Boilermakers Beyond Borders: a transformative trip to Costa Rica

Purdue student-athletes, staffers travel abroad to build athletics court for underserved youth

The mission is simple. It couldn’t be any more straightforward.

“Transforming lives through building courts and cultural exchange.”

It states that right on the Courts for Kids website. But it begs the question, whose life is being transformed? Is it the Costa Rican kids the Boilermakers Beyond Borders group served by helping construct a concrete basketball court in early June? Or is it the 15-member party that represented Purdue Athletics in the Central American country?

“This experience will stick with me forever,” distance runner Geno Christofanelli says. “We learned that so much can be done when communities work together.”

Fifteen representatives from Purdue Athletics spent a week in Costa Rica working tirelessly to help build an athletics playing surface for underserved youth. (Photo courtesy of Purdue Athletics)

Boilermakers Beyond Borders is a recently formed international travel program for Purdue student-athletes and staff made possible under the John Purdue Club’s Forging Ahead campaign. The program allows Boilermaker student-athletes to give back and expand their worldview through a mission trip benefitting local youth in an underdeveloped country.

This week-long experience wasn’t easy for the Purdue crew. It was stifling hot, the work hours were long and sometimes a bit chaotic, and accommodations were far from luxurious – yet it didn’t seem to matter.

The Purdue contingent provided labor, ranging from clearing rocks from the area to hauling water buckets and cinder blocks.

“It was hard, I am not going to lie,” says Amiyah Reynolds, a member of the women’s basketball team. “To the Costa Rican workers, it was nothing, but we needed breaks, lots of breaks.

“There were ants and bugs, and we slept on the floor. The fact that the locals lived in that and were OK with it taught me a lot. They were energetic and were fighting for a spot to help us.”

Reynolds said that the locals would race home from their work at the local banana processing factory to get involved, and the kids would do the same when they came home from school. They were all simply happy to pitch in.

Transforming the dirt square into a playing surface took most of the week. The locals eagerly worked alongside the Purdue group, and despite the language barrier, the common thread was finishing the court.

“It was like a team bucket brigade,” says Logan Sandlin, a decathlete for the Boilermakers and recent graduate. “A big takeaway for us is you don’t have to plan everything for it to go well.”

With the work, the locals expressed joy and plenty of it. They worked past dusk most nights, using flashlights to get the job done.

“Life is simple there, but the people seem so happy,” Christofanelli says. “They aren’t at all hung up on the things that we as Americans seem to be, and that was a teaching moment for all of us.”

And the cultural experience came from many different facets of the trip.

“The food was awesome,” Christofanelli says. “We had rice and beans for 21 meals, but it was different and delicious every time. And the fresh fruit was like nothing I have ever had.”

Boilermakers Beyond Borders was, in part, the idea of Kelli Briscoe and Candace Britten, who serve as assistant directors in student-athlete development. The duo also made the trip. After attending a conference, the pair earned support from the athletics department senior staff after submitting a proposal.

Funding for the group’s approximately $35,000 for travel and lodging came via crowdfunding and from the John Purdue Club. Britten says one of the challenges was finding a time when Purdue’s busy student-athletes could go.

“Our job is to help our student-athletes prepare for the real world,” Britten says. “Sometimes they are focused so much on their sport that they don’t see anything past their bubble. Many of our sports don’t have an opportunity for international travel, so this brings it to them. I am a big believer that it is part of a well-rounded experience.”

A common refrain from these Boilermakers was that they gained more from the experience than they put in.

“I got so much out of the trip, but what was special for me was the time spent with our student-athletes,” Britten says. “We had absolutely zero issues. This trip provided memories that will last a lifetime, unforgettable memories. Knowing that Kelli and I helped make that happen is very satisfying.”

Reynolds, who admits to being very introverted, summed up the experience of her fellow student-athletes.

Purdue women’s basketball player Amiyah Reynolds takes a break from construction to impress some of the local kids with her dribbling skills. (Photo courtesy of Purdue Athletics)

‘It was the most I have ever danced,” says Reynolds, who had a brief opportunity to impart her hoops skills to the children. “Even at 9 p.m., they were blasting music. It got me through those long seven days.

“But it was also so important that I learned about the lives of my fellow athletes at Purdue. I didn’t know their names when we first started preparing for the trip, but by the time we got back home, I felt like we were lifelong friends.”

The group’s experience with the community’s children undoubtedly left an indelible mark.

“The most fun part of it was playing and interacting with the kids,” Sandlin says. “I am so bad at soccer, but it didn’t matter. It was great to connect with them physically, even if we didn’t speak the language. It helped bridge all gaps.”

The new concrete playing surface, complete with a Motion P logo decal on the basketball backboard, came to fruition by the end of the trip. (Photo courtesy of Purdue Athletics)

For Christofanelli, it made him proud to be at Purdue.

“It was great to bond with other Purdue student-athletes, and the experience really embodied what it means to be a Boilermaker,” he says.

In the end, it was about hard work and giving back. But it was also about having fun in an experience that will last a lifetime.

By Alan Karpick, publisher of since 1996.