Change of plans: A Spokane ParaSport athlete's journey from orph - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Change of plans: A Spokane ParaSport athlete's journey from orphan to champion

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There are moments in life that are perfect. When things we've been dreaming of become reality. And then there are moments when our plans go way off course. That's what happened to Joni Croft and her son Kyle, back in 2010.

“We were headed on a mission trip to Thailand and we were supposed to leave in June. We kind of got word there was some violence. It was not close to where we were going, so we weren’t concerned at first … but then it progressed to right where we were going,” Joni said.

The government issued a nonessential travel ban. The trip was off. But there was an orphanage in a different country that was open for visitors.

"We shifted to going to China," Joni said. "While we were there my son came to me and said, 'Have you noticed Phillip, do you know who Phillip is?"

As a kid, Phillip dreamed of one thing: Having a family.

"It's every orphanage kid's dream to have somewhere to belong and be loved," Phillip said. "I was born in China, at about a year and a half, around that time, I don't know why, my parents abandoned me under a bridge."

Complications from birth had left him in a wheelchair.

"It was like a tumor. It grew into my spine. That's how I became paralyzed," Phillip said. 

When Phillip met Joni and Kyle at the orphanage in China, there was an instant connection.

“I just remember seeing Kyle, wanting him to be my brother, wanting to be his brother. But knowing that might not be a possibility, but what’s the hope to keep that up. Partially because growing up, living with disappointment in a way. Just imagine you have a group of kids and they all get adopted except you. You move on to the next group and they get adopted. That’s how I feel every time.”

While 10-year-old Phillip kept his hopes at bay, the Crofts, who had never planned to adopt, returned home. By they felt a tugging on their heartstrings back in Washington.

"I could see him growing and flourishing in difficult circumstances, so I started thinking about what it would be like if he was my brother and came home to live with my family, and it went from there," Kyle said.

For Joni's husband, Karl, work trips became a time of reflection. 

Every Monday morning I would leave at 3 a.m.  on that drive in the dark, down to Yakima, just looking forward at the road ahead. This picture of this bright smiling face of this young boy kept popping into my mind, in front of me. That’s when it became clear to me that we could do more than throw money at this little boy, we can make him part of our home,” Karl said. 

The process took 18 months -- it was filled with paperwork and prayers. Then came the moment when everything Phillip had been dreaming of came true.

“They gave me a book. The book is what every kid gets when they get adopted. It shows, this is your family, this is where we live,” Phillip explained. 

The Crofts flew to China in 2012 to bring the newest member of their family home.

"Right off the bat. We met up in this big room and he was wheeling circles around all of us going, 'Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Hi Brother! Hi Sister!' Kyle said.

It didn't take long for the family to learn about Phillip's energetic personality. 

With his mom, dad, brother and sister by his side, Phillip moved from China to the Lilac City. It wasn't long after that, he found another family at ParaSport Spokane.

"Generally coming into ParaSport, you just feel a sense of belonging. Everybody is in a wheelchair. I don't need to be the special kid in the class and sit at a special desk. It's pretty cool to see that," Phillip said.

Teresa Skinner, Executive Director at ParaSport Spokane, saw Phillip's talent immediately.

"We really felt like being a part of a team would be important for him," Karl said. "I think there was a point at which Teresa said to us, 'He's going to be an elite athlete.' We don't have the vision she has."

That vision has become a reality in the years since. Phillip has traveled the world with ParaSport, competing in Switzerland and even China, racking up medals and trophies.

"Sports for me... I didn't make this all happen. I have people surrounding me. Teresa, my parents, my teammates... Sports basically changed my life," Phillip said. 

Phillip's journey to Spokane was a life-changing one for so many. It fulfilled his dreams of being a son, a brother. And in the last six years, he's become so much more -- a teammate, an elite athlete, a champion. 

Hopes and dreams for the future, thanks to dreams fulfilled in the past that all started with an unexpected changes of plans.

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