It was minus-31-degree wind chill last week. Wrap your mind around that one.
You all experienced it, so it’s not like you really have to try too hard to imagine the bitter winds whipping your face, your eyes stinging and welling up with tears or your face tightening up so you found yourself making weird faces to stretch it out whenever you went inside a building.
But did you see those two Northwestern students who, even on one of the coldest days of the year, were wearing shorts around campus? Yes, shorts.
Some of you maybe even commented under your frosty breath or put forth the lung-contracting effort to yell at them and ask them, “Are you crazy?”
It’s a question senior Dan Unekis and junior Danie Fry hear all too often.
Their simple responses are a justified, “No.”
Although drastically different, Dan’s and Danie’s stories are unique – stories that take longer than the 15 seconds you might give them on the sidewalk when you exclaim, “You’re wearing shorts!”
Danie likes to counteract this obvious statement with extreme sarcasm. “‘No way!’ Like I’m just as shocked as they are,” she said.
She hasn’t always been known as “the girl who wears shorts,” but when she “never busted out the sweatpants” during the winter of her senior year in high school, “people were concerned.” She went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a heat intolerance which simply means that her body isn’t good at ridding itself of external or elevated heat.
Danie enjoys wearing shorts year-round for several reasons. “I save money on laundry and I don’t have to deal with wet pant legs.” Some mornings, however, she looks at the thermometer and wonders if she’s brave enough to face the negative numbers.
She’d gotten a text message from her friend, junior Liz Stevens, on Tuesday morning last week. It read, “Wear pants.” Although Danie is thankful that her friends look out for her, she admitted that wearing shorts is “an internal challenge to me; I’m a competitive person.” Wearing pants on Tuesday, when it was minus-30-degree wind chill made her think she had “caved in.”
It’s become a mind game of “Can I do it?” but feeding her competitive edge also has its setbacks. “I keep my window open all the time, so I have to keep my door closed because of the draft. I feel closed off from my wing a lot, but I do it to keep them happy.”
It’s a two-way street, however. Her former roommate, senior Sara Bolkema, who graduated at semester, was fine with the climate control Danie needed in the room. “She slept in sweatpants and a sweatshirt and was covered in more blankets than I’d ever seen, but was a good sport about it all,” Danie said.
She’s comfortable with the fact that she’s known around campus as “the girl who wears shorts,” but because heat intolerance could happen to anyone, Danie admitted, “I really thought there’d be someone else.”
When senior Dan Unekis was a freshman at Northwestern, upper-classmen on campus would mix obscenities in with the accusation that he was nuts for wearing shorts and a sweatshirt during the winter. “It’s as if they took offense to my clothes,” he said.
People would stop him on the sidewalk and ask why he was wearing shorts, but his usual response would be, “Ask me some other time.”
Having no medical reasoning for wearing shorts year-round, and wanting no “undue attention,” Dan never really talked about his choice of clothes. “I never wanted to seem ‘holier than thou.’”
How could Dan’s choice to wear shorts make us think of him in that way? His story is actually rather humbling.
Four years ago, Dan and his high school youth group took a mission trip to Tecate, Mexico, in Baja California. As many of us do, he always pictured Mexico as a “hot, dry, barren desert.” On the contrary, Tecate was rather cold in the wintery day-time and got really cold at night.
It’s common for Tecate’s citizens to have no more than a jacket to protect them from the winter chill. The houses weren’t built to protect from the cold temperatures, and kids were seen huddling together with no more than a sheet covering them up.
“Every kid gets super sick in the winter,” Dan recalled, “and in Loma Tova, where we went to church, kids die from the cold.”
As Dan walks to class in khaki shorts and a sweatshirt, the chills he gets from Northwest Iowa’s bitter wind are a reminder to pray for his friends in Tecate. His choice of clothing isn’t just to make a statement or to make him think twice. Since his first trip to Tecate, Dan decided to donate whatever money he would have spent on winter clothes to the missionaries he worked with in Tecate.
“I want them to use the money to keep the kids warm,” Dan said, “but I’m not too specific about how they need to do that.”
On his second trip to Tecate, this time after his sophomore year of college, Dan had the opportunity to show the community members that his care for them was deep. He headed to a Wal-Mart across the border in San Diego, California, to buy fleece blankets for the kids.
Walking up to the checkout with 45 fleece blankets in his cart, Dan remembers the look on the cashier’s face. “It screamed, ‘Are you kidding me?’ All I said was, ‘I get really cold.’”
And yes, there are times when Northwestern’s minus-30-degree temperatures do bother him, but what bothers him more are the rash comments he hears from students across campus.
“Don’t you know it’s cold outside?” he gets asked from time to time.
“Yeah,” he’ll say, “but it’s warm in here.”
He goes on to explain that “it’s not a huge sacrifice” to wear shorts and sweatshirt “because we’re inside 90 percent of the time anyway. You scamper to class at 20 degrees then you sit in a 70-degree building all day.”
Dan owns three pairs of shorts and three sweatshirts. “But I only really need two,” he interjected.
With the weather warming up, Dan and Danie don’t stick out quite as much, but now that their stories are known, maybe we’ll stop thinking they’re fruitcakes.