By Jennifer Smith |
It had been 16 months since Landon Foster had said a sad goodbye to his Ethiopian friend Dejene.
Kentucky’s punter had kept in touch via social media, financially supporting his homeless, impoverished friend for a while and sending him regular messages to keep his spirits up.
They’d kept in touch as Dejene was adopted by a family in Charlotte, N.C., and began his new life — including a new name, Josh Shropshire — there in December.
Thanks to social media, Foster had kept up with the ins and outs of Josh’s daily life since coming to the United States. He knew about school and soccer and friends.
Despite feeling like they had just talked the day before (they actually had via Facebook), Foster wasn’t prepared for his reaction to embracing Josh again for the first time in more than a year.
“It was emotional just seeing him, seeing how well he’s been doing,” Foster recalled Tuesday of their moving reunion. “For the first five minutes, it was just super emotional.”
There were some complications to Foster getting to spend time with Josh and his family this past weekend, including the fact that Josh plays soccer for his high school team and is of an age, 15, where he can be recruited.
So Josh and his family visited UK last weekend to cheer on Kentucky and Foster, whom Josh called “like a big brother to me,” via what the NCAA terms an unofficial visit.
That meant that Josh couldn’t be introduced on the field and there couldn’t be any special UK treatment for the soccer player.
The Shropshire family, Todd, Patty, Josh and siblings JD, 14, Ben, 12 and 8-year-old Kaya, met up with Foster’s parents, Cliff and Tina, on Friday and went to the Kentucky soccer game. They got a facilities tour and had dinner together.
Then arrangements were made for Foster, who was with his team the night before the game at the Hilton, to spend some time with Josh in the lobby.
After a team movie, a snack and a meeting, Foster went to meet Josh and his new family.
“I gave him the biggest hug,” Foster recalled. “We probably hugged for … I don’t know. It felt like forever. Our eyes started watering and it was super emotional seeing him for the first time in 16 months.”
Late that night, Tina Foster, called it one of the most incredible days of her life.
Josh, whom she also had been communicating with as he was trying to survive on the streets in Ethiopia, was exactly what she knew he would be.
“The beautiful boy with an enormous heart,” she messaged. “Quiet. Brilliant. Insightful, sweet, a bit shy.”
He got less shy on Saturday as the Shropshires cheered at the Cat Walk before the game, then joined 62,000 or so other UK fans to cheer on Kentucky in the season and stadium opener versus Louisiana-Lafayette.
After the game, Foster met up with them again and showed Josh around the UK locker room. The Shropshire parents went back to the hotel with their younger daughter and the Fosters took the three boys for a post-game meal at Tolly-Ho.
“I had to give him the whole experience,” Landon Foster said laughing.
The next day, Foster took the Shropshire family on a tour of the football training center and practice fields, showing the youngest brother how to kick a field goal.
“It was fun,” Foster said. “It was a good time. We were joking around, playing around for three or four hours on Sunday.”
Seeing his friend, whom he had left in abject poverty with no family and no resources, surrounded by so much love, had Foster beaming.
“It was awesome being able to see him so happy and enthusiastic being here in the United States,” he said. “He has an amazing family, great people who are really supportive of him.”
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