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Q&A with Barnhart: Starting a new season

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Mitch Barnhart is in his 11th year as Athletics Director at the University of Kentucky. (UK Athletics) Mitch Barnhart is in his 11th year as Athletics Director at the University of Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
Cat Scratches sat down with Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart this week for a question-and-answer session. With another year in UK Athletics in full swing, Barnhart discussed the state of the athletic department, the upcoming football season and facilities, among other topics. Here is a complete transcript of the conversation.

Cat Scratches: UK Athletics had one of the best seasons in its history in 2011-12 and fall sports are already in action. How important do you believe it is for the fall sports to continue the momentum and set the tone for 2012-13?
Mitch Barnhart: I think it certainly creates momentum when you get off to a good start. We just completed our first weekend of play and we were 5-1 coming out of the weekend in a variety of sports between women's soccer, volleyball and men's soccer. Last year, we really only had two of our fall sports that had NCAA appearances - one of them was women's soccer, the other one was volleyball - so trying to recover from a slow start was difficult. We did make a good run in the winter in the spring and that was very helpful to us. To get off to a better start this year in terms of all of our sports is very important to us.

We've made some additions to our fall sports coaches roster, if you will, in Johan Cedergren (men's soccer head coach) and Edrick Floreal in our track and field and our cross country. That will take a little time to develop, but I think it is important that you get off to a good start. Clearly, we don't want to miss opportunities for our program to be in postseason play. I think winning and creating that atmosphere and the old theory of the rising tide raises all boats is very, very true. We certainly want to start out that way.

CS: Being around the program and interacting with coaches, it's impossible not to notice a community across the different teams at UK. How much of that culture did you envision when you arrived and how much is simply an outgrowth of bringing in good, like-minded people?

MB: We've tried to create a group of coaches, as well as administrators, that get along and that everybody is sort of rowing in the same direction. It starts with your two revenue-producing coaches and that is with (men's basketball head coach John Calipari) and (football head coach) Joker (Philips). They truly want Kentucky Athletics in total to be great. The things that they do and the things that they put in place help us to get to those spots. They produce and provide opportunities for everybody else, but they take great pride in that and I think they enjoy other people succeeding.

What we do is try to create an atmosphere where coaches enjoy feeding off one another's successes and I think that's sort of what we got. I've joked around and said I've got a group of very normal people. I say that in the nicest of ways in that they have real balance in their lives. The way that they treat people is with respect and they're honorable folks in the way they do their business. But most of all, they understand student-athletes and how to treat them and grow them into the young people we want them to be.

When you put all those pieces of the puzzle together, we've got a group that really, really gets along well. You'll go to matches or games and you'll see all the coaches from other sports hanging out on the sidelines or in the end zones or in the corners watching. And I think they learn from one another. I think everybody's learned a little bit how you manage superstar athletes like Cal has gotten. You've seen some people that have been what I call grinders in grinding away with a group of athletes and how they've won with that and how we've won with some overachieving athletes. They've all taken bits and pieces from one another and I think they're not territorial in any way, shape or form. They get along extremely well.

CS: Moving on to football specifically, expectations on the part of fans and experts are relatively low for this season, while many around the program seem to have a quiet confidence that the team is better and more talented than outsiders think. For the sake of ticket sales, you would obviously prefer that fans would agree, but are there also positives associated with being under the radar?
MB: I think, sometimes, you need to be able to play with a chip on your shoulder a little bit. I think that's what we're going to have to do this year. We're going to have to play with a chip on our shoulder. People aren't giving us much of an opportunity to compete and I think you're going to have use that as a rallying cry around your program. You're going to have to believe in one another. We're going to have to have some things go our way. We've got to stay a little bit injury-free and we've got to stay clear of that. And we've got to be able to go out and perform.

We've got some young people certainly capable of that and I think we've got a really good group of coaches. They believe in one another and they believe in our kids. That's the first step. I'd agree with you. I think there is a gentle confidence about them, but we've got to go out and prove that.

CS: Another much-discussed topic is the Alumni Charity Game at Rupp Arena at 2 p.m. on Sept. 15. What kind of thought went into planning that and why do you believe it can be a successful doubleheader with football's home game at 7 p.m. against Western Kentucky that same day?

MB: You've got some restrictions about when you can play the game and do those kinds of games by NBA rules. We've got a unique set of alumni - probably a different alumni base than most programs have - an alumni base of over 20 NBA guys, and it's growing rapidly. To have a unique group of folks that want to come back and be a part of something like that at Kentucky is very different from a lot of places.

I've always been a believer in creating multiple things for your fans to be a part of on a weekend and let them enjoy a lot of things. It goes back to what we talked about with the culture here. Just being able to share assets and share ideas and share fan bases and share things that promote Kentucky in total rather than one thing individually I think is really, really important. If we can use the incredible traditions we have in basketball to help augment people wanting to come be a part of an incredible weekend with Hall of Fame Weekend and Alumni Weekend and Western Kentucky, what an opportunity for us to do that.

CS: The Alumni Game is just the latest example of the department reaching out to former student-athletes. Across sports, former Wildcats are joining coaching staffs and being invited to be more involved with the program. Why do you believe that to be so important?
MB: I think that Joker has done a great job of bring guys back in the program and allowing them to work and begin their careers. That fosters that sense of family that we are trying to create. We want people in our program that love Kentucky and understand Kentucky and take great pride in what we do. To have Jeremy Jarmon, Andre' Woodson, Glenn Holt, Sam Simpson, Braxton Kelley and Tyler Sargent back on your staff in football (as director of player personnel) or to have a Marquis Estill who comes back to get his degree and works on (the basketball) staff and (former student assistant) Wayne Turner now out there in the working world out there representing Kentucky is really good. You've got Tony Delk and Scott Padgett out there in basketball (now assistant coaches at New Mexico State and Samford, respectively, after a stint on Calipari's UK staff).

Most of our coaches are beginning to reach out and pull those folks back. There was a time when there weren't a whole lot of folks interested in coming back to be a part of this, but that has become more the norm. Our athletes are now wanting to be a part of us differently than they have in the past. I think that's very helpful to us.

CS: It doesn't take long for anyone who regularly attends UK sporting events to notice that you attend pretty much every game or match that you can. Why do you make such an effort to do that?
MB: I think it's a couple things. One, the young people, our kids, put in an incredible amount of time. For us to be able to come and make sure they know that we care and that and we know who they are, I think that's important for them to know that you care.

Two, if you're going to evaluate your program properly, you've got to understand what the climate is in your program and what's going on. You've got to have an ability to see firsthand how your players, your athletes are reacting to the things that your coaches are teaching.

Three, I think we've got to know that the environment we're providing is organizationally sound and that it is run efficiently and safely for everybody that's coming, whether it's to play in it or to participate in it or to watch. We've got to make sure those things are sound.

I don't think you can do those things if you're not there and you're not around it. Come about mid- to late-June, I'm about done and I need to get away a little bit. So July I try to get away and go do stuff and get my head clear before we crank back up again.

CS: We have discussed the challenges UK Athletics faces in maintaining and building new facilities in similar settings before, but can you provide an update on how you believe the department is coping with those challenges and what your priorities are going forward?

MB: We came here and I would say - out of the 12 teams at the time that were in the SEC, now it's 14 - I'd say we were bottom three in the league in terms of actual facilities. The way that financing is done on campus and in our state, it is very difficult for us to secure financing. We don't have a private foundation. The way that funding in our state is done is very different from everybody else in our league, and that's another conversation completely.

We have basically piecemealed together everything that we've done. We've saved money, we've raised money, we've put pockets of money together systematically, piece by piece by piece taking care of facilities. We're in the process of finishing up the last two pieces of the soccer/softball complex down there on Alumni Drive. That would be a very important piece. That would leave us three or four projects away. Two of them are really, really big ones - one of them is a new baseball stadium and the other one is obviously the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium - that we're going to have find ways to get help on, whether that's through bonds or through additional fundraising. And then our indoor tennis center, which really desperately needs help. Those three facilities are still on the docket for us of things we really need help with.

How we get all that done and work on that is important because athletes today pick schools for a variety of reasons. We just did a study and they come for that relationship with that head coach, generally, and then secondarily with the players involved and the folks on the team. Can they make those relationships work? Beyond that, we have heard them say over and over again as they have left our program, 'It isn't about facilities, but we just don't want to have horrible facilities.' We've felt like we've always had decent playing facilities, but the amenities around them that make it really warm and accommodating have just not been where they need to be.

We've done the math. In the last 10 years, we've done about $115 to $120 million of cash, capital construction, but we close to no debt. That's a really good thing. The downside is that we haven't been able to move as fast as we've wanted to move. Hopefully, with getting some changes in the way we look at bonding, we'll be able to do that.

CS: The 15 by 15 by 15 plan to win 15 conference and national championships and finish in the top 15 of the Director's Cup standings by 2015 is the centerpiece of your goals for this department. Having won 10 titles already, that benchmark looks to be clearly within reach. But in 2011-12 - one of the best seasons in UK history - the department finished 29th. How difficult will it be to reach the top 15 and how important will the new direction of the track and field and cross country be to that?
MB: Our goal is to obviously get the championships, and that's one piece. You could legitimately capture three championships a year for five years, meet that goal and still not be closer to a top-15 program. Our goal is to be a top-15 program and that hasn't changed. We got to 29th last year and it's the second time we've done that in the 10 years we've been here.

The big piece in that is you've got to be able to have success in your track and field program consistently. It counts six times for you when you take cross country, both men and women; indoor track and field championships, both men and women; and outdoor track and field championships, both men and women. That is six opportunities with essentially the same athletes and same coaching staff. We've been relatively inconsistent. We've had some championship performances in those sports. We've had some people do, individually, very well, but not collectively as a team getting us to a spot where we could say we're finishing top 20 in cross country, top 20 in indoor track and outdoor. We've got to get to that spot.

When you get a guy like Edrick to come on board who has got a great ability to move your program forward coupled with the investment we've made in a 13 million dollar outdoor track plus the indoor track, the resurfacing of that, new locker rooms and a new lounge, it's about as good a scenario as you could possibly have for track and field. It gives us all the resources necessary to go compete to get us to that top 15. I'm not saying in year one we make this dramatic move from 29 to 15. It's going to take him a year or two to get all his folks in place.

In time, that has a major impact on our ability to be a top-15 program. If we had everything else in place like we've had the last few years, just the moderate successes we've had and some of the championships we've won, and you added four finishes out of six in track and field, we would have been a top-15 program in I think three of the last six years. That significantly changes the way you do your business. We've got to pay attention to that and we've got to work really, really hard to give that the attention it needs.

I think we've done that and I think we have a legitimate chance to be a top-15 program or we wouldn't have done some of the things we've done. I think we have a tremendous pool of head coaches. Now we have to find a way to keep them in place and grow them the right way for the long-term stability of our program so we're not a transition place where they come here to go to another place. We want to give them the resources necessary to say this is a destination spot at Kentucky and we build toward being a top-15 program and stay there.

For most, the first day of school is something to be dreaded. It marks the end of summer vacation and the beginning of nearly 200 days in a classroom.

Some students feel that way, but we at UK Athletics do not. The arrival of students back on campus for the fall semester injects Lexington with energy and, more importantly for us, it means the beginning of another athletic year.

John Calipari passed that message along to students at Big Blue U on Saturday night and is doing so again on Wednesday with a letter to students on both his website and President Eli Capilouto's blog. Here's part of what he had to say:

A new year opens the door for new opportunities, new goals to achieve and new barriers to break. For those of you returning to UK for your second, third or fourth year, let's not rest on the success of 2011-12. Let's all dream bigger. For those of you joining the Wildcat family, push us to become ever greater.

You are all a part of something greater than yourself. UK just isn't an institution in Lexington - it's the UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY. You have probably heard me talk about our basketball team being the Commonwealth's Team. That's exactly what this university is - it's the Commonwealth's University. We move the needle in the state. Our state - our country - looks to you to lead us into tomorrow.

I often tell our fans that we are trying to become the gold standard of college basketball. It's time we start thinking of that as a university. Let's become not only the premier institution in our state and in our region, let's become one of the best universities in the country. With your help, your bright ideas, your vision and hard work, I believe we can get there together. See Blue, Big Blue Nation, and good luck on another fantastic year at the University of Kentucky. I can't wait to get started.

Go to CoachCal.com or President Capilouto's blog to read the full message and to watch Calipari talk to the freshmen at Big Blue U.

Link: Royalties grow by 40 percent after title

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No matter what, Kentucky fans turn out in droves to buy the latest Wildcat-related gear. UK ranks among the top schools nationally in merchandising royalties annually, but took even another step forward in 2011-12.

Buoyed by men's basketball's eighth national championship, UK's royalties grew by 40 percent, moving the school to No. 3 from No. 7 nationally according to the College Licensing Co. (CLC), a division of IMG Worldwide.

UK earned $6.73 million in the 12 months ended June 30, up from $4.80 million, trailing only Texas and Alabama among schools licensed by CLC. The athletic department manages the licensing program and annually splits income half and half with the university.

Bloomberg Businessweek has the story
, complete with quotes from UK senior associate athletic director for corporate and university relations Jason Schlafer.


The fall semester is nearly upon us and, on Wednesday, the University of Kentucky posted its official 2012-13 recruitment video. Keyla Snowden, a recently graduated women's basketball player, makes a handful of speaking appearances and UK's athletic teams are featured during much of the final minute. Check out the video and See Blue.

As of Aug. 1, prospective students can begin applying to UK. Go to http://go.uky.edu/apply and submit an online application or download a printable PDF application.

Photo: Barnhart at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

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UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro on Sunday. UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro on Sunday.
On Sunday, Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart - along with a team of fellow climbers - reached the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest mountain. Above is a photograph of Barnhart at the summit donning a blue coat and a UK toboggan, which should come as no surprise.

He then completed a descent of the mountain and will now embark on a safari through Tanzania, a tame undertaking in comparison to scaling a mountain nearly 20,000 feet high. Barnhart will return to the United States next week and surely won't have much time to rest with the fall sports season bearing down on us.


Gameday Ready Ethiopia: Saying goodbye

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Megan Moir (top right) and Brooke Keyes (top right) along with six other UK student-athletes returned from a service trip to Ethiopia on Monday. (Photo by Nathan Golden) Megan Moir (top right) and Brooke Keyes (top right) along with six other UK student-athletes returned from a service trip to Ethiopia on Monday. (Photo by Nathan Golden)
This week, eight UK student-athletes, along with members of the athletic department staff, are participating in a service trip to Ethiopia. On the trip are Megan Moir from women's golf, Brooke Keyes and Kayla King from women's soccer, Kayla Hartley from gymnastics, Grace Trimble from women's tennis, Kastine Evans from women's basketball, Emily Holsopple from rifle and Aubrey Lamar from softball. Each athlete was nominated by her respective head coach for this trip.  On these blog posts, you'll find the personal views of the athletes as they share their unique perspectives on their service and learnings in Ethiopia.

July 29, 2012

Brooke Keyes - Soccer


My heart always seems to feel heavy around airports because I hate goodbyes, and all day I knew this was coming. The people we said goodbye to as we walked into the airport were Mark, Alena, Girma, Wario and Kaleab, people I feel like I have known for years. Tears began to fill my eyes... something that has occurred a lot this week.
A large piece of my heart will be left here in Ethiopia. I am so thankful to be a part of this trip and share this experience with seven other wonderful student-athletes, and three incredible adults that made us feel like adults as well as their friends. On this trip, my heart broke into a thousand pieces and then it was repaired to full. I learned so much from this country, but I narrowed it down to my top ten:

10. I need to listen and be still more often.
9. I am so ungrateful.
8. I need to be intentional about getting to know other UK student-athletes.
7. I need to marry a man who is grounded and keeps me grounded.
6. I will adopt one day.
5. The eyes say so much more than the mouth.
4. God is everywhere... we just cease to realize it.
3. Money is so overrated. So is the "American Dream."
2. I never want to settle for living comfortably. I want to be challenged and take risks.
1. The greatest need in the world right now is TIME.

There is no way we are coming back to America the same as when we left. Thank you to all who made this trip possible.

Barnhart, team complete Kilimanjaro climb

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It was an audacious undertaking, but Mitch Barnhart and his fellow climbers reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Kentucky Athletics Director was nearly 20,000 feet above sea level atop Africa's tallest peak. Barnhart's guide - Mark Tucker from RMI Expeditions - checked in with this report from the peak:

Darned if I'm not standing on the top of Africa!  Here on Uhuru Peak with the team. Everybody's looking good.  A little beat up but not so bad; no issues.  We're taking a few shots. It was a cold and windy one. Man, freezing, all layers on. But these guys know how to climb, they demonstrated it. They all did it with great style and impeccable technique. We're looking forward to a safe descent and back to that high camp sooner than later.  All is well, we'll check in again later.

Not long after, Tucker reported that the trek back down the mountain was complete:

Mark Tucker checking in from Tanzania here at our last camp on this trip of Kilimanjaro.  We are all down safe and sound; good spirits and good health.  What a day! Beautiful summit, chilly and windy.  Hopefully you got that message from the top. We pushed our way down to 10,000', so a 9,000' descent. Everybody's feeling it. Ready to go to sleep. A great meal.  Looking forward to getting up pretty early and getting out of here. Have a nice celebration and take care of our fabulous local staff that has been providing us with this great service. I'd love to think we could do it without them but we'd be here for a couple of months. Everybody back home, all your friends and family are in great shape. Everybody did a fantastic job of doing what they could on the mountain. We'll check in after a good night's rest.


Here's a photo from the summit from RMI's blog:

Kili-Summit-Day-Sunrise.jpg

Gameday Ready Ethiopia: Trip nearing end

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Emily Holsopple and seven other UK student-athletes are in Ethiopia this week for a service trip. (Photo by Nathan Golden) Emily Holsopple and seven other UK student-athletes are in Ethiopia this week for a service trip. (Photo by Nathan Golden)
This week, eight UK student-athletes, along with members of the athletic department staff, are participating in a service trip to Ethiopia. On the trip are Megan Moir from women's golf, Brooke Keyes and Kayla King from women's soccer, Kayla Hartley from gymnastics, Grace Trimble from women's tennis, Kastine Evans from women's basketball, Emily Holsopple from rifle and Aubrey Lamar from softball. Each athlete was nominated by her respective head coach for this trip.  On these blog posts, you'll find the personal views of the athletes as they share their unique perspectives on their service and learnings in Ethiopia.

July 27, 2012

Emily Holsopple - Rifle


After getting back into our morning routine of French toast and scrambled eggs, the group set out on our last day of service. We would be spending some time at the Compassion International Drop-In Center, a combination community center/school/church/playground, with kids. We would spend the rest of the day exploring new restaurants and shopping locations.

Upon arriving at the facility we were greeted by some of the women who helped run the place. They all welcomed us with their warm hearts and gave us big hugs. As soon as I finished greeting the last woman, I could hear a faint chanting in the distance. The girls and I hurried down the long dark hallways following the noise. Once we got to the basement we found the room it was coming from and entered to see over a hundred children all jumping up and down and singing. The energy in that room was so overwhelming and powerful. The children had such huge smiles and all wanted to shake our hands as if we were celebrities. We made our way around greeting the kids and giving hugs until their teacher and our leaders entered the room. Their teacher explained to us that one of their football (soccer) teams had just won their respected scholastic league and asked if we would help in handing out the awards. I felt honored as we shook the hand of each player after they received their medal. That was my first time on the other side of the hand shake and even though I had never seen these kids before or knew what they won, I still felt proud of each one of them. Then, when the team's coach was called up the whole place went crazy! It was as if he was receiving an Olympic medal; the respect and admiration the kids had for him echoed throughout the whole room. A gold cup trophy was then given to the team and the captain kissed it and held it up as if they had won the World Cup.

To celebrate with the soccer team we went outside and brought out the supplies to play soccer, tennis and basketball. Even though it was raining we still managed to get in plenty of games. While trying to help Grace organize a game of tennis I was met by one of the first girls I greeted in the classroom, Trigras. When I first sat down next to her she was very shy and tried to hide from me. Even though she didn't speak a word of English and seemed scared of me, I still tried everything to make her open up. I thought I had failed at this until I was on our "tennis court" and felt a tugging on my hand. When I looked down and saw Trigras' smiling face I knew my effort had been well worth it. She guided me to a group of her friends that seemed to be uninterested in the sports going on. Instead, they wanted to play hand games similar to American "Miss Mary Mack." It took a while but I was able to learn some of their games, it wasn't until they added their feet into the mix that I got lost. Because they took the time to teach me their games I felt obligated to teach them games. Since it had been a long time since I had played any games of the sort, I racked my brain and came up with my own clapping game. By that time we had drawn a crowd of more than ten girls and they all lined up eagerly waiting to learn this new game. I could have played with them all day, but it was time to participate in an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

Ethiopia is the home of coffee and its coffee ceremony is a significant part of Ethiopians' heritage. Just to be invited to a traditional ceremony is in itself an honor. The ceremony is always performed by a woman, usually the youngest woman in the family. It always starts with the popping of popcorn over an open heat source. The popcorn is then served to the guests while the coffee is roasted, ground and served. Our hosts for the coffee ceremony were very welcoming to us and wanted to share in the preparing of the coffee. Each of us took turns stirring the beans while they roasted over the coals, and then helped in the grinding of the beans. After the grinds were prepared, the woman leading the ceremony finished preparing the coffee and served it to each one us in a little three-ounce coffee cup. The coffee was extremely rich and most certainly the strongest I have ever tasted. We slowly sipped our coffee, said our "thank yous" and made our way back to the bus for a trip to do some souvenir shopping.

Our shopping trip didn't turn out to be what I had expected. For starters, there were no stores like we have here in the States. The shopping center was simply little shacks lined up side by side along the road. The shopping area was large and a little rough so we had to divide up into smaller groups before setting out to find gifts. Each shop was maybe a 10 by 20 foot space filled floor to ceiling with different knick-knacks and trinkets. Every shop had the same things for the most part so it was just a matter of finding a shop with the best price for what you wanted.  Finding a good price took some work though since prices were determined through bartering. With some help from our leaders and Ethiopian friends we were able to negotiate with the store owners and get some good deals.  After a few hours everyone filled their gift lists with paints, scarves, key chains, figurines, blankets and other unique Ethiopian charms.

It's weird to think that our time here in Africa is almost over. In some ways, it feels like we just got here yesterday and in others it seems like we have been here for months. This week has been jam-packed full of learning for me. I got to learn about the culture and people here, the people I came with and about myself. In my twenty short years on earth, I have been blessed enough to do a lot of traveling and see some many different places, but I can't compare the experience Ethiopia has given me to any other trip. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve here and the knowledge it has brought me. I feel as though I can't say thank you enough to all the people who made this trip what it has been. My only hope is that I can carry with me all of the things I learned this week, share them with the people back home and use them to make myself a better person.

Gameday Ready Ethiopia: Giving and receiving

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Eight UK student-athletes continued their service trip in Ethiopia on Friday. (Photo by Nathan Golden) Eight UK student-athletes continued their service trip in Ethiopia on Friday. (Photo by Nathan Golden)
This week, eight UK student-athletes, along with members of the athletic department staff, are participating in a service trip to Ethiopia. On the trip are Megan Moir from women's golf, Brooke Keyes and Kayla King from women's soccer, Kayla Hartley from gymnastics, Grace Trimble from women's tennis, Kastine Evans from women's basketball, Emily Holsopple from rifle and Aubrey Lamar from softball. Each athlete was nominated by her respective head coach for this trip.  On these blog posts, you'll find the personal views of the athletes as they share their unique perspectives on their service and learnings in Ethiopia.

July 27, 2012

Aubrey Lamar - Softball


Today we did not use our hands as much as we used our hearts. After breakfast at the hotel in Adama, we traveled to the women-only maternity house in Ethiopia. Once we got there, the two women who run the facility told us about the program and the different opportunities offered to the women living there. The facility provides rooms for 12 pregnant women to stay for about a year. During the 12 months, the women are taught a skill in order to support themselves and their baby in the near future. The women will start working using what they learned while they are there. Half the money each woman makes goes into a personal savings account that will allow the women to have a financial starting point once they leave the maternity house and the other half goes to help the facility.  This maternity house is an amazing place. There's a beautiful garden inside the main gate that includes many varieties of native plants as well as food for those living at the house, like the seven-foot tall stalks of corn. There are so many women in Ethiopia that could benefit from this great maternity house.

This week, I have been struggling with being overwhelmed with the number of people who are in need of food, shelter, or most importantly and something that doesn't cost a dime (or a birr)...love. I have been reminded this week that one person cannot save a country; it takes many people with a common goal. However, I can make a small impact on the few people I come in contact with during this trip. I am so thankful that Ethiopia at least has one maternity house and can make a small impact on the lives of women.

Next, we hopped back on the bus to visit an orphanage/widows home. Jason, our group leader was very excited to visit the facility because Joker Philips and some of the football players who came with him for previous trips planted beautiful plants right in front of the facility. They must have done a wonderful job, because the facility was absolutely gorgeous. The plants they had planted just last May had now grown and filled the space completely. The building is square with the rooms on the outsides while the center is a courtyard with a sky roof. I loved the sky roof because I could feel God's presence shining down on them once you walk in the door. While we were there, we played with the young children in the nursery and learned the stories of the widows. At first, the children were very shy and some cried, however once we showed them that we were there to play; we all started having a great time. The children are very well taken care of at this facility and most of them are adopted through the help of the facility. After playing with the children, I went and sat down with Vickie Bell, Brooke, and Megan to spend some time with the amazing widows who live there. A particular woman shared her heart with us. More than half of her conversation was her saying God bless us and that she will be praying for us. She knows we have much more than her back in the United States, yet she wants us to be blessed. I have met some of the most incredible people with the biggest hearts here in Ethiopia. The people have basically nothing, yet they want others to be blessed before themselves.

After we left the home, we made our long journey back to Addis Ababa. The traffic was bad and made the trip much longer. We have a great driver, although he makes my heart stop many times as he swerves in and out of lanes across rough dirt roads full of muddy deep holes. The only way I can describe the motor transportation here is that drivers use their horn instead of the brakes. There is no way this system would work in America. Once we got close to Addis Ababa, we stopped at a market where people with leprosy make beautiful crafts and sell them. I was in complete shock to see the men and women working on these absolute gorgeous blankets, and other cloth items. Everything made by hand using cotton and stitching the designs using thread. So much time and talent are put into each craft made by the people working there.

Dinner was exciting; the team went to a traditional restaurant that included dancing and music. Personally, I am not a big dancer, but I loved watching some of our team try the interesting style of dance. The native dance included a lot of fast shoulder movements and quick foot stepping. Some of the team then taught the wobble to the some of the local dancers. It was a night that everyone was able to enjoy local culture and talking with each other.

This trip has been a wonderful opportunity for all of us student-athletes. Thank you to everyone who made it possible.

This week, eight UK student-athletes, along with members of the athletic department staff, are participating in a service trip to Ethiopia. On the trip are Megan Moir from women's golf, Brooke Keyes and Kayla King from women's soccer, Kayla Hartley from gymnastics, Grace Trimble from women's tennis, Kastine Evans from women's basketball, Emily Holsopple from rifle and Aubrey Lamar from softball. Each athlete was nominated by her respective head coach for this trip.  On these blog posts, you'll find the personal views of the athletes as they share their unique perspectives on their service and learnings in Ethiopia.

July 26, 2012

Grace Trimble - Women's Tennis


As I sit down to write this blog, I realize that nothing I write will be able to accurately express how I have been challenged physically, stretched emotionally and forever changed by the people of Ethiopia. It is difficult to show how the poverty and disparity of personal situations are overshadowed by the gratitude and pure love Ethiopians so readily give. However, in my best effort to share a glimpse into our trip for a day, I hope one can see that I have not changed the lives of Ethiopians, but they have forever changed me.   

Our day began with us waking up in Debre Zeit and walking to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. It's been interesting to see the pace of the service at restaurants. It isn't uncommon for a meal to take 90 minutes or more. We've used that time to really get to know one another and our hosts. After breakfast, we all piled onto the bus and made our way to a countryside village called T'ede. In this village, we met a community leader named Zeharun who introduced us to the widows and orphans he serves on a daily basis. Aubrey brought along toys and we also brought soccer balls to brighten the day of each of the children. We were also able to bring the widows a gift of coffee and sugar. I met an orphan named Hanna and all she seemed to long for was for me to love her. She walked up to me like we knew each other, grabbed my hand and stole my heart. I only held her hand and hugged her for 15 minutes, little does she know I will always remember her smile.

After we ate lunch at a local restaurant, we made our way to the remote village of Modjo. This village of mud-thatched huts was set facing mountains. They had a large grass and mud field fenced in by thorny branches to keep the animals out. The children and even some of the adults jumped right in as we played soccer, volleyball and learned a few new tricks with a basketball. As I stood back and looked at the surroundings, what continues to inspire me is the hope and joy that I see in the midst of all the poverty.

Today I was in my comfort zone; I was competing. And so were the Ethiopians. It's amazing to see the different ways our lives can come together, through sport, through religion and sometimes just plain hard work. They have shown me their unwavering joy through poverty, sickness and situations out of their own control. When I land in Lexington, I will be a changed person because of the people of Ethiopia. I will look at the world around me and all of my blessings through a different lens. Thank you to everyone who made it possible for me to go on this trip. I will carry with me the experiences and the people who have changed me forever.   

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