Flipping through the pages of People magazine, I saw where a guy with whom I once spent a week in Hawaii had been named as one of sexiest men in America.
Well, imagine that. The memories of those 10 days we spent snorkeling off the coast of Kaui then shopping and sunning in Maui came tumbling back.
I smiled, perhaps chuckled just a bit, as I looked at the handsome and lean but sculpted guy. I studied his rugged beauty. And I agreed. He certainly is gorgeous.
But back then? Well, then he was scrawny with long, tangling limbs and rakish dark brown hair that fell, more often than not, in his eyes. He wore the most outrageous shoes, high tops — black as I recall — that were filthy and ripped with numerous holes but still, somehow, wearable.
His mom hated those shoes.
My No. 1 memory of that trip was the day we had packed up to leave Kaui.
His brother and I waited in the red convertible that Carolyn, their capricious mother, had rented, which proved too small for two long-limbed teenagers and two too-much-luggage-toting women. Fifteen minutes passed. Thirty. Then 40. Geoff and I were growing fingernail-tapping anxious, afraid we’d miss our flight to Maui.
Suddenly, the door of the upstairs condo flung open and Carolyn, with a look of cool insouciance, came skipping down the stairs followed by her 16-year-old with his brooding James Dean looks and that hair covering most of his face.
He squeezed his long, deeply tanned body into the back seat, commenting casually. "Mom threw my shoes out."
"Good," I replied. "They’re ghastly."
"But I found them," he replied, shrugging. "Outside, in the trash can, covered with a bunch of stuff. See?" He held the horrid shoes up, none the worse for their temporary burial in the garbage. In fact, the smudge of ketchup might have improved their appearance.
That summer, Skeet Ulrich talked a lot — when he talked at all — about being an actor. He talked about it not in a dreamy, pie-in-the-sky way but as matter-of-factly as if he were planning a law career.
And, that’s what I have learned about those who achieve out-of-the-ordinary success. It is always a fact with them, never a dream, even in the beginning, that they will attain what others think is unattainable.
But Skeet Ulrich, star of movies like "Scream," "As Good As Gets," "The Newton Boys" and, of late, the hero lead in the CBS series, "Jericho," comes from a family who is completely undaunted by life’s highest mountains.
His uncle is NASCAR driver Ricky Rudd, the son of a humble upbringing, who has become one of the sport’s most favorite stars. His mom, Carolyn, was the first female president of a sports marketing agency in the United States and eventually married the chairman of the world’s largest advertising agencies.
The Rudds, including Ricky’s wife, Linda, are some of my favorite people. Their words as well as their actions are accented by the Southern roots of their gentle Virginia upbringing.
Carolyn, I must say, has been one of my most loyal and generous friends for 20 years.
But what I love most about those who descend from the Rudd lineage is that they are completely undaunted by fear. If they want it, they go for it. No daydreaming or whining. Just plain hard work, determination and a cloaking belief that they wear as easily as that well-worn, favorite coat that if you want it, you can do it. They take that matter-of-fact attitude and turn it into a fact.
I read the magazine story about that skinny-turned-fabulous Skeet Ulrich and admired his photos, proud of what he’s done.
Again, I thought back to that summer in Hawaii when he wasn’t just a kid with a grandiose dream. He was, instead, a young man with a plan. And, he was absolutely fearless.
Nothing is sexier than that.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)."