It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the gator grind blog, and I ask for your forgiveness for it is my responsibility to serve the fans and all that are interested in learning about the life of an athlete. However I have a great story to make up for my hiatus so sit back, relax, and get the Adele Pandora station rolling.
Those of you that don’t follow me on twitter you probably didn’t know that I was in Africa between June 22nd and July 1st. Yes…Africa (and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life).
I’m involved with an on-campus Christian Athlete organization called Athletes in Action. The purpose of this organization is to help athletes intentionally develop themselves into a “total athlete”. A total athlete is an athlete who has reached their full potential physically, mentally, and most of all spiritually. I’ve been involved with AIA for about a year and a half now, and have developed a very close relationship with the University of Florida campus leader. After this past season he invited me to take this trip to Africa with six other athletes who regularly attend the AIA bible study meetings we have on Mondays. This included Trey and Clay Burton (Football), Ashley and Alishea Usery (Track), Ashley Miller (Track), and Will Yeguete (Basketball).
Before I left I thought to myself “I’ve never been to Africa before, I have an opportunity to serve some kids through basketball, and lastly I really believe God will show me something great to bring back to America that will change my life and the lives of others.”
A few months later we were in the Jacksonville airport for our 11am flight into Newark, NJ. Everything was flowing smoothly as we boarded the plane with our bags stowed above our heads. About 30 minutes later the pilot says there’s a maintenance problem with the plane and says it will be anywhere from 5 to 50 minutes until we can get back on the plane. So we all left the plane still full of excitement for the trip, but had to sit around the Jacksonville airport to pass time.
About 3 or 4 hours later we find out our flight was canceled and now had to rely on our AIA leader to work with the airline to make sure we could get to Africa together and with our bags as well( it was so hard because we had a group of 10). Anyways, we ended up having to stay in Jax overnight, then come back to the airport at 5am to see if anything had changed. As a group we all stayed in the airport from 5am to 6pm. At 6pm, we finally got a flight… but it was to Houston. So we were going backwards… and they had to split our group up to get us there. (I think the airline in Jax just wanted to make us somebody else’s problem).
In Houston, we had some problems as well. However, our leader was very patient throughout this whole process. “In 18 years and 32 different countries this has never happened to me before,” he said. I believe this part of the journey is very similar to a hero story, the part of the story when the hero “crosses the threshold.”We found out that they were having problems to get us a flight to Africa as well, so as a group we all prayed and felt as though we were truly supposed to be there in Cote D’Ivorie. In Cote D’Ivorie we would be running 3 camps for about 2 and a half days. Will and I would be a part of a basketball camp, Trey and Clay would run a strength and conditioning camp, and Ashley, Ashley and Alishea would administer a track and field camp. Trey actually said this, “I don’t care if I’m in Africa for 5 minutes. I’m going.” The whole group felt this way and through all the adversity we grew closer to one another. But moving forward… we had to stay a night in Houston as well, but the next day everything worked out and we flew to London, then Brussels, and lastly arrived in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivorie.
So we arrived in Cote D’Ivorie 2 days later than we planned which was a Monday, but hey we were in Africa. One huge misconception that we as Americans have is our perception of Africa. The only education we have of Africa growing up is what we see on television and in our textbooks. Honestly all I could visualize were vast lands with elephants and lions. Never did I think of the city being so well developed and their poverty being so bad. But I just wanted to take this time to motivate anyone debating whether or not to partake on a mission trip, for you do not know how your life will be changed or how much you can change someone else’s life.
Tuesday we took a day to meet with the Basketball and Track Federations of Cote D’Ivorie and they were so very thankful that we came to work with their athletes. On Wednesday we began our camps. Will and I worked with about 25 players and about 10-15 coaches were there taking notes on drills, actions, and concepts we were teaching them. Trey and Clay had a lot of athletes and since American football doesn’t really translate outside of the US they coached strength and conditioning. Lastly the Ashleys’ and Alishea coached track and field events. The clinics totaled about 90 participants, oh yeah they all spoke French too by the way (Cote D’Ivorie is a French speaking language). For the next three days we put these athletes and coaches through about 12 hours of drills and practices attempting to give them all the knowledge we could. It was so humbling to see how passionate they were about basketball and how thankful they were to receive teaching from college athletes, which would be considered close to the bottom of the coaching totem pole in America. Not only was that humbling, but we were training a lot of their athletes who would be considered elite in their country. Between each session our leader and/or a translator would share the gospel with the athletes and that was the main reason that we all wanted to go to Africa… to share the word of God in an unknown land (well unknown to us lol).
Of course we did some sightseeing (had to rage at the beach) and some shopping (I bought my mom a couple of dresses and couldn’t resist bringing an African shirt back for myself) but that isn’t all that important compared to what I took back from the trip personally. Before we left for Africa, Will Yeguete shared with us some differences from Cote D’Ivorie and America, (he lived there for 10 years). The main differences, he said, was that Americans are selfish and very materialistic—not in a bad way but compared to the Ivoirians who do not have much, we are selfish. We think places like Africa that do not have as much as us are poor, but they are so full of love and appreciation for what they do have.
Its human nature to have more but a lot of the people who were homeless wanted basic things like food because they had no idea when their next meal would be. But here in America we buy so many clothes then stand in the mirror and can’t decide on what to wear. One thing that I took back and that will affect me for the rest of my life is knowing how blessed I am and that I am not going to build myself up to bring myself fame, fortune, and pride but I am to use those things to serve others and help to be a blessing to the less fortunate. The platform of sports is one of the most important things in the everyday lives of so many people, so why not use that as a medium to get a message of service to the whole world.
Allow me to apologize for the length but I just had so much built inside that I had to share. I want to thank SAAC and the fans for allowing me this opportunity and for actually listening to me blabber. Go gators!