Originally written on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 10/29/14
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The reunion caught us both offguard. It happened during the opening session of SEC Media Days.For those who dont know, Media Days are the college football equivalent ofspeed dating. Three players and the head coach from each team are shepherdedthrough a gauntlet of television, radio and print reporters where questions andanswers fly with lightning speed. I was sitting at a table typing quotes and ruminating overwhat my next column would be when an official from the SEC walked in with ahandsome-student athlete. This is Ryan Swope, the official said. He is a seniorwide receiver for Texas A&M. The name hit me and Ileapt to my feet, looking into the face of a man I recognized even though Ihadnt seen him since he was a boy. Ryan Swope! I shouted. The last time I saw you, we werethrowing a football together in a parking lot in Kunming, China. You werepicking up your sister and we were getting our daughter. His eyes widened with recognition and a broad smile sweptacross his face. Yeah, he said, Wow, how have you been? What a smallworld. Everyone else in the room looked at us like we were speakingin tongues. Said former Kentucky quarterback and FOX Sports South collegefootball analyst Tim Couch, That has to be the introduction of the week.James Bates, theformer Florida Gator linebacker and another FOX Sports South analyst, asked,Ryan, what is the proper footwear for tossing a pigskin in Kunming,China? The rest of the interview went on without incident. OnlyRyan and I understood the bond that we shared, one that continued to connect us10 years later. The Swope family, along my wife, Debbie, and I are among thethousands of Americans who travel halfway around the world to adopt daughtersfrom Chinese orphanages. Through that experience, we share a kinship that keepsus connected even when we lose touch. Kunming is a midsized Chinese city of 6.9 million peoplein the south-central part of the country, just north of Laos in the foothills ofthe Himalayas. It sits 5,000 feet above sea level, but is close enough to theequator that it has year-round temperatures around 70 degrees. The name Kunmingdirectly translates to spring city. But it isnt all chirping birds and cherry blossoms. Wepicked up our daughters in a Kodak store, one of scores of street-front shopsin the city center. Like many lost-in-translation moments, we were kept in thedark about why wed stopped there. I assumed one of the expectant fathers forgothis film. It was only after one of the impatient moms asked Why are we here?that we learned the babies would be delivered to the aisle near the zoomlenses. Just like that, a bus pulled up and a herd of nannies enteredthe store carrying our children. My daughter, Liza, was the oldest child in thegroup at 16 months. With all the pomp and ceremony of a trip to the DMV, thenanny plopped Liza on the floor in front of us, turned and left without lookingback. The poor child reacted as you would expect. She had neverseen a Caucasian person before, so she must have thought shed been abducted byaliens. She had also never ridden in a car, eaten in a restaurant,flown on a plane, or even been on a elevator, all of which we subjected her toin a matter of hours. The Swopes tried to help us as Liza remained inconsolablefor much of the trip. Ryan, along with his younger brother Louis and his oldersister Regan, played with Liza constantly while their mother, Louise, coachedDebbie up, assuring her that everything would be fine. The day after we got our children, we toured the orphanageand then traveled to the abandonment sites to see where our girls had beenfound. All orphans in China are abandoned. Even though China has astrict one-child policy, the government has also outlawed giving children upvoluntarily. So, newborns are left on street corners or in dumpsters. The luckyones are placed outside government buildings where they will be found quickly. Hannah Swope was left under a train trestle beside a river.As we visited the site, a train rumbled overhead with a deafening roar. I willnever forget the look of anguish on the face of the father, Paul Swope, as hethought of the terrifying, lonely night his daughter must have spent there. After a whirlwind of airline flights, immigration officialsand welcome home signs, we all went our separate ways. Christmas cards andsocial media have been our only contact with the Swopes and the other membersof our adoption group, although we feel as close to them now as we did thatmorning in the camera store. I remember fondly the afternoon we visited the Stone Forest,a huge limestone outcropping that is one the more popular tourist attractionsin Kunming. Ryan and I threw a football in the parking lot while Louis tried tocover his brother. At the time I thought they were pretty good athletes for 12-and 10-year-old kids. Now, they are in the SEC. Ryan is the go-to receiver TexasA&M; Louis is a walk-on defensive back and special-teams player for theAggies. Seeing Ryan again atMedia Days reminded me of the details of our first trip to China, and inspiredme to reach out to old friends with whom we share an inexorable link. Speaking to Paul Swope again was like reconnecting with anold friend. We quickly caught each other up and then planned to get togetherwhen A&M travels to Auburn in October.Louise sent me an essay that Ryan wrote when he was a seniorin high school. He entitled it, The Gift.My little sister had dental surgery yesterday so when I came homefrom football practice, she was still a little out of it, Ryan wrote fiveyears ago. I found her quietly playing in my parents bed. She had an abscessed tooth which doesnthappen to too many 5-year-olds. The nannies (in the orphanage) dont have timeto feed all the babies so many times they will just prop up a bottle full ofmilk or sugar water. It may be theredripping for hours at a time. This often causes (tooth) decay.I cant begin to imagine my lifewithout Hannah. She screams when I chaseher and laughs when I catch her She comes to almost everyone of my games inher cheerleading outfit. Sometimes shewaves or yells my name from the stands.She is best little sister She is a gift from God. As I was preparing to take Liza to thegolf course (Debbie and I have become junior golf parents), I showed her some decade-oldpictures of her and Hannah together in China. Will we get to see them again? sheasked. You bet we will, I told her. Illmake sure of it.
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