September 5, 2014

Firm foundation of faith leads linebacker Daniel Adongo from Kenya to the NFL

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Daniel Adongo stretches before a preseason game on Aug. 18, 2013, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Daniel Adongo stretches before a preseason game on Aug. 18, 2013, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)

(Editor’s note: As the National Football League shifts into high gear this weekend as it opens its 2014-15 regular season, we feature stories on a local Catholic realizing his dream of becoming an NFL referee, and a former world-class rugby player from Kenya who lives his Catholic faith as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.)
 

By Sean Gallagher

In the past year, Daniel Adongo’s world has been turned upside down—twice.

Adongo, 24, is a linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts. But the lifelong Catholic and native of Kenya had never played American football and knew little of the game before the Colts signed him to a contract in July 2013.

At the time, he was a successful professional rugby player in South Africa. So his world was turned upside down when he took a leap of faith and went halfway around the world to play a sport at the highest level that was entirely new to him.

Adongo spent much of the Colts 2013 season on its practice squad, learning the basics of the game. He played in a few games at the end of the season and showed promise for the future.

Coming into the 2014 season, many NFL analysts across the country wondered what would become of this newcomer to the game who had extraordinary athletic abilities.

Those questions remain unanswered. In the Colts’ first pre-season game on Aug. 7 against the New York Jets, Adongo sustained a season-ending bicep injury on his first play.

In that moment, Adongo’s world was turned upside down again.

It’s been his Catholic faith, though, that has kept his feet planted firmly on the ground.

“My faith is not going to waver just because I got injured,” Adongo said. “It’s part of the game. I’m not going to wallow in disappointment. Absolutely not. I’m looking forward to redefining myself, finding myself in this challenging time and looking for a better way to do things and come back even stronger.”

Putting his soul into order

Adongo’s firm foundation of faith that he relies on as he rehabilitates in Indianapolis was laid far away by his family and school community in Nairobi, Kenya.

For eight years, he was a student at Strathmore School there. Founded in 1961, the spiritual formation of its students is provided by priests of Opus Dei, an organization in the Church that helps people seek holiness in everyday life.

This formation contributed to Adongo’s desire to excel in athletics.

“They really [emphasize] that God has given everybody talents and gifts,” he said. “And developing those talents and gifts is a way of glorifying what God has given you and saying ‘Thank you’ for the gifts he has given you.”

Honing one’s gifts, though, often requires sacrifice. Adongo did just that at Strathmore, according to John Muthiora, its current headmaster and Adongo’s English teacher for several years.

He saw that commitment during a class when he noticed that Adongo’s legs were bulging around his ankles.

“After the lesson, I asked him what was wrong with his legs, and he explained that he had weights strapped around his ankles for fitness,” Muthiora said in an e-mail interview with The Criterion. “I found it hard to believe that an 18-year old would be walking around with weights strapped around his ankles the whole day. It goes to show the level of commitment he had … ”

Muthiora knew, however, that Adongo’s faith fueled his willingness to make sacrifices. Each day when he came to school, he would first go to its chapel to pray before the tabernacle, a practice that he and other students often repeated after lunch. He also regularly attended Mass there and received guidance from the school’s priest chaplain.

“When one puts his soul in order, other things fall into place,” Muthiora said.

‘A God-given opportunity’

Adongo’s career in rugby began to fall into place while still at Strathmore. He played on national youth rugby teams in Kenya and later played professionally in New Zealand and South Africa.

A successful career in rugby seemed to be the course that God had set out for him—until he received a phone call from the Colts last year, presenting him with what he called “a God-given opportunity.”

“I hadn’t looked for the opportunity,” Adongo said. “So that points to one thing and one thing only from my point of view. Despite my being a good athlete, what were the chances of getting the call from the Indianapolis Colts?”

Once he agreed to play for the Colts, he dedicated himself to the hard work of learning to play American football. He had to catch up on the knowledge and execution of the game that his teammates and opponents had gained through years of playing the sport.

Over the past year, Adongo approached this learning curve not simply from intellectual and physical perspectives, but from a spiritual one also. He has sought to offer as a sacrifice to God all of his work on the field, in the weight room and in team meeting rooms.

“Every day, I offer everything that I do,” he said. “I say to myself that I’m going to deliberately go out and try to be perfect. I’m trying to offer my work up as a sacrifice to God. And I don’t want to offer anything less than my best.”

Now his work as a member of the Colts is the daily grind of rehabilitation. And while the dream of starring on the field may be delayed, Adongo doesn’t ignore the opportunity set before him to glorify God, even in the hard, hidden work of rehab.

“In anything that I do, I’ll offer it up as a sacrifice,” he said. “I do it for myself, and I do it for God.”

‘My faith is my faith. It stays the same.’

Over the past year, Adongo has also had the opportunity to put his faith in action through the many community service projects that the Colts sponsor in central Indiana.

“Giving back to the community is giving back, regardless of where it is, whether it’s in Indianapolis, my hometown of Nairobi or in South Africa,” he said. “It doesn’t change if I’m in a different country. My faith is my faith. It stays the same.”

What has also stayed the same in Kenya and Indianapolis for Adongo is living among people of diverse backgrounds.

That began for him at Strathmore.

“There were people there who were [Protestant] Christians, who were Muslim, who were Hindu—people from all walks of life,” Adongo said. “It basically told us about respecting other religions, respecting other people’s choices. That interaction and that social setting early [in my life] allowed me to be more adaptable in whatever environment that I’m put in.”

Earlier this year, Adongo returned to Kenya for the first time since joining the Colts. While there, he visited Strathmore and encouraged its students to develop their talents like he did.

“It was emotional,” he said. “It was great to go back and speak to the kids, because I sat in those same seats and had the same dreams.”

Opus Dei Father Joe Babendreier, Strathmore’s chaplain when Adongo was a student there, spoke of the importance of Adongo’s visit to the school in an e-mail interview with The Criterion.

“He made a huge impact on the present students when he visited us earlier this year,” he said. “It was obvious to everyone that he has a very strong faith and is proud of it. At the same time that his faith defines who he is, that faith seems as natural to him as being a linebacker for the Colts.”

Whether it’s in his home in Kenya or his adopted home in Indianapolis, whether he’s making tackles on the gridiron or tackling rehab, Adongo ultimately wants to share with other people the Gospel that has shaped him from Strathmore to the NFL.

“When you learn something so powerful at a young age, you want to be able to implement that and translate that into what you’re doing,” Adongo said. “But most importantly, you also want to teach that to other people, to tell them that the gifts that you have come from a higher power and that they should glorify God in whatever they do every day.” †

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