SPIRE Academy’s soccer program is preparing for the 2023-2024 soccer season, and they are building a formidable roster comprised of athletes from across the globe. Two of the latest additions to the program hail from Central Africa and are eagerly looking forward to developing their natural talents for the next level of competition.
Paul Katende and Espoir Mayele both moved from their home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the United States in pursuit of a better life – through educational, athletic, and experiential opportunities. We had the opportunity to interview the two prior to their arrival.
For Paul, life in Lubumbashi, Haut-Katanga (the second largest city in southeast DRC) meant minimal opportunities as a young athlete, Paul explained, “it’s not very common for someone to get an athletic scholarship or to be a student athlete”.
Paul’s family decided to relocate to the neighboring country of Zambia for 7 years, settling down in a refugee camp, “where life is way harder than in the US and even than at home in Congo”, Paul says. His family received the opportunity to relocate to the US in 2016 and while the transition was difficult, Paul was able to integrate himself into the culture and athletic world. “Coming to the states [means] a new, but also very hopeful, beginning in a country where one could be safe and have opportunities to emerge and better [their] family’s life”.
For Espoir, growing up in his home country of Burundi was similarly challenging. “The opportunities for a student athlete are very limited”. He explains, “You have to travel far to have someone assist you…the only people who [have] resources do not reside where people live”.
After moving to the US in pursuit of a better life, Espoir took his time to familiarize himself with the culture and way of life, saying “Everything was different…I had to get used to the new environment. Learning a new language and making friends was the most difficult part, especially as an introvert”.
However, the move was for the best, “Here in the States, you have a lot of opportunities, you can join an after-school sports program…which can help you build the skills that you need to continue forward”.
SPIRE’s previous Director of Soccer, Troy Bingham, scouted the duo at a tournament and quickly introduced them to the current Director, Sean Lane. It was apparent that the two were leaders on their team, the Erie Commodores, and that their natural ability far surpassed those around them. From there, they joined SPIRE FC at a showcase tournament in Cincinnati and began talks of enrolling in SPIRE for a more rigorous development program. Paul recalls why he initially chose to attend, saying “I chose to go SPIRE because my family and I believed it was a great opportunity…to work with coaches like Sean Lane to better and improve myself as an athlete and open more connections and opportunities for my future goals and achievements”.
Espoir notes that “I have always wanted to challenge myself. So I decided to go [to SPIRE] because it’s a good opportunity for me to learn new skills that can help me become a professional soccer player in the future”. The two will begin preparing themselves to settle in at our facilities in Geneva, OH this fall.
Post-SPIRE, both Paul and Espoir have big plans for their future. Paul intends to work towards a degree in Business or Marketing while playing Division I soccer, stating that he wants to go as far as he can with his athletic career. Similarly, Espoir plans on attending a high-caliber university to obtain a degree in Marketing while also playing soccer. He also dreams of becoming a professional soccer player one day.
Paul and Espoir exhibit the character, dedication, and perseverance that elite-level athletes showcase on and off the field – but to them, it is just their way of life. SPIRE Academy is lucky to have them in the soccer program, and are eagerly expecting their arrival to Geneva, OH.