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Adopted boy grew into athlete

Thu., May 26, 2011

Valley Christian senior Levi Smith was adopted as an infant from an orphanage in Russia. Through hard work at school, and at Liberty Lake Golf Course, he has realized his dream of being able to attend Eastern Washington University. (J. Bart Rayniak)
Valley Christian senior Levi Smith was adopted as an infant from an orphanage in Russia. Through hard work at school, and at Liberty Lake Golf Course, he has realized his dream of being able to attend Eastern Washington University. (J. Bart Rayniak)

Valley Christian’s Levi Smith plans future at EWU

Eighteen-year-old Levi Smith is a typical teenager. This blond-haired, blue-eyed Valley Christian senior enjoys hanging out with his friends, playing video games and working out at the gym.

What isn’t typical about Levi is his story begins in a Russian orphanage. Given up for adoption, and born with a severe cleft palette, Levi believes his new parents Coleen and Mark Smith were led to adopt him at 11 months old.

“She felt really compelled to go get me,” Levi said about his mom. “That God told her to go.”

“Everything to make it happen was pretty spectacular,” Levi’s mother, Coleen, said about his adoption. “It was meant to be.”

The couple learned about Levi when a friend gave them a newspaper ad about Russian adoption. Canadian residents at the time, the Smiths had decided to add another child to their growing family which included adopted son, Zachary, and their daughter, Rhylee.

Responding to the ad put them in touch with a teacher in a neighboring community who was in contact with the Department of Education in Russia, the agency which handles adoptions. The teacher provided a picture of Levi, and said he was ready to be adopted. Levi had previously been arranged to be placed in a home the month prior to Coleen’s initial call, along with another baby. The couple, though, changed their minds upon arrival and only adopted one child; leaving Levi behind.

“The orphanage was worried about him,” Coleen said after he wasn’t adopted in December 1993. “He was losing weight.”

After the initial call on Jan. 10, 1994, events happened quickly.

“The speed in which it happened was miraculous,” Coleen said about the process that typically took 13 months to complete. “We did it in three weeks.”

The couple received required letters from different Canadian government agencies in record time. They were also required to update their in-home study completed during the first adoption. Coleen, after calling several organizations and receiving no help, discovered the woman who initially performed the study had become the head of International Adoptions. This resulted in having the study done immediately for $200 instead of the typical $1,200.

Although their arrival in Russia on Feb. 14 was met with a series of roadblocks, they were quickly resolved.

After the Russian government’s claim the Smiths’ documents weren’t good enough, the Smiths nearly lost hope. But their perseverance paid off, and after some negotiation, the government agreed to a new translation of their documents.

“It makes me feel special,” Levi, who has no memory of the adoption, said about his parents’ commitment. “I’m very happy they were determined.”

The miracles continued with the speed in which the Smiths scheduled Levi’s first palette surgery; a procedure that had to be done prior to his first birthday. Scheduled before the Smiths boarded the plane to Russia, Levi had the surgery three days after arriving in Canada; just prior to turning 1 year old.

“I look back at that and wonder how that was possible,” Coleen said, laughing. “In Canada it’s socialized medicine – nothing moves fast.”

Levi underwent 14 more surgeries for his palette, all but one before entering the sixth grade. He is scheduled to have his last surgery this summer.

In 1995, Mark moved the family to Woodlands, Texas, to accept a job at the Heart Institute. There Levi learned how to swim at age 5.

“He was a natural athlete,” Coleen said.

At age 6, Levi joined a summer league swim team that required him to train every day.

“It was hard core,” Levi said of the intense training. “I really enjoyed it.”

His swimming earned him participation in the state competition. During this time, he earned more than 50 trophies and ribbons.

The family decided to move to Spokane Valley in 2004 after Coleen received her master’s degree in acupuncture, to be closer to family living in Canada. Levi began attending Valley Christian in the sixth grade.

Following the move, Levi swam competitively for the Liberty Lake Athletic Club for a short time, then decided to quit because it wasn’t as challenging as his team in Texas.

Levi now spends his time at the Liberty Lake Athletic Club working out to a weight routine he developed himself.

“I like to be physically fit,” Levi said. “Living a healthy lifestyle is important to me.”

He also works part time at the Liberty Lake Golf Course as a range boy picking up balls on the course and maintaining the pro shop.

Upon graduation, Levi plans to attend Eastern Washington University and major in psychology.

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