Second Annual 'All Day Fore Africa': Building a bridge between continents through golf
WORTHINGTON -- Father Leszek Czelusniak has accumulated many experiences throughout his lifetime.
He knows exactly what it's like to live in one of the most impoverished regions of Rwanda, having dedicated his life to the people and children in the town on Kibeho.
However, until Wednesday he didn't know anything about the game of golf.
Wednesday was the second annual "All Day Fore Africa" golf fundraiser, raising money for the St. Stanislaus School in Kibeho, of which Father Leszek has overseen the development.
Last year, Father Leszek followed from afar as Kate Lesnar golfed 100 holes in one day and helped raise more than $10,000 for the school, but this year he planned a trip to Minnesota to coincide with the event.
Father Leszek was given his first ever golf lesson on Tuesday by "All Day Fore Africa" Executive Director Thai Hua, and though he didn't spend the entire day Wednesday actually engaged in golf, he did create perhaps the highlight of the day.
After an entire day of golfing that began at 9 a.m., the group of around 20 golfers taking part in the event -- men, women, boys and girls -- joined in one large group at 4 p.m. to complete the day with a six-hole scramble, including Father Leszek.
The first hole played in the scramble was the par-3 tenth hole.
Only a handful of the experienced golfers managed to put their balls even on the green, which meant the odds didn't look good of a brand new golfer doing so.
"On hole number 10 when Father Leszek stepped up, I think the majority of people thought he'd hit it into the water or he wouldn't even make it to the water," Hua said. "He hit one of the best shots out of the whole group. I think that was my favorite shot -- I don't think I've seen him jump as high or his smile as wide."
Although the focus of the day was on trying to do as much as possible to raise funds for the children at St. Stanislaus school to be used to improve their quality of education, Father Leszek's enthusiasm demonstrated how the entire day meant so much more than that.
"I think it's so important for the people in Africa, but it's so important for these kids and teenagers that they can do something good and it can give happiness to others," Father Leszek said. "What is important in life? To be happy. This event made me so happy. The happiness is really difficult to explain because it is inside of you."
After last year's event, Lesnar donated a golf ball to the school that was placed on display to forever commemorate the event.
On Wednesday, Father Leszek found another golf ball -- colored bright pink -- that he will bring back to symbolize this year's event.
At first Father Leszek didn't use the pink ball in the scramble for fear of losing it, but after consistently hitting shots that were far better than he ever could have expected in his second day playing the sport, he switched to the pink ball to finish out the scramble.
"It was really fun having him here and having him golf for the first time," Lesnar said. "He was just so excited to come out here, and about his pink golf ball, and just everything. It was really cool to have him here to see how much people are putting in an effort to help his school that he's worked so hard on.
"He's such an awesome guy, it's so fun to have him around my house. I don't think I could ever get sick of him. He can stay for as long as he wants."
The great thing about the event this year was that no two people experienced the event the same way.
Though this year the emphasis wasn't on finishing as many holes as possible to the extent that it was last year, that didn't stop Kyle Wendland from arriving early and completing 86 holes before the day was done.
"It was hot, but it was really fun because it was for a good cause," Wendland said. "Anything you can do to help someone and also have a good time while doing it is really something amazing."
Wendland's father Brad also competed and both his mother Pam and sister Kailey followed along the entire day.
For 13-year-old Tyler Van Hove, he not only sank putts on the final two holes of the scramble to give his team the victory (which earned the losing team a push into the pool), but he mentioned, "It was pretty fun playing for the kids in Africa -- It was a good cause."
Alyssa Johnson, Anneke Weg and Anna Meyer weren't the longest hitters in the scramble, but all three said that is was their favorite part of the day.
"Just that the rules were different than actual golf and it was teams made it a lot of fun," Weg said. "Usually in golf you play by yourself, but it was teams."
They spent the rest of the day playing as a threesome.
"It was really very fun because I'm happy to help the people that need help," Meyer said.
Though it was difficult to gauge how much success the event would find in its second year, it turned out the one thing that needed no worrying over was whether or not there would be enough donations to deem it a success.
"As I thought about it (the night before) and I worried about the weather, I thought, 'You know, we're in such a good place because I'm completely overwhelmed by the donations,"' Kathy Lesnar said. "I didn't know being the second year whether it would grow or if people would be saying, 'That was something we already supported.' There are so many other great causes out there to support, too."
On the day there was no official total, but it was estimated that last year's total was more than doubled.
"I didn't think we would do as well as we did, but that's not to say we couldn't have done better," Hua said. "We got great support from the community like we did last year and we're very grateful for the support of all of these kids."
With the event starting with a single 15-year-old last year and already growing in Worthington, it has also been picked up in modified formats in places such as Pennsylvania (where a mini-golf event was held), Nebraska and California.
"Hopefully it continues to grow," Kate Lesnar said. "We have a couple of events -- in California, Nebraska and Pennsylvania -- hopefully it will spread more across the country like that. Maybe some big name golfers will hook on to it or something, I don't know."
In Worthington the expansion to include so many younger kids -- there were young kids that stayed at the event all day that weren't even playing golf -- is a good sign not only for future events, but all future endeavors the kids get involved with.
"I feel like with a little more guidance with these kids they're going to be great for the golf program, whatever golf program they're going to be a part of, whether it's Worthington or Round Lake or wherever," Hua said. "With the St. Stanislaus school being in Rwanda they don't see the fruits of what they're doing, so if they can see what they're going to be working on imagine what they can actually do if they put their efforts into it."
Though Worthington and Kibeho are so far apart, what Father Leszek witnessed on Wednesday helped reaffirm his belief that closeness doesn't always have to be measured in miles.
"We are far, but there is a Rwandan proverb: 'It could be very far for the eyes, but it's very close for the heart,'" Father Leszek said.