WATERVILLE – Su-Lin Del Guercio didn’t think her beginning was relevant in conversations with classmates and soccer teammates at Colby College. How she lived her life was always more important and more interesting to her than how it started.

Besides, how does one casually mention you were abandoned under a bush in a thicket near a farmer’s field in South Korea? That a day laborer discovered you and you were taken to an orphanage? That you were adopted by Kathy and Joe Del Guercio as a baby, became part of their home in Parsippany, N.J., and thrived on the love from them and an older sister, Kim, also adopted.

That you had to endure pain to overcome a unique and progressive form of sclerosis that hindered your very small mouth’s ability to form spoken words.

“My friends knew I was adopted,” said Del Guercio, taking a break from packing Saturday. She shrugged. Why was the rest of the story pertinent? She didn’t think it was a conversation starter.

Until now.

Jen Holsten, the Colby women’s soccer coach, knew the details of Del Guercio’s adoption and kept quiet until this spring. She nominated her 5-foot-2, 95-pound senior defender for the college’s Pamela Hoyt-Sanborn Award, which goes to the athlete who demonstrates leadership and sportsmanship over four years. In presenting Del Guercio, who has a wide range of friends on campus, Holsten introduced the details that none of the other student-athletes knew.

Del Guercio expected a clean slate when she arrived at Colby four years ago. She wanted friends based on who she was, not what she endured. She wanted a starting position on the soccer team because she earned it in practice, not because of what she had overcome in the past.

“I like to deal with things as they come,” she said.

The audience, still processing new information about the smallest among them, gave Del Guercio a standing ovation Friday, said Holsten. It was emotional, the coach said. Kathy Del Guercio, in the audience with her husband that day, held back a mother’s tears.

She remembers holding her 14-month-old infant for the first time, noticing scarring around her mouth.

She was told the scars were probably from vermin nibbling on her in the thicket. Later, at medical facilities in New York City, it was believed the scarring was from the sclerosis.

“The pain we put her through was always on our minds,” said Kathy Del Guercio. “The bloodwork, the tests. That tiny mouth needed to stretch.”

Now Su-Lin is a woman. She graduates today with a double major in government and classical civilizations. She was named to the New England Small College Athletic Conference all-star team three times. She was all-New England three times. Playing center halfback, she frequently gave away 6 inches in height. Or more.

“She doesn’t play to her size. She was our warrior,” said Holsten. “She plays big.” And quick. Physically and mentally, Del Guercio plays a step ahead.

Holsten didn’t recruit Del Guercio. Players returning from summer camps told her about this dynamo named Su-Lin Del Guercio. When Del Guercio walked into Holsten’s office while on a campus visit, Holsten noted her size. “How can she be the superstar my players are talking about? When I finally saw her play, I saw someone so fluid, so at one with the soccer ball.”

Holsten was coaching a club team when she became pregnant several years ago. She turned to Del Guercio. Would you help me coach? Del Guercio has since gotten her advanced national coaching certificate. In fact, her Seacoast United under-16 team plays Black Bear United from the Orono area for the state championship today at Deering High.

Del Guercio will receive her diploma, make an appearance at the reception shortly after noon, then jump in her Jeep for the trip down the highway. The game starts at 2 p.m. Del Guercio told her players she’d be there about 30 minutes before.

She made a deal with her players who wanted to see her in cap and gown. Win the game, she told them, and she’ll do the switch for the team photos they wanted.

Anything to motivate them, she said.

A bit of fun danced on her face. Winning is one thing. Earning it is quite another. For as much as she might shrug off bits and pieces of her life, her experiences have taught her well. Her sclerosis is in remission. She will deal with it if it returns.

Wearing the cap and gown again for her teenage players will be a treat.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]