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My name is Connor Barket, and I am a junior on the Duke Men’s Wrestling Team. Thanks to many, including the ACE staff, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the ACE in Panama program this year and work with incredible people through our partner organization, AMIGOS. This was one of the deepest and most impactful experiences of my life, and I couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity of a lifetime.

From the Duke student-athlete team I went with, to the communities we were lucky enough to partner with, the experience was perfect. The group of eleven other Duke student-athletes was better than I could have asked for. Everyone got along and constantly bonded with one another. By the end of the week, I felt a real connection with everyone on the trip.

The communities we partnered with were some of the happiest and most welcoming people I have ever been around. To know we made an impact at all meant the world to me. However, above all else, this experience impacted me was the kids we worked with. The kids somehow never got tired or sad around us and were eager to learn the sport of volleyball. As much as we hope we affected them, they greatly impacted each of us. Every one of them brought something unique and offered us something to learn from them.

The person who sticks with me the most, and likely will have a lasting impact on my life, is one kid from the camp and school I helped with named Pedro. He possessed great talent and an even bigger smile. Every day, without fail, he was happy to be there. He would frequently help the younger kids understand what they were supposed to be doing and went above and beyond. Additionally, he was the best player from both schools by a sizable margin. Once we left for the final time, the ACE team was joking about how Pedro would captain the Panama National team one day. But then someone mentioned, “Why not?” This sparked a deep conversation about whether Pedro wanted to take sports to the next level and have sports impact his life like they have all of ours, could he? We concluded that the communities we were in did not have nearly the resources to support anyone trying to make it big with sports, which broke all of our hearts. It gave me a great appreciation for everything I am lucky enough to do through athletics. This is a reminder of all I get to do and to never take it for granted.

From top to bottom, ACE was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I beg you if you are reading this and have the slightest interest PLEASE apply. Everyone who has gone through this has left a better person. I hope you are willing to go through this experience as well.

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