Worlds from his former life, Cascade Christian soccer star no longer alone

t.cotterill@thenewstribune.comApril 18, 2014 

Andrei Egorov was 5 years old when he, his older brother, Ivan, and younger sister, Nina, were abandoned by their mother at a bus station in Stavropol, Russia.

But Andrei, now a standout football and soccer player at Cascade Christian High School, vividly remembers that day in Stavropol. He recalls many of the feelings he felt at the time — feeling unloved, alone, confused and helpless.

At least the bus station was better than home. Stains and filth discolored the white walls of his family’s three-bedroom apartment. Cigarette butts littered the floors, where some of his mother’s friends lay, high on drugs.

“Our house,” Andrei nervously recalled, “it was pretty much a drug house.”

Andrei hated it — for himself, but more for his siblings. He especially watched after his sister. The two often would go anywhere, just as long as it was away from that house.

“I always had my sister with me,” he said. “I didn’t want her raised like that. I didn’t want her to know about that stuff.”

Andrei said he and his siblings moved from bus station to bus station, taking on odd jobs to get money until his great-grandmother found them and took them in to live with her.

She lived in Stavropol in a modest home made of clay. She was in her late 70s, with frostbite scars on her feet as a result of harsh winters during World War II and lived off her retirement of 3,000 rubles per month (equating to less than $85). It was not nearly enough to take care of three children.

“I just remember how hard she worked to take care of us,” Andrei said. “She put us way before herself. It was different because my mom always put herself before us.”

But her care was not enough by Russia’s standards. Two years later, Andrei and his siblings were swimming at a nearby reservoir when police arrived to take them into custody. They were placed in a hospital before they eventually landed in an orphanage in nearby Nadezhda.

CALLED TO ADOPT

Casey Dyson was prepared for coffee, desserts and bonding with her Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. Not adoption.

She is a Realtor. Her husband, Brad, works for East Pierce Fire & Rescue. Brad built their large, beautiful home in Buckley on the east side of Lake Tapps a few years ago.

They had three children of their own — son Cooper, now 19, and daughters Taylor, 11, and Kate, 9.

Casey hosted the MOPS women at her home that night more than seven years ago. That is when she had learned they had all adopted children.

“We were busy people, caught up in building houses and taking care of little kids and Cooper, but it just hit me like a brick wall that night,” Casey said. “It wasn’t about dessert or about the other women bonding. This was a mission from God for us.

“I listened to each of their stories, and God began to impress on my heart, ‘These people are here for a reason. I want you to adopt, as well.’ ”

Brad was at work when he got the call.

“I was totally oblivious to this. I just get this phone call, ‘Would you be interested in adoption?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I would love to do that,’ ” said Brad, who was adopted by his stepfather as a child. “She says, ‘OK, well, we’ll talk about it later.’ Click.

“A couple hours later: ‘I found him! I found our son!’ ”

They wanted to adopt a child who felt like there was no hope of being adopted. So they emailed the orphanage and asked if Andrei, then 12, was available. He was.

They traveled three days a week to Olympia to notarize and sign hordes of adoption documents, and paid extra to expedite the process. Three months later, Brad and Casey were off to Stavropol.

FAILING HOPE

Andrei’s great-grandmother, who frequently visited him in the orphanage, happened to run into their biological mother on the bus one day. She told her she must stop running from her children.

So Andrei’s mother went to see them at the orphanage. Andrei remembers his anger toward her, not saying much, if anything. She sat with them as Nina’s head rested on her lap.

After that, she wouldn’t visit them again.

Nina spent almost 21/2 years at the orphanage until she was adopted by the Pilla family out of White Bear Lake, Minn.

“(Andrei) was always so caring,” said Nina, 16, who talks to her brother often and now does softball and track. “He used to always put me to bed because I used to never be able to go to sleep unless he was laying next to me.”

Nina’s adoption was encouraging for her, but discouraging for Andrei. He said he lost hope that day. He thought he was a lost cause.

Andrei planned to leave the orphanage when he turned 16, join the Russian military and then return to take care of his great-grandmother — like she took care of him.

Kids smoked cigarettes at the orphanage. Not Andrei. His small bed was crowded in the same room as six other boys.

He attended class every day, then found escape in the form of a mostly dirt field with whatever served as a soccer ball. Sometimes that meant a basketball. Many of the boys played every day. Andrei played goalkeeper for his school team.

“I wanted to do sports because that’s when I would lose myself,” Andrei said. “That’s how we relaxed.”

But that wasn’t enough. His mother abandoned him. He never met his father. He was taken from his great-grandmother. His sister and brother, born from separate fathers than Andrei, were gone, too.

“It felt like you weren’t wanted,” he said. “Your parents didn’t want you. They choose drugs and alcohol over you. They don’t want to take care of you.

“In the orphanage, even though you have people looking after you, you still feel like you are alone, on your own. You just always felt on your own.”

FINDING FAMILY

An adult approached Andrei at the orphanage one day and told him to look nice.

Andrei slid into black slacks and a white-collared shirt he wore to school, and then walked into a room at the orphanage where he saw Brad and Casey for the first time, sitting at a table.

They had flown from San Francisco to London to Moscow, then flew on a cattle plane — yes, with live cattle in the airplane — to Stavropol to meet Andrei.

Andrei’s orphanage profile said he was great with kids, especially younger ones. It said he took care of them and looked out for them.

“Have you seen that movie, ‘The Blind Side?’ ” Casey asked. “That’s Andrei. The girls were just babies at the time and we just thought, ‘What a wonderful fit.’ ”

But Andrei isn’t nearly as big as “Big Mike,” aka NFL lineman Michael Oher. They said he was in the 12th percentile in height, 11th in weight. Brad and Casey were told children don’t grow as much when they aren’t in a loving environment.

Andrei had asked them through an interpreter if they would also adopt his brother, Ivan.

Ivan, almost two years older than Andrei, had been placed in an orphanage in Stavropol. So Brad and Casey took their interpreter and went to meet him. They saw red flags in Ivan’s behavior and his environment almost immediately.

Casey asked if she could use the bathroom — a clay hut in the field. Children stared at her as she walked to it. She opened the door and saw feces smeared on the walls, floor, everywhere.

“I went back and told Brad that we needed to go now,” Casey said. “He looked at me and knew we needed to leave, so we did.”

They returned to their hotel and wondered if Andrei would accept them if they didn’t also adopt Ivan. But with two young girls at home and concerns about Ivan, they could not risk adopting him. Brad said they should probably not adopt either of them if they couldn’t take both.

“That night was a really tough, long night,” Brad said. “I don’t think either of us slept well.

“But we went back to Andrei the next day and said, ‘Look, we can’t adopt your brother. But would you still like to be adopted if we can’t take him?’ And the interpreter told us that he said he would.”

FAMILY CELEBRATION

Brad and Casey returned to Russia in the summer of 2007 to finish the adoption process. Andrei’s great-grandmother called their attorney and asked if they could stop by her house so she could say goodbye.

“We didn’t know who she was or what she was going to do, but we knew it was best for her and for him that they could say goodbye to each other,” Casey said.

Brad and Casey had brought meats, cheeses and groceries — costing more than the great-grandmother’s monthly salary — and she showed them her garden. Andrei took them to the reservoir where he swam. They talked and laughed. It was a party.

The great-grandmother gently grabbed Casey’s arm and spoke to the interpreter to relay a message to Casey.

“She said, ‘She says to tell you that she trusts you to take him. She says she is grateful that you are taking Andrei,’ ” Casey said. “I thought, ‘OK, this is good.’ It felt good that it didn’t feel like we were taking him away from them.”

They waved goodbye as they drove away. Andrei was on his way to meet the rest of his new family.

SECOND CHANCE

Cooper Dyson didn’t think. He just hugged. Brad, Casey and Andrei — who has taken the last name Dyson — arrived at the airport in San Francisco, where Cooper embraced his new brother.

Andrei wasn’t used to affection. He was used to defending himself from attacks and fighting with other boys in the orphanage.

“I was like, ‘He just gave me a hug. That’s not OK,’ ” Andrei joked.

“I remember in the days that followed that I didn’t give him any more hugs,” Cooper said.

Taylor and Kate would snuggle into Andrei’s side on the couch. They swam in the pool, had milkshakes and watched movies. Not even a language barrier could stop their bonding.

Andrei enrolled at Cascade Christian Schools in sixth grade. For the first three months, he had an interpreter travel with him wherever he went — at least until he learned English.

He was placed on a local recreational soccer team, but switched to a premier team after coaches said he was too good. He bulked up quickly, and now is one of the few forwards in the 1A Nisqually League built like a truck. He weighs more than 200 pounds.

“Me and a couple other friends convinced him to play football in ninth grade. We just saw how physical and strong he was, and we were like, ‘Dude, you could kill someone out there. You got to play,’ ” said Nathan Roosendaal, Andrei’s best friend. “And he said he didn’t mind, as long as it wasn’t during soccer season.”

He was named to The News Tribune’s All-Area football team last fall as a kicker, and he also recorded six sacks at defensive end for a team that reached the Class 1A state semifinals.

This spring, Andrei has two shutouts as a goalkeeper for the boys soccer team, and has a goal and assist as a starting forward. He is currently sidelined by a sprained knee, suffered in a loss to Cedar Park Christian.

Andrei is sometimes reminded of that dirt field in Russia when he plays soccer. He hopes to play at Pierce College next year. Beyond that, he wants to go back to the orphanage in Nadezhda to let the children know, from someone who has experienced it, that there is hope and love in the world, even if it doesn’t seem like it. He also might visit his mother and brother in Stavropol. He said they moved into his great-grandmother’s house after she died last year.

“I used to always think about what could have happened, how different I would be if my mom was there and why did she have to choose drugs over me,” Andrei said. “Even though it sucks that I had to go through that, I know how that feels. When I grow up and get married, I know how I want to treat my kids. I knew how I wanted my sister to be treated.”

Andrei believes his life has been shaped this way for a purpose. He knows what it is like to feel hopeless and alone. But now he can appreciate how special it is to have a family like Brad, Casey, Cooper, Taylor and Kate.

“I believe God gave me a second chance in life for a reason. So I might as well go find out what that is.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 t.cotterill@thenewstribune.com @Cotterill44

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