Knowing Who You Are

Courtesy: Arianna Grainey

By Miles Aronson

There aren’t many kids who grow up not knowing their birth parents or even the environment they were born in.

Kyah Zurek faced these adversities with the help of her friends and family and became a Division I women’s soccer player.

Soon to be entering her senior year at Casteel High School, Kyah has excelled into becoming a role model student-athlete.

From AP classes galore to dominance on the soccer field, she has managed to keep up her ‘perfection’ mindset and overcome many barriers to get where she is today.

Kyah’s story begins approximately 7,400 miles away in Xiushan, China – a few miles outside the major city Chongqing.

“A couple people have asked us; will it feel different for you having an adopted Asian girl as part of your family,” Drew Zurek, Kyah’s father, said. “There was some curiosity but I can say from the moment we saw her, there was no doubt she was ours.”

Drew and his wife, Stephanie Zurek, made the journey to China in 2007 to pick up Kyah after a long process of fine details and paperwork.

Especially with international adoptions, there are many factors that are in play.

Using the right adoption agency is just the beginning.

They also had to understand the international laws and customs of the country they were adopting from.

“We knew China had a big need for international adoptions.” Drew said. “Especially at the time with their one child laws in place, we really felt like we could help a place in need. We also wanted to adopt a girl into our family, so it felt right.”

Ever since the late 80’s early 90’s, the Chinese government has implemented the one-child policy to reduce the growth rate of their population. This has led to an increased number of international adoptions out of China.

Most adoption processes are usually completed within two years after making the initial decision, since adoption agencies want to ensure that the kid is going to a safe environment with loving parents. Drew and Stephanie Zurek recalled their story when they knew they had the right adoption agency.

“One of the things Drew and I talked about a lot was our first impressions of the agencies,” Stephanie said. “We walked into one and there were tons of snacks, drinks, fancy chairs and big conference rooms. We walked into another and its folding chairs and maybe a bottle of water. As we walked out, I turned to Drew and said, I absolutely want to use this company simply because I can see that the money is not being used to wow the families.”

“With this company,” Drew said. “It was never a transaction, they humanized it as much as they could and really added a different element to where we felt totally comfortable.”

This was ideal for the Zurek’s, who already had two biological boys in their family and wanted to make the addition as smooth as possible.

Knowing people would question why Kyah looks different from the rest of the family, Drew and Stephanie prepared themselves the best they could and never looked back.

“We always say the boys came from my belly but she came from our heart,” Stephanie said.

Arriving back home for the first time, Kyah’s brothers were overjoyed to meet their new sister.

Still very young and having not yet grasped the concept of adoption, they were certain she was just like them.

For Caden Zurek, the middle brother, with blonde hair and blue eyes, it was clear to him that she was his sister no matter what.

“She looks just like me,” Caden would say. “She’s not adopted, because Mom, when I was in your belly, she was in your heart. And I talked to her every day.”

Caring parents. Brotherly protection.

Since day one, one of Kyah’s biggest strengths has been her family’s support.

Even getting to the point where teachers in Montessori were saying her brother needed to let Kyah do some things on her own – he just wouldn’t let her out of his sight.

“Good luck with that,” Stephanie would say.

This support system made life a little easier for Kyah growing up, but she still had to deal with the occasional; Why aren’t you tall like your dad? Or What did your mom crave when she had you?

Questions adopted kids have trouble answering when they don’t fully comprehend the situation.

“Now, they don’t affect me as much as they did when I was a kid,” Kyah said. “It’s just having to get to the point where I am comfortable sharing that I am adopted and the feelings that come along with it…The consistency of someone’s presence and understanding goes a long way.”

Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and school, she found it difficult to assimilate.

She felt insecure when it came to her native foods, drinks, languages and celebrations.

“When I got to High School, I didn’t have my culture to look upon,” Kyah said. “I knew I needed to make new friends and become comfortable with who I am.”

One of Kyah’s friends was the first to really introduce her to her culture. With both of their brothers on the basketball team they would constantly hang out.

She began learning something new every day.

“She started teaching me Mandarin and I told her it was just like your culturing me,” Kyah said. “We would go to the Asian markets together and get authentic Boba. It was just so significant because it opened my eyes to what my culture was like… and my parents didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know much about the Asian market.”


Growing up, Kyah tried many different sports. She was first introduced to long distance running in elementary school, where she hit the 200-mile club in the sixth grade. She also participated in gymnastics, soccer and tennis, eventually putting full focus into soccer.

“Soccer has been so consistent for me,” Kyah said. “I like unity sports, having a team, being able to have that bonding connection.”

Currently, Kyah is competing at a high level as an outsider winger for SC del Sol.

“Right now, the bonds I have with my team, I’ve never bonded with people this fast and this close,” Kyah said. “It’s not necessarily just a team, but a family.”

As she gets closer to her graduation date in 2024, Kyah feels a little bit of pressure but nothing she hasn’t felt before.

“There have been games where I remember being engulfed in college coaches and scouts,” Kyah said. “I have experienced this before but the pressure is still always there, knowing I need to perform.”

Kyah has been committed to the University of Portland Pilots to play on their Division I women’s soccer team.

“Some people would say once your committed you can relax, but no, there’s still constant pressure,” Kyah said. “When other players know your committed and you don’t play up to that level, they’ll questions like, ‘why is she even committed there?’”

The pressure is something she can still feel but has become better at handling.

“I play so freely now because I don’t need to be scouted anymore,” said Kyah. “I’ve been playing some great soccer.”

While competing at a high level with her club team, Kyah still maintains a schedule of school work and track practice but mostly individualized workouts.

“It depends on what the distance track group is doing on a specific day,” Kyah said. “Some days I join in while other days I just catch up with the coaches…I have good relationships with all the coaches so it’s been very nice.”

Along with having coaches at Casteel High School as part of her support group, Kyah also has outside mentors she relies on for help and advice.

Most notably, NBA Hall of Famer Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns legend and soccer enthusiast.

Drew Zurek attended Santa Clara University where he was roommates and played alongside Nash back in the early 1990’s. Ever since, they have remained friends and he has been an outlet for Kyah as she looks for advice and mentorship.

“He has been such great help and when I look at him and the things he’s done,” Kyah said. “The Steve Nash Foundation, helping the younger generation of kids as well as being a great family man, I envision my future like that and I want to be like him…It’s not just all the things he’s done but his character and personality are just beyond great.”

Alongside Steve, Kyah also has support from her Godfather, Randy Winn.

“I have known Drew and Stephanie Zurek since we were about 18 years old,” Winn said. “They all attended Santa Clara University where Randy and Drew redshirted and played basketball together.”

As Kyah got older, he became a voice of reason for her.


“99.9% of the time, I am saying the same thing that their parents are saying, just not from an authoritarian parents’ lens,” Winn said.

“Those outside voices are sometimes exactly what I need,” Kyah said.

Even off the field, teachers like Spanish instructor Mrs. Zink, have been major influences in Kyah’s life.

“It’s nice having a teacher that’s close,” Kyah said. “She doesn’t necessarily offer the athletic point of view but she offers kindness and caring, that’s who she is.”

Kyah has been thinking of her future a lot as college looms on the horizon.

Her schedule is packed with classes like AP physics and AP US History and she still manages to have stellar grades.

“My favorite subject is math, but I’m not very good at it,” Kyah said with a smile on her face. “With English, I hate it but I am really good at it, it’s a weird combo.”

With the support Kyah receives she can’t help but try and be an example for others around her.

It’s deeply rooted within Kyah, a helpful personality. Something that she says stems from being adopted.

“Everyone has a story, everyone’s struggling, everyone is dealing with something that you don’t know,” Kyah said. “Once I opened my eyes, I wanted to help people, I don’t want anyone to feel helpless or like they can’t do anything about it… that’s who I am supposed to be.”