Sometimes giving back means taking in
In college I had a classmate with an inspiring story. Adonal Foyle was from the tiny Caribbean island of Canouan. During a basketball tournament on a nearby island, two professors doing research noted the 16-year-old boy's height (6-foot-10) and talent. Two weeks later, Foyle was living in the U.S. with his new guardians, who helped foster his hunger for knowledge and athleticism.
Before long Foyle was the most highly recruited high school player of 1994. He chose to attend (and graduated from) Colgate University, stunning giant D-I basketball schools across the nation. Later, Foyle was the No. 8 pick in the NBA draft and played a phenomenal 12-year career with the Golden State Warriors and Orlando Magic. Now he gives back like a superhero, making the world a better place for disadvantaged youth in the Caribbean and the U.S. (for more on those efforts see our story.)
Foyle's story has always touched me. Not the part about Foyle becoming an NBA star, but the part about two people who gave a kid a chance -- and the kid excelled.
Fast forward a decade post-college graduation to 2007. My cycling dreams are in full swing, shooting for the 2008 Beijing Games. I have dual citizenship with St. Kitts and Nevis, who I represent when I race, and have pledged to give back to its cycling federation with all my heart. (While I narrowly missed qualifying in 2008, I've embarked on a quest for 2012.)
For years I have collected donations in both cash and equipment for the St. Kitts and Nevis cycling federation. We've held national championships for junior riders. We've had my SKN teammates and friends come visit us to train and race in Tucson. We've gone to the world championships. But this year, a new opportunity arose.
Assim Chapman, 16, is one of a handful of junior riders in Nevis who has fallen in love with cycling. He's a strong, powerful kid with solid potential for making something of himself in the sport. But in the Caribbean, bike racing can be a logistical challenge. Small fields, limited competition and difficult travel put most racers' dreams on a dead end course.
On a training ride back in June, when my husband, George, and I were in Nevis for nationals, Assim rode next to me. I told him about life in Arizona, about our many desert races, our training group rides and how we usually don't have to watch out for monkeys and donkeys, but rather rabbits and rattlesnakes. Assim listened, fascinated that we could ride for hundreds of miles in various directions in Tucson. Nevis, in all its tropical enchanting beauty, has but one main road circumnavigating the 25-mile island.
"I want to go pro," Assim told me. "But here, people laugh at me when I say that."
To say this comment struck a chord with me is an understatement -- it struck many, practically resonating a whole ballad. In pursuing my Olympic dream, I've been laughed at, called too old, too late to the game, too this, too that. I've even received anonymous hate mail when I've done poorly at races. (People have way too much free time and a severe dose of crazy to actually invest energy in cyber-heckling female cyclists). But for a 16-year-old to be laughed at for having a dream and wanting to do something with his life? Absolutely not OK.
That night I talked to George about Assim. We both felt the same way, that he could come live with us and finish high school while moving up the ranks in cycling. We talked to Assim and his mother and the head of the cycling federation. Everyone agreed enthusiastically. Guardian paperwork has been filed and our cats' climbing tower has been removed from the guest room.
Just like that, George and I are expecting … a 16-year-old child in November.
"I'm just psyched he's out of diapers," George joked.
"I'm just psyched we belong to Costco," I added, imagining what it'll take to satisfy the metabolism of a teenage male athlete.
And Foyle, who was psyched to hear the news of a young Caribbean athlete taking a shot at his athletic dreams, offered his personal assistance in counseling all of us along the way. We'll need that, seeing as this is our first foray into bipedal parenting.
Unlike Adonal Foyle's story, there's likely no multi-million dollar sports contract waiting for Assim in the next five years. This is cycling, after all. But who knows? Maybe Assim will be the next Lance Armstrong. Maybe he'll get tired of cycling and quit. Or maybe he'll reach any level of greatness -- either personal or professional -- between those two extremes.
Just like Adonal Foyle, Assim is likely to have some pretty terrific experiences along the way. As will George and I. While none of us know what'll come of this life adventure, there is one thing I know for sure: Taking a chance in life is the second-greatest feeling in the world. Giving that chance, I've just realized, is the first.
Welcome, Assim. We'll see you in November.