voice heard.
"Fortunately, in the case of our group, we were able to connect with the right people in Washington, strike up the right message, and show a level of determination that is nearly impossible to achieve, and through this all, we have been able to make a very important difference for every American who chooses to board a flight each and every day."