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Deborah Fry never expected to make the state meet.

A senior sprinter turned shot putter, Fry’s progression in the ring has been so fast and so unexpected that weeks ago she sent out invitations to a high school graduation party to be held this weekend — the same weekend as the CIF state track and field championships in Clovis.

So when Fry launched the shot a personal-best 38 feet at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions Saturday to finish second and secure a place at the state meet, she had an immediate, painful decision to make: Attend commencement with the rest of her Santa Rosa High classmates, or give it a shot among the state’s best in Clovis.

“I have been working hard on throwing and school but I think school, to me, was more important. I think I worked harder for that,” she said.

At 19, Fry’s concept of hard is probably a little different from your average high school senior.

Deborah Fry was seven years old when her family in Haiti gave her, her younger brother Abraham, 5, and younger sister Macdalah, 2, up for adoption. The family had eight children and were unable to care for them all. The three middle children were sent to an orphanage in Port au Prince.

“I lived with them for seven years, but for the three years before I was adopted, I was living in an orphanage,” she said. Because of their ages, the children were put into different units in the orphanage.

“They split us up,” she said. “I would see them but I wasn’t involved in what they were doing.”

At the same time, 1,500 miles away in Pennsylvania, Kristie Fry and her husband were interested in adopting. They’d been to Haiti, had seen immeasurable poverty and heard stories of how difficult it is to find homes for older orphans, Kristie Fry of Santa Rosa said.

They told an adoption agency they were interested in two older kids. The agency responded by sending a picture of Deborah and her two younger siblings.

Even after they decided three kids was too much, Kristie Fry kept their picture on her desk. Months later, the agency called again. There was news — a family in France wanted to adopt Macdalah, but not Deborah and Abraham. The two older children would be available to the Frys.

“Is it done?” Kristie Fry remembers asking.

No. The preferred outcome was to keep all three siblings together.

The Frys decided to adopt all three.

But there’s more.

The cost of adoption was still an issue. A tens-of-thousands-of-dollars issue. Initially, an anonymous benefactor of the agency the Frys were using to adopt Deborah had offered $1,500 for whatever family took the siblings in.

Then the phone rang again.

“It was a call from the agency: ‘We have bigger news and we need to know if you are sitting down,’” Kristie Fry remembers the agency rep saying.

The benefactor was so appreciative that the Frys had agreed to take all three children, he covered the expense of the entire adoption. He also paid for their plane flights to Haiti and their visas.

“I never saw a bill,” she said.

In the three years it took to adopt Deborah and her siblings, Kristie Fry did her best to learn Creole. She studied, listened to CDs and would talk to herself while driving alone in her car. But it was still a shock when the kids finally came to their home in Pennsylvania.

Simple communication was difficult. Deborah was fearful.

“I think I was scared more than anything; leaving my whole life behind,” Deborah said.

But even at 10 years old, she felt responsible for her younger siblings.

“Deborah was like a mother hen, the eldest and very protective of them,” Kristie Fry said.

But when Deborah was alone, she was vulnerable.

For months she would try to get out of the car at stoplights, and run out the front door of her school.

“It was hard. It was really, really hard,” Kristie Fry said.

“She had left her culture, she had left her language,” she said. “She had new parents. How do you do that, just turn that on?”

You don’t. It took Deborah time.

“Those are the days I would remember the most,” Deborah said. “It was hard.”

Kristie Fry made her a system of cards that would help her communicate with teachers when she was scared. One card read, “I don’t know where we are going.”

Kristie Fry spent those early days sitting in her car in the school parking lot, coming on campus any time Deborah flipped to the card that read, “I need my mom.”

I asked Deborah Fry if she remembered when things got easier.

It was the end of her fourth grade year — her first in an American school. She accidentally bumped into a classmate.

“Immediately I turned around and said, ‘Excuse me,’” Deborah remembered. The girl nearly jumped for joy.

“She freaked out and started yelling, ‘Oh my god, she spoke her first words!’” Deborah laughed when she told the story, but it was a watershed moment. The words came more easily after that, friends were made, comfort was established.

“More people, more kids came up to me, trying to communicate with me,” she said. “I think it got easier from there.”

Just two years after leaving Haiti and arriving in Pennsylvania during a snowfall, knowing no English, Deborah Fry tested out of her English as a Second Language status in school, an accomplishment her mom said is “unheard of.”

“She refused to have any concessions in school,” Kristie Fry said. “Deborah used to spend four hours on homework to get an A in a subject. She’s relentless like that.”

After a divorce, Kristie Fry and her children moved to Santa Rosa, her hometown, and Deborah spent her sophomore year at Maria Carrillo. But Kristie Fry was a Panther and Deborah wanted to go there. She transferred before her junior year.

Longtime Santa Rosa High track coach Doug Courtemarche knew he might have a special athlete on his hands.

Kristie Fry, whose maiden name was McCall, was a standout athlete at Santa Rosa before graduating in 1989. Her younger sister, Karin, still holds the school shot put record.

“I coached Karin from the time she was seven. Kristie threw discus when she was in high school,” Courtemarche said. “It was fun because I knew the family very well. We had a long history.”

But it wasn’t obvious at first that Fry would be a shot putter. She started as a sprinter but was plagued by shin splints. She wandered over to the throwers’ area one practice and seemingly never left.

“She’s got natural speed and some powerful legs, which really translates in the shot put,” Courtemarche said. “She has a lot of things going for her athletically for the shot put.”

But oh, that early form.

“Her form was terrible,” throwing coach Paul Troppy remembered, laughing. “She had this squat-down, jump-up-with-both-legs form. Rotten.”

But she also had that ingredient her mom called relentlessness. She doesn’t like to fail.

Troppy, who said Fry is immensely coachable, went to work. He brought in former throwing coach Mike Grace to work with her. Her record-holding aunt gave her a few tips.

But what might have been the magic moment? An injury to her dominant shoulder.

Fry hurt her left shoulder and so on a whim, started throwing with her right arm. Something in her mechanics clicked. When she switched back to her left arm, her distances started increasing.

Maybe she figured out where her body needed to be after she taught herself to throw from her more awkward right side. Or maybe everything just fell in sync. Whatever it was, the shot started flying.

“I think it helped me understand how to do it better, how to keep my leg under me,” she said. “If it’s under you properly, it brings you up faster and easier.”

She threw 25 feet, two inches her first meet of the season. She won the North Bay League title with a put of 32 feet, six inches. At the Redwood Empire meet, she finished second with a throw of 35 feet, 10 inches.

“I just wanted to improve, more than anything,” she said.


At the North Coast Section Meet of Champions last Saturday, she launched one 38 feet to roar into second place.

“She is naturally athletic, but she uses everything,” Troppy said. “She won’t back away.”

“It’s just inherently who she is or (she’s) just chiseled this way through adverse circumstances,” Kristie Fry said.

So when she was sitting in the heat of Edwards Stadium on the Cal campus last Saturday, aglow with her accomplishment and her NCS second-place finisher medal around her neck, she had a decision to make.

Take her talents to Clovis or stay home and celebrate the end of her high school career, her 4.2 grade point average, her place on the principal’s honor roll and her summa cum laude designation.

Both events point to how far she’s come.

“She broke down and cried,” Courtemarche said when Deborah told him she was skipping the state meet to celebrate her graduation with family — some of whom are coming great distances to see her get her diploma. “I’m happy for her decision. It’s really, really important.”

Graduations are poignant in large part because they are endings but also because they are beginnings. In one moment, one phase of life ends and another begins.

Deborah Fry has been through change before. It may have thrown her but never for long.

And when she walks across the stage Friday, she will be certain it’s the right decision and she’s on the right path.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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