Adopted boy who has be­come toast of Brazil

Rod Gil­mour tells of the fas­ci­nat­ing back­ground story to Brazil’s new­est star

The Hockey Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

Stephane Vehrle-Smith still has the adop­tion pa­pers. One day he may even be in­quis­i­tive enough to find out about his first few months grow­ing up in Re­cife, north­ern Brazil.

Yet his re­mark­able story was to un­ravel in very pub­lic fash­ion dur­ing an amaz­ing pe­riod last year, which saw him fin­ish the sea­son with his beloved Hol­combe HC and be­come front page news as a mem­ber of Brazil’s fledg­ling hockey team.

“I’ve learnt a lot on how to deal with it,” he tells The Hockey Pa­per. “It’s nat­u­ral and I knew it was a story and what peo­ple wanted to read about. At the same time, I’ve fig­ured out my bound­aries.”

The pub­lic in­ter­est VehrleSmith is re­fer­ring to here be­gan at the last Pan Amer­i­can Games. Brazil had just re­alised a dream and qual­i­fied their hockey team for a maiden Olympics in Rio.

But the af­ter­math proved a mael­strom of emo­tions. Mi­cro­phones were thrust un­der the 27-year-old’s chin, the me­dia clam­our­ing for a sound­bite on what it felt like to reach Rio.

He ex­cit­edly an­swered in Por­tuguese as best he could. Then came the ques­tion which opened up Vehrle-Smith’s pre­vi­ously closed up­bring­ing.

“One re­porter asked if I had a photo of my birth mother,” he recalls. “I showed them on my phone and the next morn­ing it was all over one of the big­gest news­pa­pers in Brazil.”

Brazil­ian jour­nal­ists were on the hunt for sto­ries ahead of a home Olympics and they cer­tainly had one here.

Vehrle-Smith says his birth mother was un­able to sup­port her­self, let alone a child, and put him up for adop­tion when he was barely six months old. To­day, he doesn’t see his adopted par­ents as any­thing other than his French mother and Bri­tish fa­ther. “It’s al­ways funny talk­ing to peo­ple who don’t have any real un­der­stand­ing,” he says as THP ini­tially treads care­fully on the sub­ject. “When you have been adopted from such a young age you don’t know any other.”

With sup­port­ive par­ents in tow, he grew up near Cran­brooke in Kent play­ing all sports from a young age. He joined Mar­den Rus­sets HC as a six-year-old be­fore Hol­combe came call­ing. He de­buted for the Med­way club’s 1st XI nearly nine years later in the Kent Cup fi­nal against long-run­ning ri­vals Can­ter­bury.

This was in an era of play­ers of the cal­i­bre of Giles Os­borne, Danny Laslett, and Dave Mathews. In all, he spent just over two sea­sons away from the club: one with Hamp­stead & West­min­ster to gain Premier Di­vi­sion ex­pe­ri­ence, one year out while at univer­sity and half a sea­son in Ger­many.

Vehrle-Smith takes up the story. “It was tough, es­pe­cially at the start and it only started get­ting good at Holcs in the last few years I was there. I was one of the few kick­ing about who un­der­stood the frus­tra­tion of Hol­combe try­ing to make a name for it­self in the Premier Di­vi­sion.

“A lot of it was about get­ting pro­moted, nearly reach­ing the play-offs, bat­tling it out with South­gate or Can­ter­bury. It was re­ally up and down and once I got older it was great to make an im­pact and be part of the suc­cesses that the club is cur­rently achiev­ing. Pre-sea­son was gen­er­ally hard and af­ter a long sea­son, when you lose your pro­mo­tional spot by one point, that was dif­fi­cult and for a long time it was all about Hol­combe and Can­ter­bury. “Stay­ing true to Hol­combe it was never nice to lose to a lo­cal side and I never wanted to give up on that. I was des­per­ate to get them into the Prem and give some­thing back to Southie (David South, club chair­man).” It was dur­ing this time that an email popped into VehrleSmith’s in­box from Dutch­man Bert Bun­nik, then per­for­mance direc­tor of Brazil­ian

Na­tional trea­sure: Vehrle-Smith in ac­tion for Brazil

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