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Still Running (Part Two): Samuel Pyle's chronicled journey to find home

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By Elliott Pratt

To read part one of this feature story, click the link: oldhamera.com/content/still-running-samuel-pyles-chronicled-journey-find-home

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There was an intercountry adoption ban on Sierra Leone in place as of May 2009 by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs because of concerns against the legality of the adoption and welfare of the children adopted. 

By now, Samuel lived at The Covering, the new orphanage that Lori went to help support on her first trip to the country, because he was eventually kicked out of the last orphanage.

Bethany and Drake were still at the first orphanage because they wouldn’t be released. It took many requests and a lot of convincing to allow them to move over.

It took their mother and older sister to make it happen. Not Lori and McKenna, their biological mother Matilda and older sister Olive.

Yes, Samuel, Bethany and Drake’s biological mother was still in the picture. Matilda is very ill and lives near the orphanage.

When Lori first met her, Matilda was skin and bone and disease ridden. Matilda trusted “the white people” to take care of her children because she knew she could not. 

“Some kids, their parents do not allow them to be adopted to the United States and they want them to stay at the orphanage,” Samuel said. “I asked her, ‘Why do you allow us to go back with another family and to be adopted and change our name and everything?’ She told me she loved us. She doesn’t want us to suffer the way she did. She said if there was anything she could do to give us a good life, she would do it. She knows what was right. She was crying and I was crying too. I knew she made the right choice.”

The adoption suspension was lifted in April 2012. Bethany and Drake interviewed and were given a Visa to come to America. Samuel’s took longer because of his age. Background checks and required police reports had to prove Samuel had no criminal history.

All this had to be done before Samuel turned 17 in October. Once his Visa was awarded, it was time to go home.

“I was shouting so loudly and the entire compound, all the kids at the orphanage were behind me and knocking on drums, beating and dancing because they were all happy for me,” Samuel said.

The cost for the children’s tickets to the United States was nearly $10,000. Between multiple trips from Louisville to Sierra Leone, time and funds were running out, patience running thinner.

It took many fundraisers and raffles, support and prayers — and a bit more patience — to raise enough money to bring them home. 

“When we were having so much trouble getting them home people said it was just not meant to be,” Lori said. “Two to three years we tried. I would say it’s just like our other three and someone taking them in an orphanage somewhere. What would you do if your biological children were in another orphanage? You would fight to the death to get them.”

 

Learning All Over Again

 

Don’t touch the stove because it’s hot. No, you don’t just hop on the back of a motorcycle to go to school. All the poda podas are downtown, not out here in Goshen. 

“You have a machine that washes your clothes and then they dry them?!”

These are all things the Pyles would quickly realize were going to be questions and areas of confusion for the three newest additions to the family.

Even with shoes. In Sierra Leone, the children wore sandals on occasion, but mostly ran barefoot. Samuel had never worn a closed toe shoe until Lori sent them in a package while she sponsored him at the orphanage.

“We bought them soccer shoes and they were outside playing barefoot,” Francis said. “I’m like, we bought you new shoes. They’d say, ‘I don’t like them so much. They hurt my feet. I can’t feel the ball.’”

Samuel believes he runs faster barefooted anyway.

“I know we’re supposed to wear them, but sometimes I remove it on the track and run like that,” Samuel said. “I run faster than anybody.”

Samuel began playing sports when he attended Oldham County High School his first year in the English Language Learners program to better his English. He joined the soccer team in the fall and once coaches saw how fast he was on the field, they asked him to run track.

Samuel didn’t know what to think of the first running shoes that Oldham County coach Brian Crumbo gave him. He looked at the spikes on the bottom and asked, “you’re going to run in those?”

“The first few practices we were really figuring out how much he understood what we were telling him and things like that,” Crumbo said. “His running form was a mess back then. He was very much a scooter and we think he had gotten that from the way he used to run on dirt and a different surface. He was just used to scooting around like that. He’s a smart kid and he picked things up really well. It didn’t take him long to pick up what we were trying to teach him. He’s come a really long way.”

Samuel and Bethany spent one year at Oldham County before transferring to North Oldham, where the family lived just a few miles from campus.

Samuel still has friends at Oldham County and said he supports them any time they aren’t playing North Oldham. He made quite a mark in his one year with the Colonels.

When he first started, he had to learn how to stay in his lane and not cut anyone off. He had to learn, and is still learning, how to properly use the blocks and when the gun goes off, it means go. He helped Oldham County reach nationals in North Carolina where they broke the school record in the 4x400 relay, a record that stood previously for 20 years.

The social transition has been the hardest. He’s still learning about the people around him just like they’re learning about him. He doesn’t always understand sarcasm or that you don’t get to quit when you’re tired in practice. Coaches have said at times it seemed they would have to take a spatula to get Sam off the ground when he was too tired to keep going.

“He’s much like a cheetah in that sense,” North coach David St. Louis said. “He goes extremely hard and then needs time to recover. He can recover well, but he needs time to recover when he goes extremely hard.”

The days of running are winding down. As a 19-year-old junior, Samuel will not be eligible to play sports during his senior year as mandated in the bylaws of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

The school appealed the ruling, but no matter the circumstance, there’s an inherent advantage to having a 20-year-old running against teenagers.

Samuel will officially stop running, but it’s not what matters to him.

“If I play soccer for two years and run, it was a privilege,” Samuel said. “It’s time for me now in my senior year to get good grades and go to college. When people start saying they don’t like school over here, I’m like, ‘You have the privilege that it’s free. You have parents that come pick you up and take you to school. Sometimes you go to school and you work and make money. It’s not like that where I came from.’”

 

Embracing the Unknown

 

It’s been two years since Samuel left Africa, and he still gets questions about it today.

Do people wear pants? Do lions come in the village? Do you speak the African language?

It’s these times when he wants to be a normal teenager, but he stands out.

His favorite class is geometry mainly because it deals with numbers and there’s not as much reading involved. He doesn’t say much because he’s still learning, still adapting. Until now, he hasn’t shared his story to the full extent, and even so, he probably doesn’t want you to know everything.

He won’t change clothes with the track team because his bare back will reveal the scars remaining from lashes of cables, whips and canes from the orphanage.

He’s still not entirely comfortable with it because it unveils a harsh reality to others and brings him back to a time he wants to run from.

So he presses forward while still learning, still adapting. 

He hoped when he changed schools that people wouldn’t know about him and hoped he could blend in, but he’s embracing the idea that he was made for so much more. 

In his own way, he’s still running.

“I do not know why me. I just want to be a normal person and my mom says, ‘I don’t think that’s going to happen,’” Samuel said. “I don’t want them to think about that too much. I want us to be just like the same person. But now it’s okay because I know it’s going to continue and it’s going to be like that.

“And I love it.”