May 30, 2014
Written by Devin Ste. Marie
Gopher Student Development Intern and U of M Swimmer
On Monday, May 19, the M.A.G.I.C. bus (Maroon and Gold Impacting the Community) and 10 Gopher student-athletes embarked on their second-annual Gopher Global trip. This time the Gophers traveled to Eagle Butte, S.D., the tribal headquarters of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
The purpose of the trip was to build ramps and stairs for homes on the reservation, as well as speak to elementary schools about college and education. The goal of Gopher Global is to reach out to communities and to benefit them, leaving them in a better position than before. This group of Gopher athletes were determined to have a positive impact on the community of Eagle Butte.
When the Gophers arrived in South Dakota, they met with Cody Hall, a resident of Eagle Butte. Hall helped bring Gopher Global to Eagle and said he wanted to "bring a message of hope for the kids to hear that they can achieve their dreams academically and athletically past their high school years."
Once they met with Hall, the group departed for the reservation ready to put in a full day's work. After a brief tour of the area, the Gophers helped build stairs and ramps for mobile homes. Many of the Gopher student-athletes had never been to a reservation like Eagle Butte and it was interesting to see how large it was and the various standards of living.
"I realized how fortunate I am to have a good education, food, family and friends, and a roof over my head," Gopher swimmer Becca Weiland said. "This experience gave me a new perspective on life and it served as a great learning experience."
The student-athletes also had a chance to visit Cheyenne Eagle Butte School, where they spoke to elementary students about college, the importance of education, and shared experiences with them. Gopher Global committee leader and women's soccer student-athlete MacKenzie Misel reflected on her experience with the students on the trip and what it meant to her.
"This was a great experience for us all that allowed us to expose ourselves in an unfamiliar area," Misel said. "My favorite moments were asking the students what they wanted to be when they grow up and getting to see them smile during our visit. Many of the students have never left the reservation and do not know about college and other opportunities, so the Gophers were able to interact with the children one on one and share their experiences and stories."
Men's swimmer, Ian Gordon, felt that interacting with the children at their school was a great way for them to socialize and open up to some of the Gophers.
"The kids were able to play games and learn how to lead healthy lives," Gordon said. "It was surprising to see some of the conditions the kids came from, but I felt that we were able to provide some distraction and give positivity to the kids who deal with difficulties."
Hall said the impact left in Eagle Butte will not be forgotten and hopes to continue this in the future.
"The kids went home and talked about meeting real college athletes to their parents and the importance of eating healthy, being a good student and playing hard," Hall said. The student-athletes planted a seed within some of these kids for a brighter future. In fact, one of the kids in my lacrosse program talked about becoming a better student and player so he to can play in college. The impact left behind by these student-athletes will forever be remembered by these kids, in fact changed some kids' direction in life so that they can become someone successful as they grow up."
The trip to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation had a great impact not just on the children and people there, but also on the Gopher student-athletes. It served as an eye opening experience that will hopefully continue to inspire this group to give back and impact the lives of others. Misel spoke for all of the student-athletes involved in Gopher Global when she reflects on the trip and the valuable experience.
"Our goal from working with the students was to show them the importance of college and to demonstrate that they can chase their dreams just like we did," Misel said. "Gopher Global hopes to return to Eagle Butte in the next few years to see the ramps they built and to further spread positivity and hope throughout the community."
In closing, Hall added this about the Gopher Global experience: "Thank you for taking time to give back to our community and for giving our kids hope. Everyone who is a part of the team at Gopher Global, your hearts are in the right place and you will become leaders both in sports and in society. Wopila (thank you) to each and everyone of you!"
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