International Service – Personalized

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International Service – Personalized

by Ted Streuli

Betsey and I haven’t yet engaged with a formal Rotary international project but we’ve undertaken a freelance gig. His name is Vito.

One of the Avenues of Service in Rotary is International Service. We haven’t hopped on a plane to help dig water wells, but Rotary says that “International Service exemplifies our global reach in promoting peace and understanding. We support this service avenue by sponsoring or volunteering on international projects, seeking partners abroad, and more.”

I think we’re in the “and more” part of that.

Vito, formally Vitali Mikhailov, came to our house about a year and a half ago from Cherepovets, a Russian industrial city of 318,000 about halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. There’s a lot if iron and steel making and a big chemical industry, especially in manufacturing fertilizers.

Vito will turn 21 this year, but he’s been a hockey player as long as he can remember. Sports is one of the ways to elevate your position in Russia, and youngsters who show promise are directed to specialty school where they can develop their athletic talents alongside their academic ones. Vito attended a hockey school that was the alma mater of several NHL players. At age 17 he was drafted 35th overall by the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia’s top professional, broadly considered second in talent only to the NHL.

But a contract dispute between two KHL teams left Vito looking for a place to play and he came to the U.S. to play junior hockey, the highest amateur level. And for the past four seasons he’s played in Oklahoma City for the Junior Blazers.

Last week he set the new team record for career goals. And if he can score three more in the remaining three regular-season games he’ll hold the league record too.

Betsey started out s little suspicious; we are children of the Cold War, the Space Race, the Miracle on Ice and election interference. We grew up watching Rocky and Bullwinkle fend off Boris and Natasha.

Vito is reserved in a true-to-native-culture way, but when he gets comfortable you learn that he’s smart and funny, pithy quips coming with a deadpan delivery that leaves you wondering whether it was a joke but realizing it’s funny even if it wasn’t.

In one early conversation Vito decried Russia’s presidential election.

“Careful,” I said, “you’ll perpetuate all the stereotypes.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Vito said.

“We already think all Russian elections are a sham,” I explained. “We think they’re full of bribery and corruption.”

Vito nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “That is true.”

Our children have benefitted from having Vito in our home the past 18 months; they’ve gotten a big brother out of the deal who’s usually available to offer a hockey lesson on short notice. And despite Betsey looking in the sun room one day to see four hockey bags lined up on the floor and giving a brief sigh of exasperation, we’ve benefitted too; we started out thinking we were offering a spare bed to a hockey player and ended up with an extra kid, albeit a big one with an appetite that has earned us a platinum card at the neighborhood market.

Betsey got over the idea that he might be a KGB agent set on stealing our identities. And he got us drinking tea with honey after dinner and, finally, watching “Game of Thrones.”

Vito will age out of junior hockey at the end of the season, just a few weeks from now. But there are a half-dozen American colleges that have shown an interest in having him play hockey on their team. Among them is two-time ACHA Tier I national champion UCO, so Vito might be celebrating a few birthdays at our house.

We’re not digging water wells, but I think our freelance service project has done its share of promoting peace and understanding. At least between Edmond, Oklahoma and Cherepovets, Russia.


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