Adopted boy who has become toast of Brazil
Rod Gilmour tells of the fascinating background story to Brazil’s newest star
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