Each year the University of Kentucky coordinates a mission trip to send three football players to Ethiopia. Year after year, players return with a new perspective on life. Landon Young, Calvin Taylor Jr. and Boogie Watson are no exceptions.
Each shared their stories from the week-long experience, which included an extensive stay at the village of Korah. The name translates to “Village of the Forgotten.”
“It is surrounding a trash dump in Ethiopia,” said Watson. “Basically, everyone in that area lives off of the trash dump. The food, their houses, everything they get comes from the trash dump mainly. They said when the airport drops off their trash that’s like a five-star meal for them because the airport has the best food.”
It was just one of the many eye-opening experiences for Boogie in his first trip outside of the United States.
“Growing up, I’ve complained to my parents that I don’t want McDonalds, I want this. Stuff like that. Seeing them have to do that makes it very hard to complain about a meal or anything ever again.”
While working with the Ordinary Hero program, the UK football players helped feed 300 kids atop Tonto Mountain. Even though the bread and rice may be their only meal of the week, Young was struck by their unselfishness.
“That was just amazing seeing all those kids and just how well behaved they were, how disciplined they were, how selfless they were. We went up there and fed them all and ended up with getting to where there were three left at the end that didn’t get food and we gave them some snacks to make sure they got food as well,” said Young.
“The process of being able to give an actual hungry kid food was just something that will never leave my mind. Just seeing their face light up, seeing how grateful they were just to get a meal. You saw at the beginning when we fed them that there were a couple of kids that would even pour all of their food onto one plate and share from the same plate because of the different serving sizes that they had. Just to see kids that literally have nothing, that this may be one of their only meals for the week, and most definitely one of their only hot meals for the week, just be so selfless to pour all their food and eat together as a community, that was amazing.”
The three made memories they won’t soon forget. Calvin Taylor made a bracelet to constantly remind him not to take anything for granted.
“There’s no reason to make an excuse to do anything. You can do anything,” Taylor said. “If those people can do anything with very limited resources and I have an abundance of resources just at my fingertips that I can use, then there’s no excuse in life for me. Honestly, it gives you the sense that you can do more. That’s what the main takeaway for me. I can’t make any excuses.”
From afar, the transition back to life as a UK student-athlete might seem difficult. The players actually returned more hungry than ever before.
“They also built a makeshift weight room over there which I thought was really powerful, so I honestly couldn’t wait to get back and start working out with a newfound perspective,” said Taylor. “It’s a new kind of drive to work out and just go a little harder, give a little extra, so it kind of made the transition a little easier.”
“Seeing that makes you work that much harder,” said Boogie. “I can’t imagine giving one of them the opportunity that we have to go work out every day and have the opportunity to go to school and get a degree for free. I’m just trying to put myself in their shoes. The opportunity that we’re blessed with just drives me that much harder to go work out and go try and be great.”
As much as the trip pulled at their heartstrings, there was still plenty of time for fun. One day they each got to go on a camel ride. The camel wished UK would have sent defensive backs instead of linemen.
“There are not 300-pounders in Ethiopia. That camel had never seen what was coming at it,” Landon laughed. “It was hurting. It was very sore. You can ask [Boogie and Calvin], it tried to get up with me a couple of times before it finally did it. It was growling.”
To be clear, Boogie said, “it was foaming at the mouth” when it tried to lift Landon.
Of all the anecdotes, nothing warmed my heart more than their day in the city with a few pals. Each player had their own little buddy on the excursion. Despite the language barrier, the players could feel the children’s joy as they sat in a movie theater for the first time.
“We don’t speak Amharic at all and maybe learned 10 words apiece, but they couldn’t understand anything we said. Just us taking them out of the city, they’ve never left their village. We took them to a movie and we saw Avengers: Endgame, which that’s a pretty cool movie for someone to see as their first movie. It was so powerful just to see,” said Taylor.
I can’t even imagine the shock and awe on their faces. The only downside: If your first movie theater experience is watching Endgame, it’s all downhill from there.