Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Teen from Ukraine orphanage finds family and golf
Editor's note: This story originally ran on April 14, 2012.
CARROLLTON — Anya Anders is easy to spot on the course.
Her drives, which on a good day sail farther than the LPGA average, most often hug the fairways — remarkable accuracy considering she didn’t know golf existed four years ago when she lived impoverished in a country that has exactly one golf course.
Mainly, she is the one who will not stop talking. It’s not out of disrespect. She’s having fun. Anders, 18 and a junior at Carrollton Creekview High School, expresses herself bluntly, surprisingly bluntly considering she didn’t know English four years ago when a North Texas couple said they loved her and wanted to adopt her, and all her friends told her not to believe them.
At one point during the District 9-4A championship Wednesday, an opponent asked the outgoing newcomer the question on the minds of many in the golf community: “So, where are you from?”
Zavallia, Ukraine. An orphan. The daughter of a father who was alcoholic and abusive and an absent mother who was murdered by a boyfriend.
That’s where she was, who she was, just four years ago.
Life at the orphanage
Anya’s parents were never married, and they fought constantly. Her mother ran away often. Her father cared for Anya for maybe two years, until he started drinking again. When she told him she was moving to America, he slapped her across the face.
She chose to live in an orphanage at age 7, though, really, it was less a choice than a foregone conclusion. Her mother had been an orphan. Her grandmother had been an orphan. In Ukraine, the cycle of poverty rarely veers from its hopeless course.
The Ukrainian orphanages are state-run, filled with kids who were abandoned soon after they were born. At the orphanage, Anya played volleyball and soccer. She had friends. She ate the food she was always given, unaware it was never enough. She felt like she was in a family.
Life changed at age 15, when Anya’s mother was killed. Anya had always stood up for her mother when her parents fought. She loved her mother, but their relationship was complicated. They had argued the last time they had seen each other.
“Sometimes I just wake up and wish that I didn’t know my mom,” Anya says. “Because if you don’t know your mom, you’re like, ‘Oh, she died. Whatever.’ But when you know the person, you go to the funeral and see the person is dead, it’s pretty hard. It’s really hard for me.”
In the months that followed, Anya started drinking. At one point, she fell into a coma for nearly a week. She never thought about the next month or week or even the day. The only day that mattered was the current one, and even the agony of the present could be overcome with enough alcohol. Her circumstances were likely to breed a familiar outcome.
The statistics provide a grim truth. Anya would soon be 16, when children typically depart the orphanage. According to organizations such as Ukraine Orphan Outreach and Family Hope International, many of the boys who leave Ukrainian orphanages will end up in prison. Most girls, they say, will end up in the sex trade.
Trip to the U.S.
Anya was reluctant to come. Family Hope had a deal with several of the Ukrainian orphanages that allowed a select number of children to vacation for three summer weeks in the United States, where they would be paired with families considering adoption.
Joey and Cecilie Anders were reluctant to host. Although they considered adoption in the past, they had two children and no plans to adopt. It was August 2008.
They agreed to host a child for the three weeks as a favor through their church, and Anya seemed the best fit. Her bio stated that she played basketball, which Joey figured could be a bonding tool because he played in college. When they got on the court, Anya could barely shoot. She spent most of her time the first couple of days lounging on the couch, expressing indifference if not outright angst.
Then Anya began playing with the Anderses’ young children. When they went to a theme park, she turned into a daredevil, running everywhere, lining up for the scariest rides. If the other visiting orphans had questions, they called Anya for advice.
The Anderses could see her heart. Anya was a fighter. She could make it. They wanted to adopt her.
Resistance came from Ukrainian governmental red tape as well as Anya’s disapproving friends. Anya didn’t know if she could trust the Anderses, and she didn’t know if she could trust a strange country. She demurred, seeking some kind of approval, until, finally, her aunt told her to go to America.
For the Anderses, the process took more than a year to complete and required two trips to Ukraine.
“Even if you’re independent and you’re strong,” Joey Anders says, “you shouldn’t have to go through it all by yourself.”
Learning to drive
The first time she played golf, during her short stay in 2008, Anya only had the opportunity to hit into a net. Once she was on the driving range in the summer of 2010, seeing how far the dimpled ball could fly, she wanted to play.
Though Joey Anders is a pro instructor at Brookhaven Country Club and was rising star Jordan Spieth’s first coach, Anya primarily taught herself through observation. She has shot a 72 and competed on Creekview’s fourth-place state tournament team last season. In less than a year, Anya went from someone who could barely drive a cart to a 9-4A all-district golfer.
“You set your own limitations,” Joey Anders says.
It won’t ever be easy. Not just the golf. All of this.
Anya has learned to speak English fluently, but written tests provide formidable challenges. She is not like the majority of adopted orphans who can grow into the American culture. Joey and Cecilie Anders have had her for 21/2 years, and she’s now legally an adult. Their mission is to provide guidance and assistance for whatever the future may hold. Anya aspires to join the Air Force after high school.
In the three weeks they spent getting to know her back in 2008, they admired her independence. Now they admire the way she deeply cares for others.
After Creekview was disqualified from the district tournament for unintentional use of an illegal electronic device, coach Kerry Gabel sent an e-mail to his golfers, apologizing. She sent him a text later that night. She told him it was no one’s fault and that they would be back next year.
Even those who don’t know her origins recognize that compassion. Earlier this season, Anya was playing in a foursome that included a golfer from Highland Park. The Highland Park golfer broke down and cried after a particularly tough hole. Anya hugged her, spoke to her, always finding the right words.
“We all have bad days,” she says. “We all have bad games. We just have to work and get over everything.”