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Reymann's versatility fills many roles

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Charlie Reymann. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics. Charlie Reymann. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics.
By Brent Ingram.

That first year in college can be a challenging transition for all student-athletes.

For Kentucky defender Charlie Reymann, that transition involved getting acclimated to the stress of playing every day as a true freshman and adjusting to the challenges of academic life.

A native of Worthington, Ohio, Reymann's adjustment in his debut season continued into the summer of his freshman year, when he joined nine UK student-athletes on a service trip to Ethiopia.

Reymann and the UK student-athletes worked with children, helped build homes, provide supplies and enjoy a life-changing experience.  

"It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like that," Reymann said. "As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted."

Throughout the trip, Reymann was constantly reminded of the challenges of everyday life in Ethiopia and was deeply moved by his experience.

"In Ethiopia, everything is about relationships and I experienced that right when I got off the bus," Reymann said. "A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball.

"Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was."

Reymann's  trip to Ethiopia came just a few months after his debut as a collegiate soccer standout for the Wildcats. His freshman season on the pitch was highly successful, as the 5-foot-9, 163 -pounder, played in all 20 games, seeing starts in 17 games.

"I learned that I have a lot of work to do before I can get to where I need to go," Reymann said. "I have a lot of things to improve on. Over the season, college soccer caught up to me, played against good players and that really showed and highlighted aspects of my game that I need to work on. Every part of my game needs to step up if I want to be the kind of college soccer player I can be."

Reymann saw time in the midfield but primarily as an attacking outside back as a freshman. He finished with two goals and one assist, serving as the primary corner-kick taker.

"Having (head coach) Johan (Cedergren) and (assistant) Chase (Wileman) give me quality coaching of where they want the ball to go, and when it should be there has helped me a lot because as you grow up you are just trying to get it to the big guy on the team," Reymann said. "But the structure we have here, it is so professional. Johan has made it very clear where he wants the ball to go on set pieces. Most of the time, I can get it there. It helps that those guys really teach us and the attackers know where the ball should be so we are on the same page."

One of the exciting elements of Cedergren's exciting style of offensive play is the ability of the outside backs to support the offensive attack, a role that perfectly fits Reymann's game.

"That was one of the reasons Johan recruited me, because I take pride in that part of my game," Reymann said. "I try to get forward as much as I can. Sometimes Johan and I joke around that maybe I get forward a little too much. The way we can be successful is to have out offensive guys be creative but if we can have our outside backs come up it will really help our offense. Sending in good crosses, that is probably one of the best parts of my game, just being able to pass the ball and distribute. Having that skill set should help our offense."

Reymann will join forces on a dynamic backline with center backs Jordan Wilson and Kaelon Fox. With an injury to his opposite member at outside back, Alex Bumpus, the back four will need to break in a new defender. Even with a new face, UK's defensive unit should be a strength of the team in 2014, including first-team All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving.

"We can be one of the best defending units in the country," Reymann said. "Jordan and I played a good amount together last year. Then having Kaelon Fox come in this spring to the backline, we all have a really good understanding of each other. In the first preseason game, we felt really comfortable with each other. We are starting to understand what each other likes and doesn't like. And having Cally back there, he is just a great leader, organizer. Everyone respects him and listens to him. Everyone being on the same page is going to help us a lot. Last year, with three freshmen coming in on the backline it is going to be a little different this year."

An important aspect of having a good back line in college soccer is constant communication amongst the back four and the goalkeeper.

"There are a lot of things going on at once," Reymann said "Especially against some of the teams we will play against this year, some really dynamic players. Just being able to communicate at a high level and knowing what each other generally likes to do. If Jordan wants to step here, or Kaelon is going to step up, we just have a good understanding of when we are going to do that. Against these good teams, we just have to react and know that your teammates are going to be there. Communication is just a huge part of us having success. Halfway through the year, we really started to communicate better. Now coming in with experience on the backline will definitely help."

With Kentucky coming off its season opener on Friday night at Wright State, the Wildcats now turn their attention to preparing for the home lidlifter on Sunday vs. Belmont at 5 p.m. at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex, the grand opening of UK's sparkling new facility.

"Oh my gosh. There are no words," Reymann said about the excitement for the new facility. "Last year, we were watching it get built. We just hear rumors about how nice the locker room would be, or the lounge. The field is already the best I have every played on, that by itself is amazing but know that they got it all built it is just amazing. We are just so excited to just get out there and play in front of a huge stadium. Now we have to win at home and build up that fan base."

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Bria Goss writes about the group's final hours in Ethiopia and looks back how a memorable trip changed her forever.


Today is the last day in Ethiopia and I feel like I just got here. I feel like I need to stay longer because there was still more to be done. I knew I had to make the best of the last day!

After breakfast we went to visit kids while they were learning at school. There were so many kids learning their ABCs and learning to count. We completely distracted a class by our entrance. We were so energetic and ready to play with the kids. Some were shy, but most were pretty open. They were first and second graders and for their age, they spoke pretty clear English. I noticed how well they got along with each other. They were very polite and generous to each other and really tried to show the same generosity and politeness to me even though we just met.

They were so eager to show me what they know. I was blown away by their willingness to learn. This was considered to be optional and the kids did not have to be there, but the class was full. There were no seats left open. The kids told me it was because everyone there cherishes school and wants to have a good education. I was in shock. Kids see the school as a way out. They are passionate because it can provide for their families.

There was one little girl that really stuck out to me. Her sassy attitude and outgoing personality is going to lead her to a bright future. She stole the show by showing us her dance moves and spirit. She swung her hips and put her hands in the air as we sang our tune. The girl had skills! I could see her as the next winner on Got Talent!

After the fun time with the kids it was time to go. We went to a market to get some food supplies for the next city we were going to. The market was very busy and muddy. It smelled terrible and people were shoving things in your face to get you to buy their product. There were flies everywhere, which gave me goose bumps! After we got the food we left to the market to go to drop off the food to the widows. They were so thankful for the blessings we brought them. They repeatedly said "May God bless you" and "Thank you, God bless"! This put a smile on my face. I fell in love with serving others! I want to help people with nothing in return. I get the utmost joy when I put smiles on other people's faces.


After passing out the food it was time to pack up and leave. We had about an hour to shower and get our things together and get something to eat. We gathered downstairs to eat and after we all finished, we gave Girma money to get his driver's license. He was thrilled and surprised. We wanted to do this for him because to get his license was very expensive and he had just about given up on his dream of one day being able to drive. Now, he will be able to take his test and get his license. We were happy to help him and be a part of something so special.

We then left for the airport and said our final goodbyes! It was so hard saying goodbye to our new friends. They were a big help and made the trip so much easier. I love how well this team came together and became friends. We weren't ready to leave. We got to the airport around 7 and we board at 9:30. This plane ride was a little different than the first. We were all close now so this made the flight more enjoyable.

Eighteen hours later, we were back in the U.S. The trip was life-changing. I know more than I ever thought I would about Ethiopia and had the chance to experience it firsthand. This trip will stay with me forever. The thing that really sticks to me is that life is not about what you do or don't have. It's about the relationships you build. It's about the friendships you cherish. It's about the people you reach out to. I learned how to give willingly and what that feels like. I learned to put others before myself to lift them up. I am not perfect, but living for God you don't have to be.


Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics) Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics)
In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Haley Mills writes about some inspiring children the student-athletes met on their last full day in Ethiopia.

We started our day like every other morning on our trip which included an early awaking followed by a delicious breakfast. We loaded up in our Toyota Coaster and dodged through the crazy traffic of Addis Ababa.

We first arrived at a little shop to buy a few souvenirs for loved ones back home. We then ventured on to a boys' home called Hope. The owner used to live on the streets of Addis and he was in and out of jail 32 times. After he turned his life around, he started a home for street boys to try and make a difference and change their lives. We introduced ourselves to all the boys and we were overwhelmed the most with their kindness and love, amidst the adversity.

A few of the boys shared their story and I was inspired as I related it back to my life. They had lost their parents and were left with nothing. They were destined to live sad lives as street children, yet these boys did not give up. They were doing everything they could, going to school, making enough money to live, learning English, all the while wrapped in God's will.

One boy told me his dream was to attend the University of Virginia and study psychology. He then went on to explain that he realized it was an impossible goal to reach. This broke my heart because here I am living his dream at UK. We take so much for granted and the events from today will make me think twice when complaining about something in my life. After we played soccer and football with the kids, we had pizza brought to the home for all of us to share. I was shocked when I saw almost half of the boys raise their hands when asked if this was their first time to ever eat pizza. These children have nothing and the joy in their eyes from a simple slice of pizza is truly inspiring.

Later that day we went to dinner at a place called Cupcake Delight. At first everyone thought we were having cupcakes for dinner and there was confusion on all of their faces. I did not think twice about it but the others were thinking about their "performance athlete diet". The restaurant ended up having a full menu and we all enjoyed a fantastic meal together. This was our last full day in Ethiopia and all of us were getting a little sad. We did not want to leave, especially to get on a 17-hour flight. Altogether it was a great day in Addis Ababa and it is one that I will never forget. Today's events left a huge impact on each and every one of us. The boys from Hope were such an inspiration and made me rethink the way I live.

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, John Sutton writes about lessons learned on a Sunday in Ethiopia.

By John Sutton

The day started with another delicious breakfast meal from the Addis Guesthouse, a common theme throughout this trip. The hospitality from those around us has not only left us feeling comfortable but also has transformed this foreign land into another home. Being Sunday, some of us decided to head to a local church with some of our Ethiopian brothers, Girma and Wario. However, being with some of the most talented college athletes in the country, we soon decided that an early morning trip to the gym was first in store. So without further ado, we headed out in the brisk Ethiopian morning air for a jog to our local gym - Bole Rock.

Traditional Ethiopian attire requires pants to be worn past the knees. With this in mind, it is no wonder that we got some odd looks in our blue and white gym attire as we jogged through the muddy streets of Addis Ababa. Upon reaching the gym, we each went our separate ways, some hitting the bikes, others hitting the treadmills and others hitting the weights. Despite being scattered at the beginning of our workout, we all ended in the same place - the floor. Being eight times the altitude of Lexington, Addis managed to give us a great opportunity to train in altitude. On our jog back to the guesthouse, street vendors clapped and cheered words of encouragement, or at least we thought they did. After a quick shower, we headed to our next destination - an optional church service at the Beza International Church.

I've been to many church services in the United States. However, I am forced to think hard to remember a church service that was as genuine as the one at Beza. The moment we arrived, we were greeted by the most joyful people. Despite our obvious foreign appearance, I felt the love and compassion from those in the congregation. Yet again the people of Ethiopia treated us like their own.

As we took our seats we immediately began worshipping with our fellow attendees. When I say "we began worshipping" I am referring to the hour and a half spent singing and dancing. The pure energy and passion that we saw initially shocked us. How is it that a country that is so financially broke can be so spiritually rich? How can those that have so little to eat on a consistent basis find so much energy to praise God? The music was done and we were eagerly greeted by a preacher who couldn't wait to share the Word with us.

After one of the most incredible sermons I've heard, I looked at my watch for the time to find that it was already 2 p.m.! We were blessed with three incredible hours of praise and worship. I found today humbling due to the fact that those who have so little can give so much thanks for the lives they have and the role that God plays in them. Definitely a lesson we could use back home! Seeing the physical manifestations of thanks and praise in such a poor country has made me feel like our lives of luxury have blinded us to the relationships that surround us.

Once church was over I talked to my good friend Girma about some of the differences between America and Ethiopia. I told him that I wish I could bring America to Ethiopia. However, I quickly realized that while we may have paved roads, video games and phones, the greater benefit would be to bring Ethiopia to America. Fortunately, our Ethiopian brothers have shown us the importance of relationships and love and now we, as a body of student-athletes, can return home not only with photos to show others, but with full hearts to pour into our community.

After lunch we headed to a lion zoo to see some of the local wildlife. Ethiopia is the only place in the world home to lions with black manes. While these beasts are truly beautiful, I was glad they were on the other side of the bars!

Upon leaving the zoo, we headed to a giant parking lot where locals play soccer. Having a large crew, we split into three different teams and set off between the buses and cars to try our hand at the sport. The first two teams took to the pitch and had a quick goal. Seeing all of the different athletes from their respective backgrounds converge to play soccer proved to be enough entertainment in and of itself.

Towards the end of the first game it started to rain. Hard. While all the locals ran for cover, we stayed and continued our quest for another goal. After we were thoroughly drenched, we decided we better head back to our bus. Yet again, while doing a mundane activity such as walking through a parking lot, we learned another hard lesson. Sitting in the middle of this giant parking lot was a small girl. She sat on the ground and tears ran down her face. Quietly crying to herself, we quickly realized how blessed we were. While we were soaked to the bone, we all had dry clothes back at the guesthouse, a warm meal awaiting us, and we all had friends and family to call when things got tough.

In America, we do a great job of hiding. We hide our pain, we hide our hurt. We hide the sick and the homeless, the bruised and the broken. In Ethiopia there was no hiding. Although there wasn't a lot we could do for this girl, it just showed us the need that this country has and yet again, showed us how blessed we are. It hurt leaving a crying child sitting in the rain and it still hurts thinking about it today. However, like a bad shot, a slow race, a missed goal or a short putt, we have the opportunity to either walk away and forget or learn from the pain. What I've learned is that there is need. All around us. In our homes, in our communities, on our teams, and in the world. You can travel 17 hours in a plane or you can walk down the hallway. It's up to us to make a difference.

Despite the so called "rest day", we still learned some heavy lessons. The joy that these people have is truly inspiring especially when compared to their circumstances. If people who have so little can be so joyful, surely we can too. And while we are so blessed, we must make an honest effort to help those less fortunate around us.

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Katrina Keirns and Kirsten Lewis write about a day spent in Debre Zeyit.


Katrina Keirns

Today we took a trip outside of Addis Ababa to go visit Mark's dear friend Sammy, who strives to take care of those in prison, widows and the poor. We began our day by eating our favorite breakfast, French toast and eggs, and then began our hour and a half journey to the city of Debre Zeyit.

After arriving in Debre Zeyit, we immediately drove to pick up the supplies we needed for the day, and then immediately headed to Sammy's house. When we pulled up in his drive way, he came out to greet us and welcomed us into his beautiful home. He told us that our tasks for the day would require us to divide into two different groups. Half of our team would go to deliver food supplies to prisoners, while the other half would help to build houses in another part of town.  Before both groups parted our separate ways, we formed an assembly line to make multiple bags of food and laundry to give to the prisoners we would be visiting. These bags consisted of a loaf of French bread, a couple bananas, detergent and body soap. After packing up the bags, we each grabbed a handful of them and loaded up the bus.

The first two prisons we visited were only a few minutes from Sammy's house. When we parked outside of it, I was confused as to where we were because it's so different from the prisons we have in the U.S. The prison was mainly outdoors and only had a few cells that held people. We then were able to chat and deliver the food bags and other donations to the prisoners, which we were very happy to do. The prisoners were very happy and appreciative of the supplies because the only items they receive from the jail are a few pieces of bread and water daily.

After delivering food to the two different prisons, we then began to make our journey around to visit all of the widows in need of food supplies. If widows do not have sons, they unfortunately struggle with getting food and other supplies because they do not have anyone to care for them as they get older. We had the pleasure of delivering food to six different widows' homes, who were all more than appreciative. When we arrived at each individual home, they all welcomed us with open arms and tears in there eyes. They then would hug and kiss each of us three times and tell us how much of a blessing we were just for coming to visit them. These women are honestly the nicest women I have ever met and constantly amazed me with their grace and how the smallest things make them the happiest.

UK Athletics UK Athletics
Following the widow visits, we began our journey back to Sammy's house. Sammy and his family invited us to stay for lunch so that he could make us a traditional Indian meal. After he was done preparing the meal, we gathered around outside in a circle and prayed over the delicious meal we were about to eat. The lamb curry, rice and naan (bread) that Sammy prepared was one of the best meals I've ever had, and I'm so thankful that he took time out of his day to host us. After we finished eating, Sammy told us that we would be visiting a few other families that were trying to start their own businesses in order to have a steady income.

The first family we visited consisted of a beautiful family of five (mother, father and three sons), that wanted to begin somewhat of a baking business so that they could sell their goods at the market. When we delivered the supplies to this family, the father told us how grateful he was that we were supporting him in his new business and was so thankful that we made the trip to see him and his wonderful family. The second family we visited needed a generator to power the arc welder. When we delivered the generator to the father, he was so grateful and happy that we brought the supplies he needed to help him begin the process of making the arc welder possible. The genuine smile and joy that portrayed made me so happy that our group could help him start something great.

Overall, this day was very impactful. All of these people have such big hearts and are thankful for every little bit that comes their way. Although they were the ones thanking us, I wanted to thank them in return for giving us the opportunity to visit them and hear their amazing stories. I will never forget their genuine, kind hearts and love that they showed us when they welcomed us into their homes.

Kirsten Lewis

We started off the day with a breakfast at 7:30 consisting of French toast and eggs! After our stomachs were full for the day ahead, we were ready to leave our guesthouse to go visit the city of Debre Zeyit, which was about an hour and a half drive out to the countryside. Only a few people in the bus got some shut-eye and the majority of us were either engaged in conversation or had our heads glued to the windows taking in all of the beautiful sights. The trip seemed to fly by so fast, and we were in Debre Zeyit in no time!

We immediately met up with Sammy, the man we were going to be assisting the whole day with his job and ministry in Debre Zeyit. After meeting up with him, his crew and his two adorable little girls, we sorted the supplies that he had already provided into several plastic bags that we would be distributing to the widows and the prisoners for the rest of the day. They guys opted to help out with a local building project, while the girls opted to go visit the two prisons and deliver some food to couples and widows in the area.

At the first prison that we visited, we were only able to drop off the food and supplies and nothing else. Mark said that it usually depends on who is in charge of working the prison that day as to how much interaction we could have with the inmates when different groups come in to visit them. Originally, we had expected to have the opportunity to talk to some of the prisoners, hear their stories and offer encouragement to them. A minor deviation from our previous plan, but we were happy that we were at least allowed to give them the food and items that we brought to make their stay at the prison a bit more comfortable. At the second prison, there were not as many prisoners being held so we distributed the food quickly and gave what we had left over to the guards and staff.

The next task on the agenda was delivering food to the families and widows in the area! We spent the rest of the time until lunch stopping at each house that needed food. We got to ride around most of the city of Debre Zeyit while we were making these deliveries, and I was at awe at the difference from the cities here in America! In the streets in Debre Zeyit, there are cars, mingled with people riding in carts hooked up to horses and dogs freely roaming the streets.


This city was a bit more rural than Addis Ababa and you could see valleys, mountain tops, trees, cattle roaming and gardens full of flowers as we drove around. It was absolutely beautiful and a nice change of pace from the street and in Addis Ababa. After we finished delivering all of the bags, we headed back to Sammy's house, where we met up with the boys and ate a delicious lunch that Sammy had prepared consisting of lamb curry, rice and naan. We sat around in a big circle as we ate and shared so many laughs with one another. It was a great physical and mental break from a very work-heavy morning!

The next order of business was delivering some heavy-duty machinery to a man who is in the process of starting his own business. We delivered to his home a generator and an arc welder which will help his new business out tremendously.

While we were there, we met a group of about 10 little boys who all were learning how to practice taekwondo. They were demonstrating to us their moves by having play fights with one another. At one point, Jared jumped in and started making up his own moves while the little boys began to watch him closely and begin to imitate the different poses that Jared was making. These little guys soaked up all of the attention that they were getting from us as we watched them go through all of their moves that they were currently learning. Their smiles and attitudes were infectious! They did not speak very much English, so at first it was difficult to learn very much about these boys besides their names and age. After one of our translators came over and joined us, we were able to learn about where each of the boys were from, how they had gotten into practicing taekwondo, what year they were in school and their favorite subjects.

After saying our goodbyes and taking a few pictures with these little guys, we all piled back into the bus and delivered some food to two more houses. John and I went together to deliver food to a young woman who had a little baby. We were able to take some pictures with her and her sweet little baby, who we found out was just two months old.

As we left the village, we stopped at the community center that the boys had started to build earlier. At this point, a bunch of little kids had begun to follow our bus around, and once we got out at the church, we were swarmed by kids of all ages and sizes. Some were shy and kept their distance while others came right up for high fives and were just speaking their language to us as if we could all understand them. The thing that struck me the most about these little kids were their willingness to accept us into their village as we were and just laugh and play and exist as if we were all the exact same for a day. This experience was humbling because how often do we accept and meet others right exactly where they are and come together for the sake of building relationships with another.

As we drove away from the village, one of the neatest moments was turning around and looking out of the back window of the bus and watching all of the little kids run after the bus for as long as they could. I do not think that I will ever be able to erase that amazing moment out of my mind. We left that day with our hearts overflowing with the love that everyone had showed us and every possible emotion running through our heads. Now, time to fill our empty stomachs with some food and get some sleep and do it all over again tomorrow!

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Montana Whittle, Danielle Fitzgerald and Charlie Reymann each write about an unforgettable day spent in the poorest area of Addis Ababa.


Montana Whittle

Where to start?

I find myself at a loss of words, because this experience cannot be described. There are no words or pictures that do this place justice. I wish I could let you see my memories and feel what I have felt. I will do my best to help you understand this place and its people, but I would highly encourage you to explore this world yourself and challenge you to keep an open mind.  

Today started with an amazing plate of French toast and a cup of coffee, and finished with me questioning my entire existence.  After breakfast we were given a brief explanation of what the day would bring. At this time I thought I was going to change lives, but the truth is that my life would be changed, forever. We were told that we were going to visit the poorest part of Addis Ababa. It is about one square mile, maybe a little bigger, and is home to over 100,000 people. These people are the poorest of the poor, most of them have been shunned due to disabilities and illnesses, such as leprosy or HIV/AIDS.  

We pull up in our van to Mark's office and children swarm us. From the minute we walked outside to the time we left, those children held our hands. They were so excited to meet us and tell us about themselves. All they wanted was for us to remember them, pray for them, love them. These children had such a huge impact on me. They were the happiest kids I had ever met, and yet they had nothing. Most of them had shoes that were falling apart and clothes that were worn thin. The two boys who held my hand had asked me for things, such as clothes, shoes or food. It broke my heart that we were not allowed to give them anything, because it would be unfair to those who did not get something. All I wanted to do was give these kids everything they needed; I wanted to tell them that everything was going be OK. But, the truth is, I had no idea. The memory of these children chasing after our van when we left will stay with me forever.

Our mission today was to deliver food and supplies (coffee beans, macaroni, salt, matches and soap) to widows and families in need. At the office we met the women and children who were going to be receiving these supplies. These women were inspirational. Faithful. They were so grateful, even though some of them could not even walk. Two women in particular really impacted me because one was in a wheelchair and the other had a daughter who could not walk, so she carried her on her back. When we delivered their food to their homes, the walk was not short. These mothers did not complain. In fact they were overjoyed just to meet us and have us see their homes.

I have never seen such poor living conditions, where their walls were sod, their roofs were tin and their floors were mud. A large house would be the size of our bathrooms in America. Yet, we were invited in without a moment's hesitation. They were so proud and had no shame; they wanted us to see everything in their homes and even offered us coffee. The first thing they did was thank us and tell us that they would be praying for us every day. I could not help but get emotional; I was not the one who needed prayers. I have never seen God work through people so much. They had so much going against them -- missing limbs, leprosy, unable to walk, crooked feet -- and yet they still were so patient with us, still so loving, still so faithful, still so happy.  


My experience today and every day this week was unreal and unforgettable. Now that I am home, all I can think about are those beautiful people that I met and my plan to return in the future. This experience has caused me to question everything that I know and everything that I want. Everything that was so important to me in the past is not important anymore. I know this experience has changed me for the better and I hope I never forget the faces and hearts of the people of Ethiopia.

Danielle Fitzgerald

Today was spent in one of the world's poorest places, which is built around the city dump. We started the morning with our standard "UK breakfast special" consisting of French toast and eggs but nothing we saw after was familiar. We were aware of the immense state of poverty but familiarity stopped there.

As we rolled up to the office that works to provide sponsorships to the people of the area, we were instantly greeted by big grins and precious little hands that wanted to be held. The instant joy the kids felt from simply having somebody touch them was quite overwhelming.

Mark took us into the office where we formed an assembly line to package macaroni, salt, body soap and other items for people who had been put on the sponsorship wait list. The recipients were sitting outside of the office and even though most were suffering from starvation, HIV/AIDS or leprosy, the pure joy they expressed seemed to be most contagious. We each carried a bag full of necessities to different houses, kids still in tow throughout the day. Although their houses' sizes were more comparable to a standard American bathroom than an American house, everyone was so proud to show us their homes and invite us to stay.

Each member of our team had about three kids latched onto them throughout the day and close to 100 followed us both when we were walking from house to house and running closely behind when our van took us to other parts of the town. There are few words to describe the emotions felt when a swarm of kids chases your van for miles and the two or three kids you've grown very close to come find you again, happy as can be to have done so. The simplest things brought them the most joy: thumb wars, hand games and skipping through the streets. Not even a language barrier could hinder that. Many of the kids would push their way through the line of hands to get closer to us but they did not realize they were the real celebrities, their endless love and eagerness to get to know us more admirable than our presence.


One of the hardest parts of the day was leaving the kids we had established relationships with. Eyes teared up when our new friends asked for pens to write their names on our arms in hopes that we would remember them forever and keep them in our prayers. Nothing can prepare you for the moment that two little girls ask you to take them home with you because life would be better that way.

It is so easy for us to get caught up in how busy our own lives are and forget about what is really important. These people don't have money to spend, cars to drive or cell phones to obsess over. They do have each other. And without worldly relationships, they still have a strong faith in God. I have never been so overwhelmed by such a concentrated sentiment of love. Relationships were valued so much more when there was not an emphasis on material possessions. Every person we came in contact with was significantly happier with their lives than I have ever seen before and I believe there is something to be said for that. Material poverty and spiritual wealth may not look glamorous from the outside looking in, but a completely different story was told once we were able to see from these beautiful people's perspective, even if only for a small fraction of time.

Charlie Reymann


Today was our second day in Ethiopia and it was full of eye-opening experiences. We started off with breakfast and then traveled to an area considered one of the poorest places in Ethiopia. The city began when all the people with leprosy were sent away and as time went on more and more outcasts were sent here. It surrounds a trash dump, and sometimes the people will search in the dump for food or supplies for their houses. We knew going into this day that this will be something we will never forget.

It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like this. As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted.

Once we arrived, we teamed up with a community center to provide some of the people in the community with a month's worth of supplies. The community center we worked with sponsors women and men from the city. The people that we helped today were men and women in line for the next sponsor. Some of the supplies we gave to them were macaroni, coffee beans, sugar and soap. We split up into little teams to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Since we are all athletes we all know how to work in a team, so we got to work.

Once we were done we all got the privilege to hand these men and women their supplies, which was a wonderful sight. Seeing their faces as we gave them the supplies was remarkable. They all said "God bless you" in English when we gave them their bag. After we gave them their supplies, some of us followed them to their houses to help carry them. These women came a long way to get their supplies, if I had to guess the farthest was two miles. And the lady who traveled the two miles was in a wheel chair!

As we walked with these women, questions came into my head. How does a place get like this? How does any human live in this city? Is there any solution to this problem? We may never know the answers to those questions but seeing the children filled us all with joy. Children came from everywhere to walk with us like we were rock stars. Each of us had at least three children holding our hands. Their smiles and joy were contagious to all of us. A place where it is hard to find anything to be happy about, these children could not stop smiling.

As I walked with these kids, I realized they were just happy to be alive. Video games and computers did not matter to them unlike kids in America. Materialistic goods are what most Americans really care about: their phones, their cars and their jewelry. These people have nothing and they all act like they have everything they need and more. It made us realize that we do not need all the "things" we own to be happy. They just enjoyed being with their friends and walking around with Americans for the day. And making new friends! We were their idols. They were thankful for a new friend, and that someone will be thinking about them. We get so caught up in our little world that we are not thankful for small things in life because we take them for granted.

We all went back to the community center to regroup and get ready for lunch. We went to a restaurant and almost everybody ordered a pizza. My pizza was delicious! We travel with three Ethiopian kids our age to help us learn the culture, translate, and most of all become our friends. Their names are Wario, Girma, and Khalib. They all made us try this green hot sauce that was like fire in your mouth. According to them everyone is used to hot spices in Ethiopia so when Americans come, they are not used to how hot the food is. Besides the green sauce that we tried everything was great and we headed back to explore the city a little more.

After lunch, we walked right up to the dump. We went inside a small village that was right next to it and the craziest thing happened. The little kids who were with us all morning found us and walked with us again!

I could not understand how some of these families can live this close to the dump and be so happy with their lives. No one would ever live as close to a trash dump as these homes were in the United States. We all went into the village and Mark called us around this small boy. He then told us that the kid he was holding up had a tumor above his eye not too long ago. One of the families who sponsored his family paid for this child to have his tumor removed. The kid could not have been more than four years old. This story touched all of our hearts. God used the sponsor to save that little boy's life. A remarkable story that we will never forget.

In Ethiopia everything is about relationships, and I experienced that right when I got off the bus. A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball. Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was.

All the kids were so happy! They were happy because they know that they mean something to someone who lives outside their village. That means so much to them. Honuk and some of the other kids wanted us to remember their names so bad that they wrote them on our arms. He borrowed a pen from a street vendor and pressed as hard as he could to spell out his name. The moment that will never leave my mind is when we were all getting on the bus to leave my new friend Honuk ran up to the bus and waved for me to open the window. With a smiling face and love in his eyes he said, "Charlie, I will miss you. I will pray for you." Those were the types of moments we all experienced today and I think we all agreed that we will never forget this day.

Walking through the city we saw more little kids laughing, playing, and loving each other than anywhere in the U.S. We saw mothers more proud of their homes than most mothers in America. They might not have as much money or opportunity but they have more joy and spirit. This day was an incredible day that we will always cherish in our hearts.  

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Jared Philips writes about the group's arrival in Ethiopia.


By Jared Phillips

Today's the day. We are traveling to Ethiopia! Our team got up early and headed to the airport where waiting in lines, flight delays and confiscation of necessary items at security awaited us. However, we were all incredibly excited for this trip, so these events were merely slight bumps in the road.

We boarded our nearly 13-hour flight to Addis Ababa shortly after noon in Washington, D.C., and finally touched down on a cloudy, cool morning at Bole International Airport at roughly 9:30 a.m. local time.  Our team's exhaustion quickly turned into exhilaration after landing in what was a novel experience for all of us but Jason (Schlafer, the senior associate athletic director accompanying student-athletes): Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Surprisingly quickly, we made it through customs, picked up our baggage, and walked out of the terminal. I got a taste of how kind the Ethiopian people are when a lady stopped me as our team was leaving the terminal and personally welcomed me to Addis Ababa; it was rather touching to see someone as welcoming as she was. As soon as we were outside, we were in awe what was before us: a mixture of nature and urban life stretching for miles and miles. The weather was nice and cool compared to Lexington, and the mass of cars in the airport parking lot awaited us. We met up with Mark, who would be leading us around to the various places on the trip, and Nikki, our photographer for the week and departed for our guesthouse.

Immediately, our group got to witness the poverty and crowdedness that characterize the cities of third-world countries. People were everywhere: walking in the streets, begging and trying to sell numerous goods, and crammed into blue and white vans that served as taxis for the city. Upscale buildings stood next to tiny tin shacks, and rudimentary slabs of concrete under construction littered the landscape before us. The traffic was organized chaos, as cars, trucks, and vans would come and go with not a stop sign or traffic light in sight. We arrived at the Addis Guesthouse, across from a field where tents of cloth, towels, and mud sprung up from the ground. We met two of the local guys that would be assisting us this week, Girma and Wario, who dropped our luggage off in our rooms, and we soon departed for our first visit.

As our driver navigated through the Addis traffic, Mark explained to us that the neighborhood we would visit is mainly occupied by widows and their children, and that we would be giving them bags of coffee and sugar and mattresses, complete with sheets and a blanket. We arrived outside a community center and made our way in through a metal gate with barbed wire, a common scene in Addis. What happened next absolutely floored me.  As soon as the widows and children saw us, they welcomed us with such warmth and love, peppering us with hugs and kisses. The joy evident on their faces was contagious. After a few hugs, I could not help but beam with joy simply being in their presence.

We hastily made our way into the community center where everyone sat in a circle and each member of our team was introduced to much applause. The women sang worship songs with clapping and rejoicing, and even though none of our group could understand what was being sung, it was a pretty neat experience. Several women then proceeded to share their testimony of how their sponsorship through the program that Mark is in charge of has completely changed their lives by giving them food to eat and providing for their children's healthcare and education. In everything these women thanked God for what they had, and it struck a chord with me: I complain about my phone being slow sometimes, yet these women are so thankful for the very little they have. Such incredible conviction.

Afterward, we handed out bags of coffee and sugar to these women, who thanked us profusely for them. We also managed to give out mattresses and sheets to the women who needed replacements.  We then got to spend time with one another, meeting each other and playing with the kids. One woman, Tonga, pulled me aside and continued to thank the group and me for coming to visit them and eagerly introduced me to her daughter. She kept telling me how we were such a blessing to them and how grateful she was for the things we handed out. Although it felt good to provide for these people's physical needs, I was humbled by her gratitude and thankful to her for how loving and gracious the hearts of the widows are. I got the joy of hanging out with some of these kids and seeing their faces light up when Montana handed out some chocolate.  

Two of these children I will remember forever: Biniyam, a 13-year-old boy, and Doriba, his 10-year-old sister. We bonded immediately and Haley and I got to carry their mattress back to their house. It was fantastic seeing these children who had nearly nothing, yet were so joyful and free of burdens. Walking through the neighborhood, we saw some houses that were pretty decent for their standards, but as we got closer we saw things for what they were. In the garages and backyards of these people, we saw widows and children in makeshift homes. Once we reached Biniyam's home, he invited us inside and showed us around. The house was no bigger than my bedroom at the guesthouse, yet they kept saying how big it was and were so proud of their belongings. These people are so thankful for the very little they have, and I was yet again floored at their attitude; we may have comfort in America, but the joy that these people have is a treasure very much worth looking for and guarding with your life.

We returned to the community center from Biniyam's house for a lunch of fried egg sandwiches and sodas, then left to go deliver laptops to some of Mark's friends and pick up supplies for his children. The area we were in, as Wario noted, is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Addis, yet it was not exactly middle-class America. Even something as subtle as being in a nice area of Addis rocked me. It was continued evidence that comfort and possessions do not equal joy, and possibly the absence of comfort and possessions (or the absence of finding your value in these things) contributes to the joy that people have.

Once we dropped off the laptops, we left to go exchange our American dollars for Ethiopian birr and we stopped by the "Starbucks of Ethiopia:" Kaldi's Coffee. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my coffee and I'm a big fan of the local coffee shops we have in Lexington, but nothing has come close to what I had today. The coffee is so rich that it doesn't need any creamer, sugar or anything fancy. These Ethiopians know their coffee! After the coffee shop, we returned to the guesthouse to eat dinner and retire for the night, exhausted after a long yet rewarding day in Addis Ababa.


In late July, nine student-athletes - Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) - participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

To start off, Bria Goss writes about the group's first day of travel and time in Washington, D.C.


By Bria Goss

This is the day we have all been waiting for. As excitement rises, so does nervousness. There are so many questions running through my mind as I make my final preparations for the trip. I am unsure what to expect when I get to Ethiopia, even though I have a pretty clear image.

The plan was to meet in the K Fund office to get lots of snacks from Coach Rock (Oliver) and double-check our bags to make sure we had everything. Today is Haley Mills' birthday so Katrina very generously gave her homemade brownies. Katrina and Haley had only met once or twice before that and Katrina already showed an act of kindness by giving her brownies. From that point on, I knew I had to make friends with Katrina to get some sweets on my birthday!!!

As 10:30 a.m. rolled around, it was time to load the bus and head to Cincinnati where we will depart for Washington, D.C.  I slept the whole ride to catch up on some much-needed rest. We arrived at the airport and check our bags. Everyone was so nice helping us along and pointing us to our next destination. We had a wonderful lunch in the airport and continued on our way. As we boarded the plane was when I first realized I was traveling to Ethiopia.


The plane ride was smooth and I slept the whole hour and a half. When we got to the Washington, D.C. Airport, we quickly grabbed our bags and headed to the hotel. After we dropped everything off in the rooms, we met in the lobby for our tour. Our tour guide, Zuma, was awesome. Not only did he make the tour interesting, he taught me a lot about D.C. Zuma took us everywhere: the Pentagon, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Capitol, the White House and much more. He made the tour special and enjoyable.

After the tour was done, we went to dinner. This is where I really got the chance to talk with the other student-athletes. As the day went on, we became closer. After a great meal, we surprised Haley by telling the waiter it was her birthday. The staff of the restaurant came out singing happy birthday with a lot of energy. Haley was shocked! The look on her face was priceless.

After a night of many laughs, we loaded back up in our bus and headed for the hotel. We had a long day the next day so we wanted to get some rest. I am so excited to see what this trip has to offer. I am still so thankful for this amazing opportunity.



For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

For his final entry, Foster writes about his last hours in Ethiopia and reflects on a trip he'll never forget.


Today was a very calm day, as it was our final day. The only thing on the schedule was to get a little more shopping done and we were all able to find exactly what we were looking for to take back to the States as souvenirs and gifts for friends and family. It was very fun but a little annoying having to negotiate the prices on everything, even for something as small as a plastic bracelet.

After another good lunch, we headed back for the guest house to pack up for our flight. I had packed most of my stuff with the idea that I was going to give it away, so about half of my clothes and food and other usable items went into a bag that I would then give to Mark to donate to Dejene or any other place that he felt needed the help. We also had a team debrief with among all of us discussing what we learned and how the reality of situations differed from our expectations. Mark also handed out a packet of papers for us to look over including ways to sponsor a child, which I filled out to sponsor my man, Dejene. It was a very quick debrief, as we were all so tired and ready to get packed up to get to the airport.

We packed our luggage onto the bus and set out for the airport. Once we arrived, which was around 6:30 p.m. Ethiopian time, saying our goodbyes to our new friends thousands of miles away home was difficult, but it was reassuring knowing we could stay in contact through Facebook. After checking our luggage, heading up to our gate and going through security, it was time to board.

I am now writing this on the plane forcing myself to stay awake as it is around 10:45 p.m. We took off about 30 minutes ago, and I am hoping for a smooth trip to Rome, then D.C., and then to Cincinnati, which is where we will be picked up by a University of Kentucky van to bring us back to the football facility.

This was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget. Seeing the poverty and desperation firsthand is tough to take in, but that is the reality that the people we met live in each and every day. The toughest part about it is the fact that most of the poverty is due to the corruption of the government, and these people are unfortunately just born into this situation. I especially feel for the children, as they didn't have a choice as to where they would be born, and many of them become orphans by the time they are 12 or 13 and are forced to live on the streets. I've learned to appreciate absolutely everything I have been blessed with in my life, even the little things as little as running water and a toilet or even a mattress to sleep on, let alone a clean pair of sheets or clothes.


I am so thankful for the opportunity to see this country and meet the people I was able to meet, as it has forever changed my life and understanding the true difficulties life can bring -- not just a shanked punt or a B in the classroom. Ethiopians fight for survival, literally, as they spend a majority of their day searching for food to provide enough nourishment so they can survive. It's difficult to be able to just write or type my reflection of the trip as there was so much to take in, but the only way that truly describes it is this: Their situation shows true desperation, while we are the most blessed nation on this Earth.


For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Today, Foster writes about a morning spent with a local youth soccer team on the Wildcats' last full day in Ethiopia.


Today was another very enjoyable day, as we were able to spend much more time with teenagers closer to our age. After breakfast, we traveled to a local private school. We were greeted by a teenage soccer team sporting blue Nike dri-fit tee shirts with white letters spelling out "Kentucky" on the front and their numbers on the back. The soccer team was there because Jason sponsors one of the players on the team, Natnael, and he invited his whole team to spend time with us.

The first part of the day was introducing ourselves to the soccer team and getting to know them. We ventured over to a shady area on school property where we could all sit down. After sitting down, the man in charge of the school talked to us and explained the whole mission of the school, as well as how many children are parts of the institution and how many are sponsored vs. those who are still looking for a sponsor.

While sitting down with the kids, they brought out the three most recent trophies the team has won, all won within the past year or so. Also, several women came out and made coffee, which is a ritual in Ethiopia. The other women then followed suit and offered up popcorn and roasted grain, which are also both commonly served during the daily coffee-drinking ceremonies.

During that time, we also sat with the team and enjoyed each other's company. A conversation about soccer sprung up and of course I jumped right in asking each of their favorite teams and players. Most of the kids were wearing pants affiliating themselves with some European soccer club. There, I was told that I looked like both Gareth Bale and David Beckham. I wish people back in the States believed I looked like David Beckham, too. Other than those conversations, we joked around and got to know each other, but the center of the conversation was always soccer.
 
After introductions, we headed across the parking lot, grabbed a few soccer balls from our parked bus and continued down a hill past the school and to the soccer field. Again, this soccer field was all dirt and rocks with wooden posts outlining the goals, although this one was a bit bigger. We started by juggling, then moved on to a more organized set of drills, which brought very vivid memories of my travel soccer days to mind. After a few of the passing drills, we got our teams ready, and we added their team coach to our roster (very much needed).

This team was very good and very well organized. We went down 3-1 but came back and tied it 3-3 with only 2 minutes or so left in the game. We then played a golden-goal overtime session, and we scored a few minutes in and got the victory which brought our Ethiopian soccer tour record to 3-1 - not too shabby for some American football players...and three Ethiopian footballers. It really was an enjoyable and entertaining game and it created that much more respect between us all.

After the game, we were all very hungry. Conveniently, we had a pizza party planned for lunch. The pizza was the best pizza that we had in Ethiopia: a meat lover's pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage and chicken. After passing out pizza to the team and savoring some ourselves, we thanked the team for giving us their time and hoped and prayed for their well-being in the future. A surprise gift was in store for Jason, as the ultra-shy teenager that he sponsors spoke in front of the entire group on behalf of his team thanking us for everything. It truly was a special moment.

Once we finished lunch, we headed out to a small zoo to see some Ethiopian lions. I've been told that you ultimately have to face your fears to get over them, so this was the time to truly get over my lifelong fear of Scar from "The Lion King." Ethiopian Lions are the only type of lions that have the dark brownish/black manes, which is their main distinguishing characteristic. It was amazing getting to see those huge animals in person, as well some monkeys and very unique deer, including two small baby deer.

After the zoo, we headed out to do some shopping and concluded the day by eating dinner. We then were dropped off at a guest house where Brett Johnson is staying. We started off by playing Ping-Pong, but the burning desire for some Wi-Fi access left Bud, Braylon and myself stranded on the steps of the stairs, as it seemed to be the only definite hot spot. After spending a little over an hour at that house, we started walking back towards a main road, and along the way Braylon screamed like a little girl (typical SEC running back style) after seeing a two-inch wide frog leap across his feet on the group. Even after that terrifying moment, we eventually reached the main road and successfully caught a taxi back to our own guest house.
 
For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Today, Foster writes about meeting a husband and wife who are changing lives.


Our day began with the arrival of our fellow UK athletes from the swimming and diving team, Maclin Simpson and Lindsay Hill. They got right into the action and hopped on the bus as we set off to visit Abraham and his wife, Salem. Abraham visits UK every January and is very close to Coach Rock Oliver, and his wife runs an organization that makes and sells handmade items such as hats, baskets, jewelry, scarves and tablecloths. They hire most of their employees from the poorest area in Ethiopia, the city that we visited on Friday.

Not only do these people have exceptional talents of making these items, but Abraham and Salem are also helping provide them with work and fair pay. They, being Abraham and Salem, are helping fight poverty and strengthen Ethiopia's economy by creating work for the people who live off of food from the trash dump. Abraham also explained to us that in Ethiopia, men do most of the fabric making.

The products that were made at Salem's business were beautiful enough to receive interest from major American companies. However, they couldn't fulfill the orders due to the substantial quantity ordered as each piece takes a significant amount of time to make. After coffee and tea with Abraham and his wife and a little bit of shopping, Abraham took us to learn firsthand about community initiatives that the business financially supports.

The first was a library. The library was more than just a library, though, as we arrived there right around lunchtime and saw many students filing in to be served lunch. Abraham said that they provide free lunch to any student who can't afford it, so they don't have to continue the rest of the school day being hungry and wondering where their next meal will come. He estimated that 70-80 kids use the library each day.

Not only does the program provide lunch, but it also provides books, computer use and standardized test prep and practice books. Abraham was ecstatic and pleasantly surprised to learn that both Kaleab and Girma, two of our translating friends, had used this program as recently as a few months ago. That just reiterated the importance of the program and how the children really do use and benefit from it.

After leaving the library, we headed to lunch at this pizza place where Bud continued his trend of getting his food last, this time because when he ordered a pizza he told the waitress everything he did NOT want on the pizza, but she thought he said that's what he wanted on the pizza, so they had to make him another one. Also, while at the restaurant we ran into a couple from Louisville, Ky. ... what a small world. After leaving the restaurant, we headed to the Hope Center.

This center was managed by a man by the name of Jeremiah, who is the house dad. He is in charge of "recruiting" kids off of the street by telling them his story and showing them they can change their lives. He then takes them off of the street and into this house, and all Jeremiah and Abraham ask of them is to be open-minded to the change in lifestyle.

Today, all 25-30 of us gathered to introduce ourselves. After each of the old and new teenage members of the house introduced themselves, there was one common denominator: Jeremiah was a wonderful house dad who truly had changed their lives for the better. Jeremiah finished the introductions by telling his touching and emotional story that has many similarities to stories of college and professional football players here in America. He abused alcohol and drugs trying to fulfill himself, but then was ultimately healed by family members and his faith. He provided such detail in the story that made it easy to picture yourself in his situation and completely understand the circumstances he went through.

It was very special to see someone do a 180-degree change in lifestyle and not just stop there, but wanting to provide other kids going through similar situations a way out if they allow him a way in to their lives. Once the seriousness of the life stories concluded, we all wanted to lighten the mood by going outside and kick and throw the Ethiopian and American footballs. As it has been this entire trip, it was so enjoyable trying to teach them how to throw this foreign oblong object.

After throwing the football for a while, I wanted to join them in what they are much more familiar with, as am I: kicking a soccer ball. We had a blast showing each other the moves we know and juggling in a circle, and I even ended the day being compared to Liverpool's Luis Suarez (I don't see it). It was such a wonderful day being able to see how Abraham and his wife's vision has had and continues to have such a powerful and positive effect on kids of all ages.

The lowlight and highlight of the night happened on the way to dinner to Bud and Braylon, respectively. The lowlight was when Bud, once again, was the victim of an attempted pick-pocketing crime. I don't know why in the world they would choose a 6-foot-4, 275-pound man who tackles guys for a living to steal from, but luckily Bud caught them in the act and pushed them away.

The highlight was when Braylon made eye contact with a local Ethiopian who ended up following us all of the way to cupcake and sat down by herself right next to our table and would not take her eyes off of Braylon. It was the topic of conversation at our end of the table for the first 15 minutes of dinner until we realized Braylon wouldn't go sit with her no matter how much we pestered him.

We ended the day having dinner at a restaurant called Cupcake, which to my surprise, had much more than just cupcakes. I had an awesome chicken pesto Panini, with Jason copying my order. And of course, Jason also stole the last piece of red velvet cake they had left, but it's OK...he was just looking after my body composition for Coach Korem.


For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Next, Foster writes about a day spent relaxing and taking in a soccer game.


Today was scheduled as a much-needed relaxing day. After three consecutive long and tiring days, we finally had a chance to some rest to a second wind for the second half of the trip coming up.

We were able to sleep in a little bit, and then we met downstairs around 8:30 to head to a relatively nice gym named Bole Rock. As we walked to the gym, we were consistently pestered and followed by locals anywhere from the age of 3 to around 50 or 60 begging for money. Once we got to the gym, the begging ended but the attention didn't. We all are much, much bigger than the typical Ethiopian, so once we got upstairs to the gym area, which couldn't be more than 1,500 or 2,000 square feet, all eyes were on us - for Bud and Braylon being so built and me being an obvious foreigner. The workout went very well, but it was hard finding enough plates for Bud and Braylon. Once we did, every time one of us went to lift, all six local in the gym stopped to watch. After our workout, we started our 15-minute trek back to the guest house, and upon our arrival, we had our typical breakfast -- French toast and eggs -- with Bud getting a double order of course. We took a quick shower and we were ready for an optional 11:15 church service.

We arrived a little early, around 11. The worship songs started around between 11:15 and 11:30 and lasted for at least an hour. It was as if it was a game to see who could stand up the entire first hour of the worship. Most people lasted for the first 30 minutes of the music, but after that people started dropping out like flies and sitting down. After the worship singing, a group of missionaries from a Chicago church performed an awesome five-minute dance on stage.

Then, the preaching finally started, after what was the typical length of an entire service here (90 minutes or so). The service was very entertaining, however. The preaching was led by an Amharic-speaking pastor of another church and translated by the English-speaking pastor of the Beza church. It was a wonderful service talking about knowing your true inner self and used the metaphor of our body and flesh being a clay pot. It was an atypical church service for most, if not all, of us, but the consensus was that it spoke a great message, with a fun, upbeat preaching style and translation with a bit long of a worship singing segment.

We then headed to lunch, where Bud and Braylon ordered an entire chicken. I stuck with just half of a chicken. After lunch, we stopped back by our guest house, changed and then we were ready for the soccer game in the afternoon afternoon between the women's national teams from Ghana and Ethiopia. We all went in going to cheer for Ethiopia, except for Gabe, since his parents are from Ghana. Gabe got lucky and felt even more at home after realizing we were sitting in the Ghana section, so he felt that much more comfortable cheering for Ghana after each of their two goals in the 2-0 victory. The most shocking thing to me was the fact that the ambassadors, the most respected and important people, sat literally one row in front of us. We all had plenty of fun during the game and took lots pictures after the game -- even one with the referee crew. After the game, we headed back to the guest house for dinner and put an end to this relaxing day.

For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

To start, Foster writes about a day spent visiting local jails and playing soccer with locals.


Today was expected to be a very long day, and that expectation was proven to be true. Our day started earlier than usual as we had around two hours of traveling to Debre Zeit, a city south of Addis. After breakfast and a long drive that many of us spent sleeping, we arrived at Sammy and Ruth's house. Sammy and Ruth are a husband and wife originally from India who moved here to serve young Ethiopians.

Our first task of the day was to create goodie bags of personal soap, laundry detergent and a few other things. Once that was finished, we headed to the backyard to make to-go boxes filled with a hot meal consisting of injera (sour, spongy, traditional Ethiopian food) and a red, spicy sauce made with sheep meat. The sheep was bought, slaughtered and cooked all within 24 hours! We prepared over 30 hot meals for the prisoners and police officers we were about to visit. We then had about 30 minutes of free time after all of the goodies were packed up on the bus, so we played with their two daughters, who are both absolute joys, for the remainder of the time. During that time, we played soccer, introduced them to a football, and then the ultimate winner was when I threw them up in the air to let them "fly." Also, during this time, I asked the older daughter if she wanted gum, and I believe I created an addiction, because she asked me for gum at least 15 different times during the remainder of today.

When the time came, we boarded the bus and set out for several different jails. Once we arrived at the first one, I was very surprised to see how small this prison was. It had three main holding cells, each with about five or six inmates. The security seemed very, very relaxed and the walls to the prison area were about four or five feet tall, just asking to be jumped. We then served lunch -- the sheep stew, injera and a banana -- along with giving each prisoner and police officer a t-shirt and a personal care goodie bag.

After visiting with the prisoners and policemen of two different prisons, we headed back to Sammy's to have a traditional lunch. Sammy and his family were very hospitable and welcomed us into their house with open hearts. Sammy had prepared some traditional Indian cuisine of curry with pita bread, some traditional Ethiopian cuisine of sheep and injera, and fresh mangoes and bananas. It became obvious how talented of a cook Sammy is after the first bite of the traditional Indian cuisine. After introducing ourselves and receiving a rose as a welcoming gift, we helped clean up the room of our plates and packed up some more items onto the bus to take to some widows' houses.

We packed up the bus and headed out to visit some widows and bless them with some essential foods and necessities. The desperation and need for help was obvious at each of the five widows' houses that we stopped at. Many of their houses were smaller than a typical bedroom in the United States -- roughly 10 feet by 10 feet with concrete or dirt floors. We also had the privilege of praying over them and praying for their future well-being and thanking God for allowing us the ability and resources to travel to them and provide a few items for each of them. It was truly a blessing, as it has been this whole trip, to be able to provide for people and seeing their reaction of gratitude is beyond satisfying.


By the time we finished visiting the last of the five widows we planned to see, it was already 3:45. I say, "already," because there had apparently been a small soccer tournament scheduled around our visit at around 4. We drove to the area that we were about to play at, and I can't say that I had ever played on a field like that. This "field" was all dirt; not a single blade of grass had grown on it. The goals were made out of timber found around the village, and as no surprise, had no net. On one side of the field was a stone-lined gutter/ditch, while the other side had a small hill, and the field seemed to be located in the center of several housing villages.

Upon arriving at the field, there were around ten younger children who were quick to greet us after getting off of the bus, and about five or six young adults about the same age as us warming up on one of the goals. We brought out both a soccer ball and a football to play with and teach the kids about American football. After 20 minutes or so of just kicking the soccer ball around and throwing the football, many locals must have heard about our arrival and had made their way to this field. We started to seriously get ready for the games we were about to play.

We got the teams set, our group and our three translators vs. their group, and then we kicked off. We played three games in a row, winning the first two and losing the last one. We, without a doubt, shocked many people, me included, with how well we played. Catching your breath during exercise here in Ethiopia is much more difficult, because it is around 9,000 or 10,000 feet above sea level. The important thing about these soccer games was just being able to show the kids in the village that we cared about them. And when there is such a language barrier, the best way to communicate is through sports.

We then headed out after coffee at Sammy and Ruth's and had the long drive back to the guest house in Addis. I don't know what it is, but the bus rides rock us to sleep like babies, because within 10 minutes or so, we were all knocked out for the two-hour ride or so back to the guest house. We then had dinner and then headed upstairs to get some more sleep. That is after watching the Champion's League Final, of course, in true soccer watching style - an iffy, static picture with no sound. It was by far the worst quality picture I've watched any sporting event on in a long time, but I'm glad I did, so I can truly get a grasp on every aspect of the culture. The game ended in a disappointing fashion, in my personal opinion, as Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid in extra time 4-1 after tying it up at one each only two minutes before the time had expired.

Today ended up being the most fun day of the trip up to this point. Growing up surrounded by soccer, I felt at home playing the three games today and then watching the game tonight. The important parts of the day were also rewarding, though. Helping the prisoners is something I have never done before, and honestly probably will not ever do again, but it was definitely a great experience doing it. Along with this fun day comes great exhaustion...therefore, goodnight! Tomorrow should be a much lighter day of rest, and it could not have been scheduled at a more perfect time.


For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

To start, Foster describes his first full day in Ethiopia, during which he met a special young man.


Writing this entry is going to be tough for several reasons. First, I am exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. It was such a long day that brought both tears of joy and tears of sympathy. We started the day with breakfast -- our typical order of French toast with scrambled eggs (with peppers), some tea and coffee, and of course Sammy bear (the syrup brand).

After breakfast, we were headed to one of the poorest sections of Addis Ababa. Here, many people are forced to scavenge through the dump for everything necessary to survive due to the poor health of many of the people that reside there - a mixture of leprosy and HIV infected populations.

Once we parked, we headed to a local community center. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I could tell that this area was even worse than the areas we visited yesterday, as these living conditions can't get much worse. It was hard to believe I was about to venture into a territory like this, but I put my personal reservations behind me and was ready to face the reality of survival for the 130,000 people or that live there.

We walked about 15-20 minutes through the village until we arrived at the community center. We were greeted with joy and much gratitude by the leader of the center along with several women and a young male teenager, Dejene. In a small lawn in front were about 30-35 widowers and lepers who clearly were uplifted as soon as we walked in. We entered a room and began an assembly line to make "goodie bags" of necessities that these men and women probably only see once or twice a year, like macaroni, rice, sugar, soap, matches and another item or two. We filled 30 or so bags and then took them out on the concrete porch in front of the crowded lawn space.

Passing out these bags, just as it was yesterday, made me think so much of what I have back home and what I deem a true necessity. When I walked out to hand some of the bags out, I was greeted by so much constant gratitude and love in Amharic that saying "you're welcome" just didn't seem enough to me, but that's all I could do. The language barrier is so tough when you have so much to say but there isn't a way to verbally say it all. This is where the nonverbal gestures became the primary source of communication. Just a smile from us put an amazing sense of security and gratitude on their faces. It was humbling being able to truly change someone's day, week, month and even year just by a simple smile and a bag of truly basic necessities.

Once we finished passing out the bags, it was brought to our attention that many of these people, due to their leprosy or weakness from malnutrition and their living conditions, could not possibly carry the bags back to their homes. Therefore, we carried the bags through the dump to their houses. I happened to be carrying two bags as two people lived near each other in the same area.  Remember Dejene, that boy that I met earlier? He for some reason tagged along with me and asked several times to carry a bag for me but I declined the first several times until about 20 minutes into the walk, I was getting a little sore and he could tell so he simply took one from me.

I found out he spoke English after trying to speak Amharic to him saying, "Hey, what's up, how old are you?" in Amharic. He simply replied in pretty good English, "What's up, I'm 15. How old are you?" I still answered in Amharic saying "Hiya (20)." It was pretty funny looking back at it, swapping the norm of languages. We finally arrived at the ladies house and her son, who spoke very little English, greeted me, but his gratitude was also easily expressed. The floor of her house was all mud. Mud walls reinforced by tree limbs created some shelter but there were many leaks that proved to be devastating during the rainy season. After saying a quick prayer for her safety, health and thanking Him for allowing us to be able to provide support to her, we said our goodbyes and headed back.

On our way back we passed what seemed to be tin/aluminum garbage receptacle, but I was then informed that is where the nightly guard sleeps. The box couldn't have been six feet long and four feet wide and tall. We eventually got back to the community center where we busted out some Ethiopian footballs (soccer balls) that we had brought with us. Myself, Gabe, Wario and Dejene began passing the ball and juggling in a circle until I worked up quite a sweat. My touch had pretty obviously gotten worse since the last time I had touched a soccer ball (four years ago) but there was so much joy playing a game that the locals and I all love.

We then walked out of the church and saw some local kids (around 8-12 years old) and asked them if they wanted to play. They took us to what they called a field, but I would call it more of a rock-filled dirt patch that was on a slope and had several boulders sticking out of the ground. Goals were set up using bigger rocks and we had our makeshift field set, home-field advantage clearly going to the locals. The teams were quickly set with Gabe, Wario, Girma, Dejene, Bud and me making one team and what seemed to be at least 10-12 local kids making up the other. Seeing and playing soccer with Bud is one of the highlights in my life. Seeing a 6-foot-4 275-pound future NFL defensive end hesitate to go up for a header against some 5-foot, 120-pound kids is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. He eventually got the hang of it and started playing like a natural, other than the fact that most soccer players are as gigantic as he is. I hadn't had that much fun playing soccer, or any sport for that matter, in a long time. It truly is amazing how we as Americans can travel thousands of miles into Ethiopia where there is no common verbal communication, but the game of soccer itself becomes the form of communication and forms a bond with the local Ethiopians just by playing with them and sharing our time and love for them.


After we won the soccer game, we headed back to the church to meet up and get ready for lunch. Dejene was always right by my side everywhere we went, and it gave me so much time and opportunity to break him out of his shell. He was very shy at first, which made me have to keep the conversation going. I completely understood though, and I was starving for his life story and getting to know everything about him. We invited Dejene to come out to late lunch with us, so he followed us back to the bus and again, was never more than 3 feet away from me. From the bus ride to the restaurant, to the one-on-one "lunch date" with Dejene, to the bus ride back to take him home, there was some quality bonding time. I genuinely respect him and his story to the utmost extent.

This is a boy who never met his mother and lived with his father until he was around 8 or 9 years old when his father married. The woman he married had something against Dejene from day one. She would beat him and deny him any food or clothing or any level of caring for him. He was forced to move out on the streets around a year later just to survive.

It was there where he found his way into and out of an orphanage and being taken in by his best friend who is a few years older than him. He was then fortunate enough to be able to be sponsored, which gave him the funds for a private education along with guaranteed meals for the month. During his time at school, through all of this adversity, he achieved and maintained a 3.6 GPA until his sponsorship was abruptly cut. He was in 11th grade when his sponsorship was stopped, so he still needs two more years of school before he can take the Ethiopian national placement exam to see if he can go to the University. He loves biology and wants to be a cardiologist!

After the way he made me feel safe on our walk to deliver supplies earlier in the day, Dejene's name fittingly means "protector." We found a big-time common ground in our favorite TV show -- Prison Break. We also found similarities in our internal personal drives to succeed in life. Dejene fills the room with happiness and contentment every time he shows his huge, beautiful smile, even though it is tough to get it out of him sometimes.


I can't express how much Dejene already means to me and how much I care for him and want to return the favor and be his provider and protector. It brought me tears of joy when he told me how much he loved me and considered me family and how comfortable he felt around me. I really hope I am able to see him again, but we are already Facebook friends I am positive I will keep in touch with him, and hopefully I will be able to sponsor him, so he can go back to school and graduate. I see an amazing kid, with an amazing drive and work ethic who has lived through so much adversity, literally having no one to care for him. No mother, father, brothers, sisters or cousins. Obviously, I haven't had to live through anywhere close to the kind of adversity as he has, but I do understand the sense of loneliness that he has to be feeling. Being an only child, I missed out on being with brothers and sisters, and I truly wish I had a sibling to have that type of relationship with. I feel so remorseful, sympathize for him and empathize with him. I hope I will someday be able to bring him over to the United States to give him the opportunity of his life that he deserves to become the best cardiologist he can possibly be. Meeting Dejene and getting to know much of his story truly has inspired me to become a better person.

On our way back to the Addis Guest House, we stopped at a shoe store run by a woman who came through one of the programs at the community center headed by our friend and host, Mark. The shoes' soles are made from old tire treads, so they are very environmentally friendly.

With such an emotional and amazing day behind us, Bud provided us with humor throughout the day. Miscommunication due to the language barrier is expected, but the fact that there needs to be an intermediary translator to get from Bud's dialect to English that our translator friends can understand makes us laugh every day. However, today provided the best quotes by far.

Quotes of the day by Bud: 1) At dinner, Bud informs us that his last name isn't spelled Dupree, it's DuPree. His response "Yeah, I just found that out a few years ago."
2) After dinner tonight, our waiter comes to our table after being called over by Mark. We had just finished talking about room towels. Bud thinks Mark is calling him to inform him about our towel problem, but is in reality calling him over for the bill. Bud raises his hand and says to our waiter "Yeah, were going to need three regular towels and two hand towels." The waiter walks away puzzled. We all laugh.


Bud's quotes aside, it was an emotionally, physically and mentally draining day, but such a great and fulfilling one for me personally. Dejene will be a part of my life forever, and hopefully I can find a way to financially support him to continue and finish his schooling to give him the opportunity to become the cardiologist he dreams of being. As exhausted as I am, I still need to get these push-ups, abdominals, and squats in before I can get some much needed rest.

For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

To start, Foster describes three days of their journey, from a stop in Washington, D.C., to a long day of travel to their first hours in Ethiopia.


Day one - D.C.

Today was somewhat of a start on our Ethiopian journey. We made it all the way to Washington, D.C., with a stop in Cincinnati.


After landing, we claimed our bags and hopped on the hotel-airport shuttle bus to take us to our hotel.  before our private tour of Washington, D.C. After getting settled, we walked outside of the hotel and were greeted by our friendly Egyptian tour guide, Zuma.

Trying to retain all of the information that Zuma was giving to us was impossible. I actually ended up with a headache as soon as we arrived at our first stop, the United States Air Force Memorial. This memorial was beautiful and consisted of three very tall half arches that were outwardly curved in the center of two marble slab walls 40 yards to each side of the main arch attraction guarded by hulking statues of soldiers.

We left the U.S. Air Force Memorial and drove right past the Arlington National Cemetery that was located directly across the street and occupies an absurd amount of acreage. We then headed to downtown and passed the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol along with multiple historic buildings and monuments that featured some of the most amazing architecture I've ever seen.

We ultimately ended up stopping at only two more memorials, the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, which honors an individual that had more influence on civil rights and equality than I can even comprehend. Quotes from Dr. King lined the marble walls surrounding his statue, and my favorite was, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." This quote speaks so much truth to our nation as a whole, as well as to me personally.

After a great dinner, we took a taxi back to the hotel. Now, here I am, typing this journal entry while half-watching this Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers Game 2, after what would typically be a long day of traveling in my mind. Just thinking about tomorrow is exhausting.  Now time to get some rest before waking up in seven hours to get to the airport to fly on a plane for twice that long...or I might just stay up so I can sleep on the plane. Either way, today was an enjoyable, entertaining and fulfilling start of the trip.

Day two - Wheels up to Ethiopia

Welp, there's not a better time than now to write my journal entry of today than now...since we'll technically spend over 20 hours on this plane - 13 on the plane and seven more crossing time zones.  Today started early, around 6:30, to get up, pack, get some breakfast and take the shuttle to the airport. The flight wasn't until 11:00, but since it is an international flight, we were supposed to be there three hours early.


So far, this plane ride has been pretty smooth, and we are about four-and-a-half hours in. I've passed the time with Sports Illustrated articles, a ton of music and watching a movie. Now, here I am, typing this journal entry with my knees against this seat in front of me as a lady has already leaned her chair back as far as it can to go, and she is now trying to force the chair back even further, pushing with all of her will. I almost feel bad for 6-foot-4, 275-pound Bud Dupree sitting to my left in the dead middle of the plane while all 6-2 and 200 pounds of me has the aisle seat. Typical of me, I had so much planned and high hopes for getting things accomplished during this everlasting flight. However, since it is already around 11:00 p.m. Ethiopian time, I am going to head to the back of the plane, get in a couple stretches, go to the bathroom, and try to get some rest before landing around 7:30 a.m. Ethiopian time with a full day planned tomorrow.

And...here's a morning update: First, I have slept maybe a total of an hour and a half during the 12-plus hours we have been in the air thus far. Right now, my computer reads 11:10 p.m., which means it is around 6:10 a.m. Ethiopian time, and the last time I had any bit of sleep was about three hours ago. Since then I have finished one Sports Illustrated magazine, eaten breakfast and watched "Invictus," the story of Nelson Mandela's release from prison and his support of the South African National Rugby Team before and during the 1995 World Cup.

I couldn't help but notice some similarities between what we are doing on this trip to what was represented by the movie. President Mandela was so supportive of the team, because he believed backing the team for the World Cup would help unite the divided Republic of South Africa. It was during this time that he urged, well, demanded, the national team (which only had one black player on the roster) to go out to less fortunate villages and run youth rugby "camps." These villages, which were mostly made up of less fortunate black citizens in South Africa, knew very little about rugby, but fell in love with Chester, the lone black player on the team.

It was amazing seeing the nation coming together throughout the entire movie to support the national team. Also, the joy on the children's faces was unparalleled, and I hope that we as a group of football players from the University of Kentucky can instill half of the happiness that the team did in "Invictus." Now, it is around 6:30 a.m. Ethiopian time, and we are about 45 minutes from landing and starting (continuing) our day of events.

Day 3 - Only the beginning

Looking back on today, I don't even really know how or when to begin.

We landed in Ethiopia around 8 a.m. local time after a 14-hour flight during which none of us, other than Jason, got more than two hours of sleep total. Once we landed, we proceeded to go through customs. After making it through and claiming our bags, we were greeted by our photographer for the trip, Jeff. He guided us through the airport parking lot to our large van guarded by the rest of our group, guides and interpreters. We quickly loaded the bus with our luggage and headed to the guesthouse where we are staying, the Addis Guesthouse.

Once we arrived, we dropped our bags off in our rooms and headed downstairs and outside to consume our second breakfast of the morning. After breakfast, we quickly changed, packed up our gear, boarded the bus and began our 15-minute ride to a local community center. Demmis, the founder of the program that provides support to local widows, greeted us when we arrived. We were divided into three different teams to perform different tasks. Braylon and our interpreter/friend Girma were chosen, with the help of an expert in the area, to re-roof the grass roof on the round cultural house right outside of the church. Bud, Brett and another of our Ethiopian friends, Kaleab, went along with one carpenter, while Gabe, our Ethiopian friend Wario and I teamed up with another carpenter to perform both fixes and upgrades to mud stucco houses.


Our house needed one of the mud walls to be torn down and lots more work. After redesigning the infrastructure of that wall, we nailed heavy plastic tarp around the inside of this 8-foot by 8-foot house to keep it dry.

Imagining staying one night in one of these houses, or shelters, is hard to comprehend by itself. That reality sets in even more during days like today, in the midst of the rainy season where it gets very windy and chilly along with the daily storms. The joy shown by these Ethiopians affected by such poverty is an amazing sight to see that can only make people like me more thankful for what I have.

One common theme throughout the day today was how important interaction and the idea of togetherness are in this community. Coffee, even though it is expensive, is served as a ritual around three times a day, which forms bonds as they typically travel hut to hut or house to house each time during the day. Their happiness in the community truly is a testament to their connectedness to one another.

After finishing up all of the repairs on the houses, each group returned to the community center, and we were greeted by a line of beautiful widows and a few of their children. It was then when you could truly see the thankfulness and sense of relief on each of their faces when we handed out bags filled with food, bed sheets and a blanket, as well as a mattress and bed frame set to some. That was a very exciting moment for me, because you get to see the widow's reaction to being gifted food and a place to sleep first hand. Clean bed sheets, a pillow, and even a mattress are all things that I definitely have taken for granted growing up in ever-so-sheltered Franklin, Tenn.

After finishing passing out "the goodies," a couple of the widows needed help getting their newfound sleeping arrangements back to their houses, so we all lent a hand, or two, walking at least 20 minutes one way to drop off one woman's new possessions.

From there, we walked back to the Church, picked up our bags, and boarded the bus to get back to the Addis Guesthouse, where we ended up eating a wonderful group dinner with our Ethiopian friends. Here, we were finally able to connect to Wi-Fi for the first time since landing in Ethiopia, allowing us to contact our friends and family to ensure them we had arrived safely. The rest of the dinner was spent talking about sports, reflecting on the sights and events of the day, and discussing plans for tomorrow. But now, it is time to rest. At last, a good night's sleep hopefully lies in front of me. Until tomorrow.

Video: Wildcats reflect on Ethiopia service trip

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Jarrod Polson and seven fellow UK student-athletes returned from a service trip to Ethiopia on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Jarrod Polson and seven fellow UK student-athletes returned from a service trip to Ethiopia on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. Please note that these posts are the personal reactions of the student-athletes and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics. Jarrod Polson wrote the final entry, an account of the group's final day in Ethiopia and a reflection on the trip as a whole.

Jarrod Polson (men's basketball)

The last day of the trip may have been the most moving of them all. We were able to visit an organization called Youth Impact that was located about 15 minutes from our guest house. When we got there, we were greeted by Abraham (who was educated in the United States, but decided to come back to help the Ethiopian people instead of getting a very lucrative job in America), the visionary leader of the affiliation. He and his wife had the idea about 20 years ago to teach uneducated men and women different skills that would help them get back on their feet and provide for their families. In essence, instead of handing out the fish, teach the people how to fish so they can sustain themselves.

We toured around and saw people basket-weaving, working the cash register and even making scarves and blankets (which is a very complicated and tiring process). The items were so well-made and intricate that a lot of us decided to buy some souvenirs to take home from the different shops.

After a little bit of shopping, Abraham and Aramis, the other main leader, took us to the "library." Aramis also has a very interesting story. He grew up as a street kid who got into a life of crime and drugs, simply trying to survive. A girl he knew kept trying to convince him to come to church with her but he never would. Eventually, he decided to end the nagging so he accompanied her one Sunday, but instead of participating, he took out a cigarette and started smoking during the service. She was very embarrassed, but about six weeks later, he came again and sat in the front row where he radically changed for the rest of his life.  

Anyway, we arrived at the library, which was also where they educated young children. Most of the young boys were taken off the streets, and most of the girls were taken here right before they would have more than likely been sent to the streets. You would think that being abandoned by your parents and having to live on your own would completely wreck a 5-year-old's heart, but I can honestly say I have never seen a group of children with more joy and excitement in my entire life. The teacher had them sing the ABCs in English to us, along with the Ethiopian national anthem, so loud and passionate in fact that most of us were either crying or had goosebumps the entire time.

The last Youth Impact group we got to meet was made up of older kids and young adults, ranging between around 14 to 21. They were a group of around 20 teenaged boys who were rescued from the streets by this organization. Some had been street kids for up to five years. Just to give a little background, I asked how children came to live on the streets. I learned that a lot of the times a mother takes her child to a stadium via taxi, tells the driver she will be back in 10 minutes, drops her child off and returns to the taxi. Others are simply orphans and have no parents to feed them. Others are the victims of mothers choosing a boyfriend over their kids because of an ultimatum. In any case, these children literally have nowhere to sleep at night and no way of getting food.

These teenagers we met quickly changed from a statistic to a story. Five years went from just a number to a tragic and lonely life. A few of these rescued men stood up and thanked us for coming to help them, one of the most humbling experiences of our lives. After we returned to the guest house, we were able to collect a lot of our clothing and shoes to send back to the Hope House (this is what the street kids' house was called) because they were big enough to fit into them.  

We left for the airport around 7 p.m. (East Africa Time) and after a 17-hour flight followed by a one-hour flight to Cincinnati, we finally arrived safely in Lexington around 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

I know that when people come back from mission or service trips they always talk about how "life-changing" the experience was. Because I had never experienced one, I was always hesitant to believe them. I regret it now because this trip has really given our group a brand-new perspective on life. Some of us were talking about how sometimes during the trip, we were confused because we felt as if we were in a completely different world. The biggest impact on me personally was seeing the Bible come to life.

I started a book called "Red Letters" before the trip and it talked about trying to see Jesus in everyone you come into contact with. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." This idea was so clear to me in Ethiopia because it was really easy to see Jesus in a lot of the people we came into contact with. I saw Jesus in the little boy with a huge smile on his face using a balloon to drink water from a muddy river. I saw Jesus in the woman with a nervous-system problem who cried tears of joy when we delivered food to her because she was about to give up, saying we were a gift sent straight from God at the exact right time. I saw Jesus in the woman who was distributing bread she had made to the poorer people at the church, the same woman who we gave food to earlier in the day because she was very sick and struggling to feed her children. I saw Jesus in our two translators, one orphan and one street kid, who have every reason to be mad at the world or God, but are the two most joyful and unselfish young men I have ever met. I saw Jesus in the woman who has been in bed for 18 years plagued by leprosy, who wouldn't let me touch her head in fear of me getting the disease, who blessed us and our country through her words, and who still seemed more joyful than me after years of physical agony. I saw Jesus in the woman who brings in travelers to her small home and shares the gospel, all the while her sons won't talk to her, ashamed of her Christian views even though she has HIV and still feeds them. I saw Jesus in the leaders of Youth Impact and the church who finally "made it" and could be very successful, but chose to stay in their poverty-stricken native areas and try to help everyone they can. I could go on and on, telling the stories of so many people we met that have very little of what the world has to offer, but very much of what God has to offer: a joyful heart and a peace beyond understanding.

I'm not writing this blog to condemn anyone or judge anyone, because I am guiltier than anyone of not helping people or taking the time to make people feel loved. This trip has definitely changed the lives of our group members and I pray that God would use this trip as a wake-up call to realize why He chose us by name to live on this earth.

I'm not saying everyone needs to move to Africa to become a missionary. People in America have problems just like people in Ethiopia, just maybe not in the same ways. The one thing we realized, and (Senior Associate Athletics Director of Corporate and University Relations and trip chaperone) Jason (Schlafer) pointed out to us, is that everyone who we helped was more appreciative of the fact that we came to help than the actual food or supplies we gave. Forming relationships and just coming across the world blessed the people way more than any amount of food we could have given them. I'm talking to myself when I say this, but we can translate this to America by simply forming relationships with people who need to feel loved and be loved. People may not need food like the Ethiopians do, but everyone needs love and that is where we can make our biggest impact in America.

Maclin Simpson helped deliver basic necessities to residents of Ethiopia on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Maclin Simpson helped deliver basic necessities to residents of Ethiopia on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. Please note that these posts are the personal reactions of the student-athletes and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics. With the travel party set to return to the United States on Monday, Maclin Simpson writes about what he saw on Sunday.

Maclin Simpson (swimming and diving)

I woke up this morning feeling mixed emotions about the day ahead. On one hand, I was excited for another opportunity to serve the people of Ethiopia with a group of friends I would consider family. On the other, I was anxious because I knew that my expectations were about to be shattered into a million pieces, yet again turning my world upside down.

The day started just like any other. We had breakfast at the guest house followed by a quick meeting before we set out. After reconfirming our flight information, we had about an hour or so to kill so we made our way over to the zoo. I use the term "zoo" loosely because it isn't comparable to anything you would find in the U.S. More or less it was just one massive, circular cage with about ten lions that looked like they could eat any one of us without a moment's hesitation. Regardless, it was still a cool experience.

Then it all changed.

The moment that we got out of the van at the community center, we were swarmed with loving children. It was unbelievable to see the pure joy in their faces just to hold our hands and walk with us. Our task was to fill bags with assorted basic necessities and deliver them to widows and other families. Throughout our time there, the one thing that was constant was how gracious these amazing people were. It didn't matter who we were, just that we came. To them, we were an answered prayer and a gift from God. Every home that we visited (most were about half the size of a dorm room, dark and housing up to seven people) we prayed over the people about whatever physical or emotional discomfort was troubling them. Each time, without fail, they would tell us how much they loved us and prayed that God would bless us and our families. It's incredible that a village and people in such desperate need of financial capital were so content with human capital. The last home we visited was of a widow who suffers from tuberculosis; Jarrod Polson and I literally had to chase after her because she was so excited to invite us into her home and introduce us to her children. We sat, prayed and shared a hug that could have lasted a lifetime. It is those types of moments that make me realize how much of a gift from God life truly is and how much I take for granted on a daily basis. We all left that village changed and with memories that we will never forget.

Tomorrow is our last day here. I am going to miss this place and will forever be grateful for the opportunities given, experiences had, but most importantly for the people that I have met and the relationships I have formed.

Tiara Phipps bonded with Ethiopia natives playing soccer on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Tiara Phipps bonded with Ethiopia natives playing soccer on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. Please note that these posts are the personal reactions of the student-athletes and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics. Tiara Phillips writes about Saturday's activities.

Tiara Phipps (gymnastics)

Day four was like nothing I've ever experienced, which seems to be a common theme for this entire trip.  

9 a.m.: We left the Addis Guest House to head for the soccer fields for what we thought would be our forte: sports. The weather was unfavorable, but not one thing stops the Ethiopians from experiencing life.

9:27 a.m.: One of our translators, an incredibly intelligent mind who has never set foot in a school, told us his story. It's incredible that a young man who learned English in an orphanage, who was thrown into the wild at age 7, and experienced so many things we couldn't even imagine, is as receptive, generous and protective as anyone could ever hope to be. This is one of the huge examples for me of what it takes to be Ethiopian. STRENGTH. The people of this country grow more beautiful to me each day, but it's not an expected beauty, it's unintentional, unorthodox and a beauty that's truly a blessing to witness. We reach the fields after a walk through livestock, and immediately see the kids. They are already passing the ball, and getting dirty and into the game that's king in their nation. Our family is such a mixture of athletes from different sports that we had no idea what to expect from each other when playing soccer, but nevertheless it was fun. We started passing with the children and it's incredible how universal sport is. We speak two completely different languages, yet I was never uncomfortable hitting the ball with my head to a complete foreigner and the same for them with me.

12:45 p.m.: "They're better (at soccer) with their shoes off than we are with cleats on." A hilarious statement by Stephanie Fox at first, but an analogy at second glance. They experience more permanent happiness than I have ever seen with less than I have ever seen. After being made to look foolish by the Ethiopians, we took a little hike to the top of the mountain to find an incredible view and a perfect spot for a mini photo shoot session. The boys took a couple bro pics, and the girls smiled big, then we made fools of ourselves and loved every second of it. Later, after some slight misunderstandings and stop and goes to find a restaurant, we decided on a cultural place with great food and even better entertainment.

7:58 p.m.: This dancing is so athletic, it hurt my shoulders just watching them have the time of their lives with absolutely no breaks. Finally, Jarrod Polson got his shot at being the hero as one of the dancers approached our table, a chant broke out and I'll just say that video is one to watch.

This culture and the lessons it has taught me will stay with me forever, just like I hope the people I've met on this trip will never fade in my memory. I just want to say that I'm blessed beyond belief to be on this trip with this amazing team of people I'm sad I have to leave soon. This little group has become like a little family, and I appreciate every single one of them.

Every single thought on an Ethiopian's mind no matter the situation this entire trip has been on God blessing us, but we are simply His hands and feet. In spite of everything they absolutely need, they need us to be blessed. It's unfathomable the amount of love I'm developing for this country, this team and this culture. With that being said, I thank everyone for their prayers and pray that God blesses every single one of you.

Eight UK student-athletes spent their third day in Ethiopia on Friday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Eight UK student-athletes spent their third day in Ethiopia on Friday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This week, eight Wildcats are taking part in a service trip in Ethiopia. Throughout the week, the student-athletes will take turns describing their experience. Please note that these posts are the personal reactions of the student-athletes and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics. Friday's blogs are from Emma Brown and Liz Breed.
   
Emma Brown (women's soccer)

"It's not about how big or small the gift, it's that you came."

Keeping my eyes open, providing my hands for a purpose and my heart to a people has given me an understanding of how time, words and relationships impact the world around you. How can you recognize the importance of a moment until it has slipped through your grasp, elusive as air? How can you feel the weight of words, both as heavy as they are light? How can one woman's thank you slow your heartbeat and warm your soul? "It's not about how big or small the gift," she said. "It's that you came." If you're pondering these same questions as I am from the confinements of a guest house in Ethiopia, I'll let you in on my newly discovered secret. Love, compassion, reflection, connection, that's how.

Our coach teaches us that every moment could be "the one" - the one that wins games or costs you your season. That is why you prepare and train and repeat, because you never know when that moment might come. The moment may be fleeting, like a shooting star streaking across the sky, brilliant and blinding and exceptional. Or maybe your moment was meant to be infinite, changing the blueprint of your life permanently. As our translator Kaleab relayed one woman's message to our group I realized the gravity of the moment I was in. The weight of words so lightly uttered in a dark and damp space that carried meaning that was just beyond the surface, if you were willing for your heart to find it.

In that epiphany-induced moment I came to learn much about humanity and myself. It's there as Africa's constant reminder to me - an action we think is so small can actually be something much bigger than us, our ideals, and the hopes we hold for each other. It's not necessarily about the amount of money we give or the food we hand out, it is that we cared enough to just give them a new shot of life, new wind under their wings. It's not that the difference you make is one that changes everything, but that you had the courage and compassion to take the first step towards something better.

Yesterday was about learning lessons for me, and today I was thankful for the lighter feeling that a day of sightseeing and shopping provided. It was a beautiful day to decompress and unburden some of the heaviness from the previous day. Nice weather throughout most of the day gave us the opportunity to "haggle" for gifts and glimpse some of Addis Ababa's landmarks. Even as the rain came we still had a great lunch and scarf extravaganza, where the boys were taught valuable lessons in how to pick out the right color scarves to complement their girlfriends and wives (really boys are about as clueless to the difference between pastels and prints as you would think, and that is not a new lesson for anyone). I'm excited for what tomorrow will bring and thankful for the time I've been allotted in this amazing country.

Liz Breed (women's golf)

You think you've prepared yourself for things outside of your comfort zone, but when you're out there, there are no words. There is nothing you can say to aptly summarize what you've seen.

Today we went shopping; we were tourists today. But shopping here is nothing like shopping at home. You barter and trade for the lowest price possible. (The American dollar is worth about 18 Ethiopian birr, which is the money system).  There are young boys with trays of gum, begging for money. Adult men are following you to sell you maps or belts. All you can do is give a firm "no," and keep moving. You stick to your guns and show no mercy. If you do, they swarm. It sounds scary, but it's not. It's excitement of a different kind.

After shopping, we went to a coffee shop. Picture: Starbucks, Ethiopian style. The colors and ambiance were the same, the drinks were the same, the baristas were wearing green aprons. It's the same thing...and just as good.

After coffee, back to shopping.

All in all, it was a fun day. Just...different.

Being in such a different culture has been overwhelmingly amazing and terrifying at once. You hear about it, but it's never what you've imagined. You could never prepare for a trip like this.

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