Her voice wavered, punctuated with sobs. The tears started slowly, like a drizzle. They picked up in intensity until it became a downpour.
Kaye Lane was having a meltdown. But like a summer thunderstorm, it was over almost as quickly as it started.
"I'm OK," she said, composing herself on the phone. "I haven't had one in a while. But when I think about it, I break down."
"It" is her husband, Mills Lane, the former legendary boxing referee from Reno who suffered a stroke in 2002 while at home that left his right side paralyzed. He is also virtually unable to speak.
Together, they have traveled the world, hoping to find a miracle cure. Several trips to New York to visit neurologists. Three trips to the Ukraine where they heard there might be a way to get him right. Acupuncture. Hyperbaric chambers.
Experimental drugs not yet approved in the United States. They were willing to try anything.
"You try to make sense of it, and you just can't," said their oldest son, Terry. "There was no indication whatsoever he was going to suffer a stroke. To be honest with you, six years later, it still hasn't hit me yet that he really is in this condition. I still want to believe that it's a temporary thing and that one day he'll be fine again. You can never lose hope."
Today, Lane, 70, spends much of his time in his Reno home, watching television or movies with Terry. Some days, it's "On the Waterfront." Other days, it's "Patton" or "The Godfather." Lane will watch the old fights on ESPN Classic, some of which had him as the third man in the ring.
Kaye Lane doesn't watch.
"It makes me realize what we lost," she said of her spouse, who by the mere command of his voice could control the action in the ring. From his signature phrase "Let's get it on!" to his stern warnings during a bout, Lane was able to keep the combatants in line during his 33-year run as a referee.
Well, most combatants. Despite his best efforts, Lane was unable to keep Mike Tyson from cannibalizing Evander Holyfield's ear in their June 28, 1997, rematch at the MGM Grand Garden.
It wasn't Lane's first brush with boxing's bizarre side. He was the referee on Nov. 6, 1993, when the "Fan Man" parachuted into the ring at Caesars Palace during Holyfield's heavyweight title fight with Riddick Bowe.
Lane watched Oliver McCall lose it emotionally and tearfully quit on his stool against Lennox Lewis on Feb. 7, 1997, at the Las Vegas Hilton. And Lane was the one who disqualified Henry Akinwande on Dec. 7, 1997, after he nailed Lewis with a low blow in their fight at Caesars Tahoe.
"He has the grand slam of bizarreness," said Marc Ratner, former executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission and a good friend of Lane. "But what Mills had was the respect of the boxers. When he issued his voice commands, the fighters listened. For a man small in stature, he had a big presence about him."
Veteran referee Joe Cortez said Lane set the bar high for other refs in Nevada.
"The entire boxing referee fraternity owes a lot to him," Cortez said. "He was a premier referee. He was very consistent and very fair with the fighters, but very firm.
"It hurts to see him the way he is. To see someone who loves the sport as he does, it's like his hands are tied. He probably wants to explode and be able to talk about boxing."
It has been 10 years since Lane was the third man inside the ring. His final fight was Nov. 6, 1998, in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena where former world champion Thomas Hearns faced Jay Snyder. But it was a short night as Hearns knocked Snyder out one minute and 28 seconds into the first round of their scheduled 10-round fight.
"He was a great referee," Hearns said of Lane, who worked five "Hit Man" fights during Hearns' Hall of Fame career. "He was a fair, honest guy. He allowed you to do what you were supposed to do in the ring.
"I had great respect for Mills Lane. I always liked it when he said, 'Let's Get It On!'"
Unfortunately, Lane cannot speak for himself these days. He was willing to be interviewed except that he cannot orally put sentences together anymore. His responses come in one- or two-word answers. But Terry Lane, 25, who with his 21-year-old brother, Tommy Lane, helps run the family's Reno-based boxing company Let's Get It On Promotions, was able to get his father's points across.
When asked how he is managing, Lane shakes his head no. Terry Lane said: "Anyone who has known a stroke victim with permanent damage knows that the physical and emotional effects can be devastating. We try to make Dad as comfortable as possible and take things day-to-day. There are good days and bad days, peaks and valleys."
Kaye Lane said: "He's in pain. In the morning, it's hard getting going."
Lane, who became one of the iconic sports figures in Nevada because of his officiating career, said he misses being involved in boxing. He rarely attends a live card his sons promote. He pointed to the television to say how he stays in touch with boxing.
"He'll watch the big fights on HBO and Showtime," Terry Lane said. "ESPN Classic has been a godsend. He watches that a lot.
"We tell him everything that's going on with the company, and we see how he feels about ideas and people who we may do business with. But I think it's difficult for him to not be able to go to the shows.
"On July 6, 2007, he went to our show for the first two bouts, and it was an emotional experience for us. That was the first boxing event he attended since the stroke."
Terry Lane said the family business is important, not just because it's boxing but because his father was initially involved and he and Tommy want it to succeed for him.
"When he first started Let's Get It On Promotions with Tony Holden (in 1999), he always envisioned my brother and I taking it over someday," said Terry Lane, who said the company might promote a card in Las Vegas in mid-December. "So on one hand, he's happy that indeed that happened, but no one expected it to happen so soon or under these circumstances."
Lane rarely gets out these days. Even his other passion, poker, has been curtailed because of his condition. If he is up to it, he will head into downtown Reno to play cards. But Kaye Lane said it has been a while since her husband was in a poker room.
Once in a while, Terry Lane will get his father in the car and they will drive by the courthouse in downtown Reno that bears Mills' name.
"He likes to drive by and look at it," Terry Lane said of the Mills B. Lane Justice Center, which was named for him in 2006.
And while Lane misses poker, what he really misses is working as a referee. Lane worked more than 100 title fights, and he is coming up on the 10th anniversary of the last fight he refereed, the 1998 Hearns-Snyder bout.
"Yes," was Lane's response to missing being the third man in the ring.
"He truly loved being a referee," Terry Lane said. "He used to say, 'I've got the best seat in the house!' and being a former fighter himself, he understood what was going on more than most and felt passionate about being the third man."
Yet, for all he has accomplished in his life -- be it in the ring as a Hall of Fame referee or as a public servant as a district attorney and as a judge, both in real life and on television -- Lane is most proud of his military service.
"Marines," Lane said when asked about his most significant accomplishment.
"My dad always said going into the Marine Corps was the best thing he ever did," Terry Lane said of his father's service in the Corps, which began in 1956. "He said it taught him the discipline on which he based his entire life. He also started boxing when he was in the Marines."
Perhaps it's that toughness which comes from being a Marine that enables Lane to keep going. He tries to be as independent as his condition will allow. He can feed himself and go to the bathroom without help, and he has made some progress since the stroke initially hit six years ago.
Meanwhile, his family keeps searching for a cure. Kaye Lane said she is trolling the Internet daily, trying to learn, hoping she will run across something that they can pursue in yet one more attempt to help her husband recover.
"You never give up hope," she said. "But after six years, things kinda settle in, and you accept it.
"The first three years, I didn't have a feeling of despair. I truly believed in my heart there was something out there somewhere that would make him better."
Then she broke down again.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It's just that ... it's changed our lives so dramatically. All the experiences we've went through. You see the world in a different way.
"I don't think I appreciated Mills. He was such a live wire. I always said, 'I have a tiger by the tail.' But the good part is in a weird way we've grown closer together. All the experiences we've went through. You see the world in a different way."
Terry Lane said: "No question, it changed our lives. Something simple like putting on a shirt, we had to learn to do in order to help him get dressed. I think he feels guilty that he needs help. But I think he also has peace of mind in that he was able to provide for his family and give them a good life.
"My dad is so stubborn. He wasn't prepared to accept what had happened to him. But now, he's dealing with it, and we're so proud of him for the way he's handling everything with so much grace and dignity."
Tommy Lane, who is a senior at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., said he sometimes feels guilty about not being there when his father suffered his stroke.
He was 15 years old and going to high school in New York at the time. He knows that while there is nothing he could have done to help his father had he been in Reno, he still feels bad he wasn't there.
"I'll probably never have a full adult relationship with him," he said. "Not to be able to communicate with words is very tough. But I think all of what he has been through has made me work harder. I want to represent him in a good way."
Kaye Lane said she sees the world much differently since 2002.
"I have this belief that we had lessons to learn," she said. "I grew up in Elko thinking I was a strong, independent pioneer woman. But I'm stronger than I thought. I spend a lot of time reading a lot, lots of inspirational things. You never want to lose faith. The lesson is to live in the now and appreciate the little things."
And while it hurts the family to see someone who was once so strong now so incapacitated and dependent upon others, the Lanes still have the pillar of their lives with them. For that, they are grateful.
"When he first had his stroke, the neurologist said he'd probably be dead within five years," Terry Lane said. "It's six years later, and he's still with us. To us, that's a blessing from God."
Tommy Lane said: "I know my dad wants me to live a full life, be happy and make him proud. In many ways, his still being around is an inspiration to me."
For Kaye Lane, who has endured so much over the past six years, she prays every day for a miracle and counts her blessings that her husband is still with her.
"He may not have the same body he once had, but he has the same soul," Kaye Lane said, sobbing into the phone. "He's still Mills."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.