Isaac Peter does not speak openly about the events that brought him from Nairobi, Kenya, to Spokane – via Chicago.
Many of them, like the death of his mother when he was just a toddler back in Kenya, he doesn’t remember. And some, like the death of his father one year to the day after the two arrived in the United States, are just too painful to discuss.
“I’m not sure,” the senior soccer star for Ferris High School said recently, when asked what prompted his late father, Peter Olango, to relocate from Nairobi to Chicago back in 2004, when his only son was 13 years old. “But I think it was for me to have a better education, and be in a better place.”
Which is what Peter has – and where Peter is – thanks to the love and compassion of Tamara Falk, who was a nurse and case manager assigned to Olango and his son once they arrived by the Chicago-based refugee resettlement agency she represented.
It was Falk who agreed to become Peter’s legal guardian after his father died and eventually brought him to Spokane, where her parents and her brother and sister were living.
And since arriving, Peter has developed into one of the top soccer players in the Greater Spokane League, having scored a team-high 13 goals for Ferris, which claimed the GSL regular-season title.
“I’m so proud of him and what he has accomplished,” said Falk, who, along with her former husband, Roger Falk, brought Peter from Chicago to Spokane a year after his father had passed away and enrolled him at Sacajawea Middle School after deciding to reunite with her parents and sibling, who were living here.
“I feel like he’s done amazingly well. I just think of all the things that could have gone wrong. Yes, he’s still made a couple of left turns and spent a couple of sleepless night – especially at this time of year, at graduation, when everybody tends to think about their parents and where they came from.”
Falk, divorced from her husband, also has a daughter, Megan, who is the same age, 19, as Peter, but has graduated high school and moved on to Community Colleges of Spokane. She says the two have formed a unique bond since becoming “adoptive” siblings.
“It’s like it was meant to be,” she said of their relationship. “He and Megan get along great – like real brothers and sisters. They fight like I fight with my brothers and sisters, and, yet, they really watch out for each other.”
Peter claims to have had very few problems adapting to life in the United States.
“My English was pretty good,” he explained, “but it was hard to get used to the weather and stuff.”
Still, after arriving in Spokane, Peter started perfecting his soccer skills, which he had started to hone “on a fun-only” basis while attending an academy for the underprivileged back in Jericho, near his hometown of Nairobi.
“It started out just for fun, and I guess I was pretty good at it,” said the reed-thin 6-oot-3, 150-pounder. “So I started taking it seriously.”
Ferris coach Robin Crain marvels at the progress Peter has made – both on and off the soccer field – since arriving at Ferris.
“The fact that he has such a good family support system is huge,” Crain said, “and a compliment to the people who have taken him under their wing. And I also thing he has a great support network here at Ferris in the fact that these group of kids we have playing soccer are the best I’ve had in 25 years of coaching, and I’m not talking about being just great soccer players, but in being great people, as well.
“When you end up being around people like them, the best comes out in your. And I think that’s been a big factor in what’s shaped Isaac.”
Crain added he thinks Peter has a genuineness about him – “ a genuineness for caring, for passion and a concern for others” – that sets him apart from many kids his age.”
And those qualities were recently on display when Peter collected shoes, shorts, jerseys and other soccer-related items and sent them back to the academy he attended in Jericho as part of his senior culminating project at Ferris.
“It’s kind of cool,” said Peter, a three-year Saxon letterwinner. “I just had a lot of soccer shoes, jerseys and stuff around my house that I was getting ready to throw away, and I thought about Kenya and how they might be able to use them over there.”
And as a soccer player, Crain is impressed by Peter’s strength and aggressiveness, despite his slender build.
“He’s skinny as rail, but actually much stronger than you might image,” Crain said. “He won’t admit that. But he’s very aggressive, and he won’t shy away from contact. He’s not afraid of mixing it up with who are a lot bigger than he is.”
Gonzaga University looked into offering Peter a soccer scholarship to become a Bulldog next fall, but Peter opted instead to enroll at Community Colleges of Spokane in order to more easily transition academically into a four-year NCAA Division I institution.
“I think that’s a good decision for him,” Crain said of Peter. “Sometimes, you can be overwhelmed by some of the more difficult classes and academic load at a bigger school, and I think it is wise to give yourself some time to make that adjustment.”
Peter says he will use his two years at CCS to develop his soccer skills, as well, and, hopefully, catch on with some D-I school.
“He’s a great soccer talent, as well as a great kid,” Crain said. “And I expect him to fit comfortably at a Division I school when it’s his time.
“He’s fit everywhere else.”