Their own 'Amazing Race'
By Rick Holland/ Staff Writer
Thursday, September 22, 2005
BELLINGHAM - Call it the ultimate male bonding experience.
That's what two Bellingham residents will bring to a national television audience on Tuesday night, when the first episode in a new season of the reality show "The Amazing Race" airs on CBS.
Wrentham Road residents Kevin Kempskie and Matt Hanson will appear as part of team that competes against nine others in a 30-day around the world scavenger hunt for a top prize of $1 million.
Joining Kempskie and Hanson, is their father-in-law, Tony Aiello, of Mansfield, and another of Tony's son-in-laws, David Alverson, who lives in North Providence, R. I.
While all four men are contractually forbidden to make any comment about their experience, Kevin and Matt's twin-sister wives, Heather Kempskie and Lisa Hanson, spoke at length about surviving their own "amazing race," which included month-long stints as single moms to a combined total of four kids, all of whom are under 2 1/2 years old.
"I learned that I'm capable of much more than I thought I was," said Lisa, describing what she learned about herself during Matt's absence. As an example, she described finding a tick on her son's head and removing it. "Taking care of the tick, that would have been a 'dad thing,'" she said.
She saved the insect storing it in a plastic bag as a trophy to her courage for Matt to see when he returned. Among other manly duties, the two sisters also said they took out the trash and contemplated lawn care.
Once back in Bellingham, however, after what was literally a voyage around the world, the husbands jumped back into their roles as regular dads.
"Within two hours after coming home, Kevin was changing a dirty diaper," Heather said.
On a serious note, the separation from their husbands provided a particularly difficult psychological and emotional challenge for Heather and Lisa. While the family's selection as a team was an honor - they were one of 10 family teams from a pool of 25,000 entries - Heather, Lisa, their mother, Barbara Aiello and their sister Amy Alverson, were all told upfront that they could have no contact whatsoever with the men until they returned.
Show producers called them once a week during the taping of the show "to let us know they were alive, that was it," said Lisa.
An exception was made on the morning of July 7, just five days after the family had exchanged tearful farewells at the airport, marking the start of the game. On that date, a series of terrorist bombs exploded in London, killing 52 people.
A representative from CBS called immediate family members, but the details were excruciatingly sparse. For all they knew, Heather, Lisa, Amy and Barbara thought their husbands could have been in London on July 7.
"They called and told us only 'they're fine,'" recalled Lisa, though she was still not told where her family's team was located.
"That's when it hit me that this is my husband's life, and it was a little weird that I could not be told where he was," said Lisa. "That morning was so scary because we had no idea where they were."
Nor could they reach out to anyone outside the family to help ease the burden of anxiety. That's because everyone was bound by contract with CBS to keep secret the fact that the family had even been selected as contestants for the show.
As a result, invites from friends and neighbors to backyard barbecues became exercises in crafting evasive responses. Heather and Lisa had to attend such events without their husbands, and then provide vague answers when asked where Kevin or Matt were.
Providing a sense of reassurance during the game, though, was something Tony told his daughters before their husbands left.
"Dad said to us, 'I promise I'll bring these guys home,'" said Heather, who added that in addition to a variety of wonderful traits, her father's "number one priority is safety."
To maintain some kind of connection, the couples each kept journals, though those written by Kevin and Matt can only be shown to their wives as each episode airs. The men remain under contract not to let anyone know how they did in the race until the are either eliminated during an episode, or are unveiled as the show's winners.
On the day their husbands returned, there was joy in even the smallest things.
"You have to remember, we hadn't seen or heard from them, we hadn't even heard their voices for a month," said Heather.
The separation allowed the two sisters to really think about their relationships with their husbands. "They were desperately missed, but we would recommend (some time apart) for all couples," said Heather.
"There is something to be said for the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder," said Lisa.
As difficult and rewarding as the experience was for Heather and Lisa, the game also had an effect on their 2-year-old sons. Both Kevin and Matt left video messages for their kids and small surprise presents to be opened when moods turned especially sad.
By way of explanation about Kevin's whereabouts, Heather said she told her son, Kyle, that he had flown away on a plane but would be coming back before too long. After that point, whenever Kyle spotted or heard a plane, he'd point to it and say, "There's daddy!"
"It just broke your heart," said Heather.
For Lisa, she said that Matt hadn't been away from their kids for a single night since they were born, so the prospect of being gone for at 30 nights in a row was daunting.
"We broke out the calendar with the month of July and just filled it up," said Lisa.
By the time the month had passed, a jubilant reunion occurred at the Providence airport. The men came down a long escalator into the waiting arms of wives, kids and extended family. "In a way, coming down to meet us was symbolic, like they were coming back to earth," said Heather.
Within hours, Lisa and Matt's son, Noah, was wrestling with his dad, throwing pillows "and playing all the games they had missed with each other over the past month," said Lisa
Kyle also had a wonderful reunion with Kevin, but said, "I don't want daddy to ever go on a plane again."
"The Amazing Race" season premiere will air on Tues., Sept. 27 at 9 p.m. on CBS.http://www2.townonline.com/bellingham/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=331261&format=&page=1