Molly and Steve Seidl can still vividly recall the first time they saw their two adopted boys, Sawyer and Simon. The couple already had four biological children from ages 13 to 20, but Molly always had a burning desire to adopt a child from another country.
After unsuccessful attempts in Ethiopia and Ghana, the Seidls went to an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009. Shortly after their arrival, they saw two boys that grabbed their attention immediately. Sawyer, age 5, came in carrying a soccer ball. Simon, 3, was dancing to bongo music.
“I went to that country thinking if I [adopt] any at all, it would be one,” recalled Molly, a manager for a dental office. “I [asked] the priest, ‘Which one do I pick?’ He said they were biological brothers, you shouldn’t separate them. That’s when I knew I was adopting two.”
It took about a year before the adoption was finalized. The couple brought their new sons to the family’s home in Stillwater, Minnesota. The biggest challenge was keeping up with the high energy level of two small boys. That’s when they decided sports would be a great way to channel that energy. Steve, who played hockey in high school, believed that was the perfect sport for both boys. He could tell they had excellent athleticism even at their early ages, with the potential to learn skating and other hockey techniques quickly.
With the help of a couple of friends, including a former University of Minnesota hockey player, Steve purchased equipment for the boys, and set up a net in the driveway. They explained how to use a stick and the basics of shooting before enrolling them in youth hockey in nearby Mahtomedi.
“They were very fast, quick, even as [malnourished] kids,” recalled Steve, a construction worker. “They had the quick reflexes. Even the way they shot, they figured it out right away with a hockey stick. They were able to rifle some shots off pretty quickly.”
The boys, now 15 and 13, started out in Mahtomedi Youth Hockey’s 6U program, and have worked their way into 14U AA. Sawyer recalled his initial reaction of being on the ice for the first time.
“It felt strange,” said Sawyer, a forward. “It was weird to feel like [you were] slipping each time you took a step. As it went along, I got more comfortable with skating, which made it easier.”
Besides providing an outlet for their active lifestyles, hockey has given the boys confidence and other qualities that have helped them in school and social circles. They’ve even participated in tournaments around the country and overseas, where Simon has won numerous Most Valuable Player awards.
“[We’ve been to] California, Tennessee, Russia and Canada,” said Simon, also a forward. “Once I got pretty good at [hockey], the friends I’m making has been the best part.”
The MHA supports USA Hockey’s American Development Model, something Steve also embraces.
“They get more touches, more 1-on-1, and a coach is at each station,” he said. “It seems to work for them. I didn’t have it when I was a kid. These guys develop very quickly.”
USA Hockey’s continues to promote diversity and inclusion in the sport at all levels, removing labels and barriers to allow everyone an opportunity to play. While Sawyer and Simon have experienced some negative reactions and stares from opposing players and fans, Steve says the Mahtomedi program has been extremely supportive.
“They’ve been fantastic at every level,” he said. “[The boys] have been fortunate to have a lot of great coaches, guys that live and breathe hockey. Most of them just see a hockey player.”
The boys are driven to excel, and hope to continue playing hockey or another sport at the highest possible level.
“I definitely want to play a sport to make my life easier to go to college or further,” Sawyer explained. “The competition is fun. It’s become a way of life. You’re doing something that you love, so it doesn’t seem like work anymore.”
Thanks to hockey, Sawyer and Simon have each developed as players and young leaders. Their parents regularly receive feedback from principals and teachers complimenting the boys and their eagerness to help others. Simon sums up the sport’s long-term impact in a simple yet powerful mantra: “Hockey is life.”
Their story is certainly an inspiration for others wishing to follow a similar path.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.