(Source: UCF Knights Without Borders – http://www.ucfknights.com/genrel/081015aad.html)
(Photos courtesy of Peace Corps Volunteer Christine Tornabene – Twitter @ctornabene)
26 University of Central Florida student-athletes and staff, the UCF Knights Without Borders team, traveled to work with a Courts for Kids community in Canalete, Costa Rica.
Mary Mulcahy (women’s golf)
“Today we left Orlando to come to Costa Rica. Leading up to the trip, I was really excited, but when it got time to leave, I was pretty nervous. I was nervous because I have never gone on a trip like this before, and I was going with none of my teammates. The flight wasn’t so bad getting here. I sat next to Brooks, who was nervous to fly, just like me. We landed we only had a two hours bus ride, but then we were informed it was actually more like four hours. I thought a ride that long on a school bus was going to be torture. However, my half of the bus started playing a game that we kept playing for most of the ride. It was a great way for some of us to come together and bond prior to doing any of the volunteer work.
Although we are all student-athletes, many of us do not know each other that well. The bus ride was a great way for us to get comfortable with each other. The scenery on the way to this little town was incredible. From the second we stepped off the plane, we were all mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape here. The views we saw sitting on a bus were spectacular. I cannot even imagine what it will be like when we really start to explore the land.
Our leaders from Courts for Kids brought us to our dinner place, which was cooked by locals. Everyone in the town seems really excited to have us here, and we as a group are really excited to help them build a court where kids can learn how to play sports. I have always been so incredibly grateful for all the opportunities I have been given and all the friendships I’ve created through sports. I can’t wait to give the kids of this town those same opportunities.”
The first thing we did today was put the basketball hoops up. It was neat to see them go up and actually see a court form. We poured a lot of cement today but not nearly as much as we are about to pour over the next couple of days. The court usually takes four days to complete but all of us are determined to get it done in three. Joseph, the Courts for Kids leader said a court this big hasn’t been done in three so it would be a record.
We picked up the pace a lot in the afternoon after we had a feast for lunch. It must have been the beans and rice. It was cool to see all of us assemble and take control on our own. We knew what needed to be done. All the kids from the school came out and watched us when they had a break. They were so curious and interested in us and what we were doing. They were all so friendly and were able to understand the broken Spanish I know.”
Reece Acree (men’s tennis):
“We went to the court site and I was instructed, along with others, to dig a hole one meter deep. We weren’t sure how deep that was because we’re Americans, but Leonie knew with her Irish self. We all began to start digging and it ended up taking quite a while. But after we were finished, it was time to put the goals up. Unfortunately, while putting up the goals I got a big gash on my knee, but fortunately athletic trainer John Lee was there to save my leg! After I was patched up, I got back in the action to finish putting up the goals and start to put the concrete down. This ended up being way harder than I anticipated. The hardest part was wheeling the cement up the hill through the mud. We all worked together though to make it through.
During our work day, we had several breaks where we got to interact with the kids and eat lunch. This was one of the more entertaining parts of the day. The school was quite different from what I am used to. The classrooms were only covered but still outside and not in a fully enclosed space. When we passed by, all the kids looked at us amazed and wouldn’t pay attention to anything else. At the end of the work day, I got to go with a local lady to watch Arjun milk a cow at someone’s house (he was a natural).
Arjun and I put our stuff up and then went to play soccer with the local kids (I scored four goals!). This was one of my favorite moments of the day and I had a blast. After I showered and ate dinner, a few of us danced to the “Nae Nae” song. I also salsa danced with a local woman. I didn’t know how but I tried and we still had fun. Throughout the day I met many local people and group members. Everyone is so friendly and nice (even though the locals and I couldn’t communicate through words we still enjoyed each other’s company and had a good time).”
Brianne Addison (rowing):
“Today the fatigue set in for me from the long hours of hard work. When we woke up, it was raining out. We headed to breakfast and had rice and beans, eggs and toast. We got to work after with patches of rain here and there. A local man brought coconuts for us to drink the milk from and eat. It was delicious. Then, Hamilton and his wife brought cheese they had made from this morning and sugar cane water. Both of them were amazing!
We couldn’t head back to work after lunch because of the rain. It was down pouring all day, and the concrete couldn’t set. We ended up finishing a couple slabs for the court. I asked to take a photo with a little girl today and she hugged me like she’s known me forever. It was the sweetest thing. All the kids are beyond happy that we are here. This trip is one I will remember for a lifetime and I would love to come back next year just to see the kids and see how happy they are. Because we couldn’t lay concrete today, we ended up in a classroom and Victor taught a class about murals. There was so much commotion coming from outside and from the younger children that I don’t know how the kids can concentrate or hear. They were so engaged, which makes me think that they are excited to learn. We learned later that the kids in the classroom were actually members of student council. It makes me happy that there is some school involvement in this community.
Everyone is becoming closer already on this trip and it’s very heartwarming to me. I know this trip is supposed to be for the children, but I feel like it’s making me a better person, too. Something that’s lingering in my mind is when Kayla said she has never seen this side of me after she watched me become so engaged while playing soccer with the kids. That makes me ecstatic because a lot of people misunderstand me on my team, and all I want is for people to see the real side of me.”
“Hola amigos! We got into a rhythm today and we completed two slabs of concrete on the basketball court. Everyone was contributing to the best of their abilities and it was great to see that we were having fun despite the physical efforts. Fatigue is accumulating, however we are getting used to the labor required for every task. Unfortunately, we had to stop all work this afternoon because it was raining. This was a bit frustrating because we wanted to set a record of completing the court in three days. Realistically, with the rainy conditions, we might finish in five. Otherwise, we are keeping our heads high and hoping for good weather.
I am so grateful for this experience. Tonight during reflection time, we spoke about what household thing we missed or did not miss from America. I said that it felt really good to not always be glued to our cell phones. We actually have time to interact in a genuine way.”
Leonie Hamel (rowing):
“Today we accomplished four and a half slabs of the court. After breakfast, we were told that ‘word on the street’ was that we wouldn’t finish the court. We worked extremely hard to put the local rumor to bed. After just one hour, we had one strip completed! Being surrounded by athletes for a large chunk of my life, I have experienced a lot of hard working people. Today I experienced one of the hardest working group of people, without a doubt. I am incredibly proud of us and what we accomplished today. Although we will be sore tomorrow, the goal to finish this court for the kids must be done!
Side note: at the soccer game this evening, I was talking to some locals with Kalen. We were talking to a 13-year-old girl who had a 6-month old baby named Brittany. This was the second girl that day that I saw under the age of 15 with a child. I hope that by being here and by building this court that we may be able to provide an outlet for young teenagers.”
Ryan Meyer (baseball):
“Today, waking up I could tell would be the hardest day. I think every muscle in my body is sore or hurts. But all that soreness and pain is worth everything to help this town. I found out that kids get into the wrong things starting at age 10. So this court will help those kids stay out of trouble and give them better and more opportunities.
I have never moved so many bricks in my life. I think I moved about 100-plus bricks so that we could return them for more materials for the courts. I would not mind never seeing a brick ever again, but it’s worth it. We have become one big team and have only two more sections left out of the 12 to go.”
Brooks Morgan (baseball):
“It’s very cool to see that more and more locals have come out and helped and interacted with us. Today, even the man who has been cooking for us all week gave us local shirts to wear, and I worked in it all day. It is great to see the progress that we have made here in many ways on the court, in the community and within our group. We have gotten so much closer. Individually, it is great to see everyone growing, and me personally, I have grown mentally and emotionally from this trip, and I still do not even know the satisfaction of finishing the court! I am so grateful for this opportunity. I know that this is something I was meant to do.”
Olivia Hecimovich (rowing):
“The days fly by here. It’s already Thursday! Joseph said this day would be harder than any of the others. He was certainly right about that! My arms feel like noodles but everyone is so encouraging. It helps make me feel stronger. I started out at the wheel barrows, then helped flatten the cement and filled buckets of sand.
We all bonded at the river. I love floating down the river with the current. I’m not sure if I want to go back home. Honestly, I’m sweating every day and always sore, but this place is life changing. I have become a lot more comfortable with speaking to the locals. I’m learning so much Spanish, it’s pretty amazing. I’m extremely excited to see what tomorrow brings and the reaction of everyone, including myself, when we finish the court!”