Chris and Kasey Hanson have always been bonded by their faith, which has seen them through the passing of Kasey's father and the rigors of Chris' route to the NFL. That bond has never been tested more than it has the past two months.
Kasey was burned over 30 percent of the front of her body during an accident at home on June 1. It left her in a state of intense pain; severe enough that she was prescribed amnesia medication so she might not remember the "debreeding" procedures she underwent twice a day for three weeks in the intensive care burn unit of Gainesville's Shands Hospital.
Now, she's back at home, recovering more comfortably from a medical process that included four skin grafts.
"She's doing great. She's been doing things on her own for about a month. She's wearing protective garments on her arms and legs. She's a tough woman," Kasey's husband, the Jaguars punter, said.
These should be the best days of Chris and Kasey's 13 years together; that's right, 13 years. They met when Kasey was 12 and Chris was 13. Obviously, it was love at first sight.
Kasey's father was the pastor of a church in Peachtree City, Ga. He introduced his daughter to one of his parish family's sons, Chris, a nice kid with a smile on his face and footballs in his eyes. Kasey's father passed away a year later, but the seed he planted grew, even when college plans separated Chris and Kasey.
Chris went to Marshall College in West Virginia; Kasey stayed at home and attended the University of Georgia.
"We did the long-distance thing. She came up for most of the home games," Chris said.
After college, Chris began the pursuit of his dream, to be a punter in the NFL. It took him to Cleveland, Green Bay and Miami. In each place, the dream was short-lived. Then came Jacksonville last summer, and a year later Hanson is the incumbent punter in a one-punter training camp. He's living the dream, but for the nightmare of Kasey's injury.
The couple was enjoying an evening of family merriment; a young couple at home engaged in the most wholesome of young-couple activities. How do you beat a night of young love around a fondue pot?
"I was moving the fondue pot and I dropped it. It fell on Kasey and hit the floor. She slipped and fell into (the boiling oil)," Chris recalled of the night the Hansons' lives stood still.
With burns covering both hands, Chris had the presence of mind to move Kasey into a cold shower. Then he called for an ambulance. Eventually, she was life-flighted from St. Luke's Hospital in Jacksonville to Shands in Gainesville.
Chris also had to undergo the painful "debreeding" process to his hands. It caused him the even greater pain of understanding the physical torment his wife was experiencing.
"I had it done to my hands and I couldn't imagine having it done to your whole body," he said of the procedure, which peels away damaged and potentially infectious layers of skin.
"That's why it hurts me to hear people joke around about the fondue accident. It's very painful and traumatic," he said.
His hands still bear the scars of that night, but they will pass. Kasey's scars will also pass, though it could take as much as a year of recovery. Chris spoke sensitively of the special trauma that accompanies this kind of accident for a woman.
"Kasey and I have been through a lot together and it's made us stronger," Chris said.
He'd like this season to be a celebration of their strength. It certainly has a chance, after a year in which Hanson rose from the ranks of the league's unknown to finish with the NFL's fourth-best net-punting average. Amazingly, a year ago at this time Hanson was in Miami waiting to be cut.
"When I wasn't playing in the preseason games, I knew I was going to be cut," he said.
The Jaguars had drafted Tennessee punter David Leaverton in the fifth round, but Leaverton wasn't the sure bet the Jaguars had hoped he would be. When Miami released Hanson, the Jaguars claimed him. It was one of the best waiver-wire acquisitions in the league last year.
"There's always someone else watching you, so you always have to be on top of your game," Hanson said of the attitude he maintained through a three-year struggle to make it in the NFL.
"This year, I want more fair catches, a higher net average, more (punts) inside the 20 and fewer touchbacks. Those are pretty high expectations, but I've got to put them high to stay on top of my game," Hanson said.
It would certainly secure the pursuit of Hanson's dream. Or maybe he found it 13 years ago.