York College student athlete changing lives through lacrosse, one girl at a time
Her blue Mizuno running sneakers had seen better days. The year they’d been worn showed in the tread, but that didn’t seem to matter.
When Abby Smith pulled them out of her bag and handed them to the young Kenyan girl, her face lit up.
Worn, hand-me-down shoes are better than no shoes at all.
Love of the sport
Lacrosse has been a part of Abby’s life as long as she can remember. It’s her love, her passion, the driving force in her life. It’s what led her to choose York College of Pennsylvania.
“Once I got on campus I just fell in love with the program, coach, and the college,” she says.
Her team is her family. They have her back, and she has theirs.
This summer, she got the chance to extend that family.
‘They were so appreciative’
For three weeks, Abby was one of several lacrosse coaches who led lacrosse camps throughout Kenya, including two evening clinics in a slum outside of Nairobi and a weekend-long national team training camp in Mumias. More than 80 athletes participated in the weekend camp and 20 players were selected to attend a week-long camp later-on. It was all to help promote the sport and lead the women’s national team to the World Cup.
They brought with them a deep knowledge of lacrosse — and equipment. Lots and lots of equipment.
Sports bras, shoes, lacrosse sticks, toothbrushes. Abby and the coaches brought as much as they could for the Kenyan lacrosse team.
Each day of camp, the girls got a new t-shirt. They were leftovers from lacrosse tournaments in the U.S., a generous donation from Abby’s friend and former coach, Krystin Porcella, who runs Top of the Bay Lacrosse.
“They were so appreciative,” Abby says.
Girls showed up to the camp without lacrosse balls, without shoes, without water. Many had to work extra hours to get enough money to afford bus fares to get to the training camps.
A life-changing experience
But when they played the sport, all of that faded away.
“They didn’t care what equipment they had or what hardship they faced,” Abby says. “That didn’t matter when they stepped on the field.”
They inspired Abby.
Sports had always been a part of her life, but she hadn’t realized what a privilege that was.
She started the trip with two pairs of sneakers. But by the end, she’d given both away to girls on the Kenyan team. They’d become part of her lacrosse family, and they needed them more than she did.
Continuing the cause
Leaving her new family was heartbreaking. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house during the farewell church service at the end of camp.
The experience changed Abby.
“I just have such a fire and I’m so inspired,” she says.
She’s made it her mission to help others experience the joy of sport. She’s leading fundraising efforts for Kenya Lacrosse here in America. And she’s working to start a nonprofit to help children in areas of the world without organized sports or sport equipment.
She’s using all her connections in her senior year at York College to get advice and support to achieve her goals.
“The college has been so great, giving me knowledge and advice and mentorship and helping to empower me to accomplish whatever my dreams are,” she says.
On a mission
Abby plans to go back to Kenya in June, after, she says, her York College team wins the national championship and she graduates.
She hopes to see the Kenyan national team through to the World Cup and give women’s lacrosse a chance to be included in the Olympics.
Lacrosse has given Abby so many opportunities. Now, she says, it’s her mission to share those opportunities with the world.