By Sam BlackmanWhen it is all said and done, we are lucky living in this country with our freedoms and the ability to pursue happiness.
For people who have immigrated to our country and have seen the horrors of war, death, and the denial of freedoms, being able to live in America is a true blessing.
Such is the case for Clemson men’s soccer player Phanuel Kavita. The sophomore was born in the Republic of the Congo, a country in central Africa, in 1993. As a small child, he and his family escaped the country during a bloody civil war where thousands lost their lives. While in refugee camps, his family survived and moved to several places before coming to the United States.
“We had many close calls with our lives as we were escaping in refugee camps,” recalled Kavita. “I was born in the Republic of the Congo and lived there until the age of eight.
“A lot of crazy things were going on in my country. During the turmoil, we saw death, suffering, and other travesties of war. From there, we went to Spain, France, New York, and finally Utah. It’s by our good fortune that we ended up in the U.S.
“What’s so sad, there were some very good friends and people I knew in our camp who we never heard from again. I still don’t know what happened to them.”
From this tragic experience, Kavita believes he grew up and matured faster than most. “I feel that my brothers and sisters and I had to grow up faster and be brave. We were very fortunate that my immediate family got out and came to the United States.”
Kavita is one of seven siblings, as he has two older sisters, two older brothers, and two younger brothers.
“My family is in Salt Lake City, Utah. My father is a cab driver and my mom works with special-needs youth. My mom works from nine in the morning until nine at night. They are very hard workers and appreciate the opportunities they have in this country.”
Kavita is also thankful that Head Coach Mike Noonan found him in Utah, and he became a Tiger.
“When I was playing soccer in Utah, I was afraid no one would find me or offer me a scholarship,” he said. “I really worried and I kept working harder and harder, then Coach Noonan found me. I was so grateful. I want to get an education and graduate. It would mean so much to my family.
“I really love the Clemson environment. I have fallen in love with the beautiful campus. The people here are really nice.”
Noonan is glad that he found Kavita, too. “Physically, he is very strong. He has great leadership qualities and is very coachable. He is a very serious player and has a demeanor that brightens your day. He loves the opportunity he has at Clemson. He doesn’t take anything for granted.”
Kavita wasted no time making an impact with the Clemson program. As a freshman in 2011, he started all 18 matches as a defender. His first collegiate goal will not soon be forgotten.
On October 28, 2011, Kavita scored the winning goal against top-ranked Maryland at Historic Riggs Field. With 5:35 left in regulation, he headed the ball in the goal from a deflected shot by senior Keegan Priest, who was playing in his last home match.
“Phanuel was at the right place at the right time,” explained Noonan. “The smile that he displayed after the match when he was completely exhausted was unforgettable. It was a smile that will last a lifetime.”
That victory was a big factor in Clemson’s six-game unbeaten streak to end the 2011 season.
As for his goals this season, Kavita has set the bar high.
“I want the team to do well and win championships and go further than we did last year. I want to do well in school and get above a 3.0 GPA both semesters. I want to continue improving in school and on the field.”
As for the future, Kavita wants to earn his degree, but he is quick to tell you to enjoy the present and find happiness every day.
“If I were to give anyone advice, it would simply be to appreciate every day, enjoy every day, work hard, and don’t take things for granted.”
As for Kavita, he is following his own advice.
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