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Friday, October 29, 2004 - Page updated at 08:29 A.M.

Blaine Newnham / Times associate editor
Zorn, Largent kids: SPU crewmates and best friends


GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Kramer Largent, left, and Sarah Zorn have been friends since their fathers played for the Seahawks. Now they row for SPU crew.
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Heading off to crew practice at Seattle Pacific University, Kramer Largent tumbled down the ramp to the dock along the edge of the ship canal, tearing a two-inch gash in his knee that cut all the way to the bone.

"I was standing there," said Sarah Zorn. "Not a word of anguish or complaint came out of his mouth."

Their fathers were two of the biggest names in Seattle's sports history, the Seahawks' first stars — Steve Largent and Jim Zorn.

They may have cornered the headlines, but not the courage and dedication that it takes to survive and succeed. That was passed along.

When last we knew Kramer Largent, he was the fourth child of Steve and Terry Largent, born with spina bifida, a birth defect that leaves the spinal cord exposed.

Believe it or not, that was 19 years ago.

"I remember watching clips of a United Way commercial," said Kramer this week, "where the doctors were telling my parents about my disability and saying how I could be mentally retarded or never able to walk without crutches or a wheelchair.

"Well, all that proved to be wrong. I'm doing wonderfully."

Kramer is a freshman at SPU and a member of the rowing team, as is his best friend on campus, Sarah Zorn, a senior who has stroked SPU crews to three national titles and a semifinal race last summer at Henley.

HARLEY SOLTES / THE SEATTLE TIMES, 1989
Jim Zorn, left, and Steve Largent — and their families — have been friends since the 1970s.
Kramer's spirit is not only indomitable, but infectious. You don't know whether to hug him or follow him into battle. He's got that kind of personality.

He walks with a limp and needs a brace on his leg to keep him from tottering over.

"I can't run as fast as everyone else," Kramer said, "but other than that, I don't see myself as having any limitations."

As a child, he loved sports. He played everything he could. His dad was never quick to help him up when he fell.

"He knew I'd get up, and I always did," said Kramer.

It came somewhat as a shock to him when he was told in sixth grade that he couldn't play tackle football.

"The doctors told me I could be paralyzed if I got hit in the wrong place," he said.

It was a setback for Kramer and the goal he held dear: "I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps and play for the Seahawks."

So Kramer changed goals.

"I struggled with what to do," he said. "About two years ago, I realized I wanted to be an athletic trainer for the Seahawks. I wouldn't want to play or work for anyone else."

His dad retired from the NFL in 1989, when Kramer was 4. The family moved back to Tulsa, Okla., but made periodic trips to Seattle, for football games, summer vacations with the Zorns and doctor appointments at Children's Hospital.

"I just loved being here," Kramer said. "Two years ago, Sarah told me I should check out Seattle Pacific. I loved walking on the campus. I went to a rowing workout, and coach (Keith) Jefferson just blew me away with his kindness and caring.

"I needed the environment of a small Christian school. I feel safe here — emotionally, spiritually and physically."

Kramer was in eighth grade and struggling to find a sport he could compete in when Sarah's mom, Joy Zorn, suggested he attend a rowing camp.

"I went there thinking rowing was entirely an upper-body experience, but I quickly learned differently," Kramer said. "Your legs are about 60 percent of what happens, but I still felt great on the water. I didn't have to worry about balance or running.

"I thought, 'I can totally do this.' It was definitely the sport for me."

He rows with the novice four-oared boat at SPU, although the injury to the knee from the fall on the dock has set him back. It has given him more time to study. He wants to get a degree in exercise science and eventually get a master's degree at Washington.

Kramer and Sarah get together a couple of times a week for coffee or lunch. She tries to make sure he stays on track academically.

"We've known each other our entire lives," said Sarah. "He definitely feels like a younger brother. I'm constantly amazed and inspired by the amount of joy he expresses even when things are rough for him.

"He is so strong physically and mentally."

Sarah went to high school in Michigan, where her father was coaching for the Detroit Lions. When she lived in Seattle, she had rowed briefly with the Mount Baker Rowing Club, and she wanted to take the sport up again in college.

Right now, she's not rowing because of a bad back. She misses being out on the water.

"You have to work so hard to make a boat go," she said. "But when it does, it seems almost effortless, like the boat is flying."

Kramer and Sarah seem to deal nicely with the fame of their fathers.

"My dad is my dad," said Sarah. "That's the bottom line. I know Kramer and I have learned a work ethic from our fathers. Otherwise, I think it was growing up in any other family."

Said Kramer, "What makes me feel most proud about my dad is not how many passes he caught, but how much he meant to the Seattle community."

Kramer's older brother Kyle, 26, is married, living in Virginia, where he is an investment banker. Another brother, Kelly, 20, plays baseball at an Oklahoma junior college. Sister Casie works for her dad in Virginia, where he is president of a telecommunications trade group.

Smiling as he looked across the ship canal, Kramer was philosophical as usual.

"My attitude comes from my circumstances," he said. "I could dwell on things I can't do, but I don't choose to do that. Instead, I look at what I can do. It makes life so much more enjoyable for me." 

Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or bnewnham@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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