Kragthorpe: Utah coach’s wife places emphasis on assists
Utah coach’s wife lends her energy to humanitarian causes.

By Kurt Kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

Published: December 24, 2012 03:10PM
Updated: April 8, 2013 11:33PM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

She’s an author of children’s books, a mother of five, the wife of the University of Utah’s basketball coach and an organizer of charity gala events. At this moment, Jan Krystkowiak is lifting and sweating. She’s standing in a truck bed in the 104-degree heat and humidity of Haiti and unloading heavy bags of medical supplies so relentlessly that, in the words of one friend, she’s “putting everybody to shame.”

Next stop: Uganda, where Krystkowiak and one of her sons will spend two weeks in June building mud huts.

“She just can’t sit still,” her husband, Larry Krystkowiak, said, admiringly.

Jan Krystkowiak traces her attitude of giving to her Wisconsin hometown, where her father supervised a juvenile correctional facility. Turns out, Jimmer Fredette is not the only player who competed against prisoners to develop his game.

That basketball experience eventually helped her land a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Wrapping thousands of Christmas gifts for those inmates during her youth affected her even more, creating an attitude of caring.

“She’s just got a great heart,” Larry Krystkowiak said.

Even with her background in marketing and advertising, Jan Krystkowiak is anything but a self-promoter. Yet in a Christmas spirit of storytelling, she described her giving efforts on a recent Sunday afternoon, sitting behind her husband’s desk in the Huntsman Center. Her son, Ben, 10, addressed the family’s holiday cards and occasionally interjected details of her stories, while her 5-year-old twin daughters, Samantha and Finley, practiced with their basketball team on the court below.

The Haiti trip in 2010 was another in a series of semiannual outings with friends, usually oriented to running a half-marathon or indulging in spa treatments. This time, after deciding that “we need to do something” and making several inquiries about how to help, they aligned themselves with actor Sean Penn’s extensive earthquake-relief efforts.

“What makes her even more amazing is how she’s able to get everyone else around her to be enthusiastic and passionate,” said Tuba Malinowski, one of the friends who accompanied her. “Never once did she get a bad attitude.”

They spent two weeks organizing and distributing medical supplies, comforting children and moving rocks in an experience Jan Krystkowiak describes as “eye-opening.” She pauses, recounting images of children, amid death and devastation. Some parents would hand their children to the Americans, wishing they could take them home.

Cam Krystkowiak, 13, will accompany his mother to Uganda in June. As she discusses their plans, Ben wants to know, “Why can’t I go?”

His turn will come someday; so will his brother Luc’s. The family’s interest in serving others apparently is catching, extending to the Utes. On their own, a group of players organized by senior guard Jarred DuBois have made hundreds of sandwiches and handed them out in downtown Salt Lake City.

“That’s a big part of our program,” Larry Krystkowiak said. “It creates that buzz within you that makes you want to keep doing it.”

Jan Krystkowiak has written about a dozen children’s books with proceeds intended for charity, including the military-based United Through Reading campaign. Her niche with Where in the World Books is personalized stories using the names of children and pets. She hopes to resume those efforts — she’s looking for a Utah-based printer — in a location that she hopes is more permanent for her family.

Married in 1997, the Krystkowiaks have lived in nine different places in a concession to the coaching profession.

One of her books, I Don’t Want to Move, stemmed more from others’ reactions to the family’s plans than from her children’s own responses. As portrayed in the book, the Krystkowiaks have enjoyed their varied experiences, adopting a theme of “same people, different faces” in all of those new places.

“It’s been great for our kids,” she said, “because they have to learn to adapt.”

Judging by recent developments at the Huntsman Center, the family may be establishing some roots. After posting a 6-25 in his first season, Larry Krystkowiak’s team is 7-4 as his own rebuilding work begins to take hold.

“I’m ready to stay somewhere for a while,” his wife said.

That’s a departure for a woman who’s seemingly always on the move.