Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Virginia coach Joanne Boyle -- officially a mom

Too often press conferences and interviews turn into cliche song-and-dances that offer almost nothing we didn't already know, let alone anything personal. But what I've always loved about talking to people and sharing their stories is sitting down for a genuine conversation with someone who isn't shy about allowing you to peek behind the curtain.

I had never met Virginia coach Joanne Boyle before I went to Charlottesville to talk with her about the excruciatingly long wait to realize a dream she first had as a 17-year-old: adopting a child from Africa. You can read the story I wrote for ESPN here, but I can tell you firsthand that I have never seen someone radiate with happiness as Boyle did when she spoke of being mom to nearly 3-year-old Ngoty.

"When I went to visit her the first time, I said, 'This is my life now. Now how do I get her out of here?' " Boyle said.

Boyle showed me pictures and told me stories about the remote village in Senegal that she visited any time she could spare four days off in a row. Many of the photos showed dismal, drab surroundings, particularly of the orphanage where Ngoty spent most of her first three years. The walls had no colorful pictures. There were no toys or electronic devices, and often no electricity, though the orphanage has it intermittently now because of Boyle's generosity. The twin beds looked dilapidated; the mattresses so flimsy. It was hard to envision anyone sleeping on them, let alone four to five to a bed sideways.  The bathroom was a hole in the ground; the shower was a bucket. The outdoors pictures showed a village where underfed animals roamed in a heat so imposing Boyle said it was like breathing in a heater.

But more of the pictures were of smiles -- giving workers in the orphanage, generous locals who treated the children as their own, and gleeful children, laughing, dancing children, including Ngoty herself. As Boyle explains it, the children have each other, and their friendships form without easily.

"The kids make up their own games," Boyle said. "They figure out how to play with each other. Everything is interactive -- the songs the girls sing, hide-and-seek. They communicate through their play. I try not to give Ngoty my Ipad too much because I want her to retain that."

Boyle painted a picture of Christmas morning for me -- which was two days after she and Ngoty arrived in the United States. Mom and daughter came downstairs slowly, Ngoty quickly spotting the Mickey Mouse chair for her. In fact, everything became hers -- even the gifts Boyle had wrapped for her mother, Joan.

"She delighted in unwrapping everything as any 2-year-old would," Boyle said.

Boyle has dozens of Christmas mornings to look forward to now -- along with birthday parties, field trips, coloring affixed to the fridge -- all the magic of parenthood made even more special given how long she waited to officially become Ngoty's mom. You wonder how she will juggle all that with being head coach of Virginia, but you know after talking to Boyle that this is a woman, who, when determined, will make it work no matter the hardship, or in this case, no matter the lack of sleep.

"Just as working moms do, I will manage," she promises.

As moms, we all anticipate the precious times, but too often, they become so easy to forget as we grow older and become exasperated given all the havoc both toddlers and teenagers can bring. While all of it doesn't promise to be roses for Boyle, I have the sense that she will savor every day with Ngoty. There will be memories, of course, but there will also be moments. I don't imagine Boyle overlooking any of them.

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