Tevlin: Teen golfer driven to raise funds for clinic in Rwanda

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2012 - 12:13 PM

Tuesday was a big day for Kate Lesnar. The entering senior represented Worthington High School in the Class 2A state golf tournament. Playing in the state tournament is as thrilling as it gets for a high school player, but the rounds she played in Jordan may not be the most important ones she will play this year.

Next week, Lesnar will hold her third annual "All Day Fore Africa" golf tournament at the Worthington Country Club. She and a dozen or so friends hope to raise enough money to help the Rwandan town of Kibeho start a medical clinic.

If it seems like the 17-year-old is dreaming big, well, it's no surprise. Lesnar decided to start the fundraiser over breakfast with her mother, Kathy, at the Worthington golf course in 2010. She was planning to travel to Rwanda with her mother in two weeks and wanted to raise a few dollars to donate to the town.

"It was a beautiful day, and Kate said, 'Wouldn't it be great if I could golf all day?'" Kathy Lesnar said. Mom and daughter decided she would do just that and use it as an opportunity to raise money.

"She had a date set for the event by the time we left the course, and the club manager was her first pledge," Kathy said.

Kate's goal was to raise $1,000. "We figured we'd probably be writing a check for about $800 of that," her mother said. "But the community really came out in support."

Word spread, and by the end of the day Kate had completed 100 holes and raised $10,000, which she hand-delivered to the grateful town of Kibeho.

Kate's interest in the town was generated through her mother, who works as a personal manager for author and motivational speaker Immaculee Ilibagiza, who survived the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. Ilibagiza hid for 91 days with seven other women in a small bathroom in the home of a Hutu pastor. Many in her family, however, were murdered.

Ilibagiza went on to write "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust." She has been featured on such news programs as "60 Minutes" for her message of forgiveness of her family's killers. Ilibagiza will fly in from New York to Minnesota for this year's tournament June 20.

After playing in her second state tournament Tuesday, Kate took a few minutes to talk about how her trip to poverty-stricken Rwanda made a huge impact on her.

"It was an incredible experience," Kate said. "I realized how much we take for granted here. Every time we go to the faucet, we expect water to come out. But in Rwanda there were days we didn't have any water."

"Kate was feeling pretty good after the fundraiser, like she probably saved all of Africa," Kathy said. "Then she got there and saw how different it was than she imagined. I think she has much more appreciation for everything we have here."

Kate also saw how material possessions are not necessarily as important as she thought, her mother said. The kids in Rwanda seemed happy and contented, despite the poverty, while so many American teens suffer from depression.

"She said, 'What's going on here? I kind of want what they have," Kathy said.

Another daughter, Annie, also has gotten involved in fundraising by playing guitar, and word of the Rwandan town has spread through friends. A golf team in Nebraska raised money, and some 7-year-olds in Pennsylvania held a charity event by playing mini golf. Last year the "All Day Fore Africa" nonprofit created by the Lesnars raised about $30,000 for the town.

During their last trip, the Lesnars met with community leaders to see what they needed. Tops on their list was a small clinic, because the nearest one is miles away.

"They showed us the stretcher they use to take people to the hospital," Kate said. "But by the time they get there it's often too late."

"For us as parents, it's been great to watch Kate develop her character, but it's also great to see it spread to her friends," Kathy said. "It's been a way for them to look beyond themselves and learn to do good for others."

jtevlin@startribune.com 612-673-1702

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