KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Western Michigan University women’s basketball player will be able to go home for the holidays, thanks to the generosity of her own teammates and their families.
It came as a complete surprise for Artemis Kouki, who came to Kalamazoo as an international recruit and fell in love with her new home from almost half across the world.
“They just gave me a sense that it’s a family here, and that means a lot to me,” Kouki said.
Her native home is 5,300 miles away, in Athens, Greece. But in November, it became clearer to her that she might not be able to visit her parents and older sister for the holidays.
“Because of how basketball season is and how long it is, I’ve just accepted the fact that I only get to go home once a year and see them for about two months,” Kouki said.
After learning Kouki needed wrist surgery, her fellow teammate and roommate, Maggie Stutelberg, had an idea.
“The day after we got back from Colorado, I was like ‘OK, we got to do this now.’ Because each day, the prices keep going up,” Stutelberg said.
Within just a few days, a handful of teammates and their parents raised $1,600 for round-trip airfare to Greece. The only gameplan to figure out was how to tell her.
“Me and Artemis spend every day, all day together because we have all the classes the same,” Stutelberg said. “So keeping this a secret was so hard. I came to the gym in the morning, I went to the coach’s office, I printed (the message) out. I had it written in bold because I knew in the moment she would need something clear and direct to read.”
That magical moment came after a team meeting.
“Honestly, I just thought that they wrote like a card to me, like a team card. I was like ‘Aw, that’s sweet.’ Then I opened and I read, ‘You’re going back home,'” Kouki said.
Head coach Shane Clipfell was the one behind the camera and tweeted it later that day.
“The first time I did it, I forgot to hit the button, so I almost screwed it up and didn’t have any record of it,” Clipfell laughed. “But that’s the biggest part I played in it. The rest of it was Maggie being Maggie and putting her best foot forward to help a teammate.”
But to those two, it’s more than that: family matters, no matter the bloodline.
“It’s so unique we get to be put in a situation like this, where we all were strangers a year, year and a half ago. We’ve all just become sisters. We spend every day together,” Stutelberg said. “It was just such a special moment that I’ll always remember.”
Kouki says her teammates will always be a part of her family.
“All of my teammates are just helping me feel a little blessed (while) I’m away from my home,” Kouki said. “They’re all doing things for me, small or big, that means so much to me. Every day, the first thing I think is how grateful I am.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Broncos have four games left before their holiday break, when Artemis will then head home to see her family. Stutelberg will be Kouki’s ride to Chicago O’Hare International, where she will take off for a layover in Italy before eventually landing in Athens.