It’s been miles, and many trials in order to be where Adut Bulgak is today. She was born in Kenya, having to eventually flee from her home country along with her family in 1999 – a year after the bombing of the US embassy. With civil war tearing parts of Africa apart, she and her family made the gradual move to Canada.“It was actually really scary,” Adut Bulgak said. “I started school out there and didn’t know any English. Mind you I had never seen anyone but black people, Africans to be exact. It was an all new experience.”
Bulgak picked up the English language quickly and adjusted to a much different climate. Having her brothers Deng Atem and Bul Atem was a huge help in transitioning to North America.
“My brothers were like my second parents,” Bulgak said. My parents worked a lot and they took care of us. After school they cooked us food and made us take naps. It was like having four or five parents at once.”
The Bulgaks lived in Canada for eight years before experiencing the type of heartbreak that no family wants to go through. On May 15, 2007, the oldest brother Deng Atem Bulgak was found murdered in the family’s backyard. It was part of a double homicide, he was just 22.
Two and a half years later on September 14, 2009 the family lost another brother, Bul Atem Bulgak passed away in a car accident.
“I didn’t think I would be okay the second time,” Bulgak said. “Obviously they are not here for major life events. Every time I step out on the court I think about them. I’m about to graduate, they don’t get to see me graduate. I think about that all the time. They’re not going to see me get married, they’re not going to meet any of my kids if I have children. It’s tough, especially because they played such a big part in my life and they are missing so much of my life.”
“There are so many people that would claim victim,” head coach Sue Semrau said. “So many people would just stop and say, ‘How could I go on?’ and have the self pity take over. Adut is not like that.”
It was a trying time for Adut and her family, specifically her mother.
“Everybody knows it is painful but we just had to stay strong for each other,” Bulgak said. “We just found ways to get through it. For me it was sports, for her it was her four other children.”
Still to this day Adut relies on sports, not just for the fun of playing the game, but for the welcomed distraction that it can provide. But every time she steps out on the court…she always has a part of her brothers with her.
“It’s so much more than just to come out and play basketball,” Semrau said. “It is what is inside you that drives you. To use that as a driving force rather than something that holds you back I think that’s why she’s such a good basketball player.”
“It was right around the time when we had our first game,” Bulgak said. “I decided to write their names on my shoes and it was just a constant reminder for me that they are not here, but are here.”
“They knew how much sports meant to me, they knew how much I loved basketball. Most of the time I feel like I am playing for them.
Now Adut’s youngest brother, KB, is fighting his own battle with a serious illness.
“There is no greater loss than losing loved ones,” Bulgak said. “Two times is too much for me and I am still constantly battling constant struggles. I just look at it and think it could get worse, I’ve seen the worse.”
Being so far away from the situation and family, Adut turned to her head coach in the time of need.
“She was there talking to my mom, talking to me every day,” Bulgak said. “She’s like another mother for us. That’s really cool to have when you have people that aren’t necessarily like locally stationed so then you have to have people that you can lean on and Coach Sue is one of those people.”
Even through the darkest times and the present situation, Adut continues to find the positives.
“She’s very grateful,” Semrau said. “I think she turns around and spills that to the rest of our team, the rest of our program who maybe has had it very easy. I know I have based on what she’s gone through. And you look at that and you look at her and some other people that have gone through difficult times and that’s what really bands you together.”