The story of how Yves Spies was adopted just days before his 18th birthday seems made for Hollywood.
In his late teens, Yves feared he was too old for adoption, but he met his parents, Darren and Michon, was adopted and went on fall in love with football, win a state high jump title and perform a show-stopping solo during a senior talent competition.
Today, he's 25, serving in the U.S. National Guard and training to be a police officer. All because he now wants to give back after he got so much.
‘We just saw the need’
Yves came to the U.S. from the Ivory Coast in Africa in 2004 and went into foster care. But by the time he reached his teens, he was unsure about adopted, fearing he was too old. But his life changed forever when he was part of an adoption open house event where prospective adoptive parents and adoptees would cycle meet one another while making T-shirts.
Even though Darren and Michon Spies started intending to adopt a younger child, they found themselves clicking with Yves and felt the feeling was mutual.
"When we were supposed to rotate, he did not," Darren said.
"He stayed and kept visiting and seemed really interested in asking us questions," Michon said. "He was just very polite, and he looked like he just needed or wanted some positive attention."
Afterward, the Spies and Yves both told their caseworkers of their mutual interest and another meeting was arranged, this time at Dave and Buster's with Yves' future siblings, Jayden, Zander and Draden.
"It was a great time," Yves said.
Already starting to feel like they fit as a family, they started moving toward adoption.
"Because we were so interested in him, the age stopped mattering to us," Michon said. "We just saw the need. We just wanted to be parents."
Yves remembered it didn't feel like a forced conversation with his future family, it felt genuine and like a mutual back and forth, with laughing and joking at a time when Yves didn't laugh and joke often.
He recalls having a limited sense of humor, but his father brought it out more in him. He remembers smiling and laughing a lot with his future family, and he felt like they cared.
‘Yours was like a box’
But obstacles remained. Yves feared the process would fall through and worried something would scare off Darren and Michon. That fear arose when they told him they were going to read his files from foster care. Yves got worried because he jokes he wasn't the easiest kid to deal with in the past.
"I had kind of a track record of being stubborn," he said, adding he thought them looking at his file may be the deal breaker.
But nothing deterred Darren and Michon.
"To this day we still kind of joke about it," Yves admits. "My mom will say, we got your file; usually it's just a file, but yours was like a box."
To Darren it wasn’t an issue, as he says it's important for adults to put themselves in a teenager's positions and see if they'd want someone to take a chance on them.
For prospective parents in a similar spot, Michon suggested not paying attention to such negative paperwork, and while adopting a teen can be difficult, it's very rewarding and they can work through any challenges together.
"It's been 110 percent a great decision for us and for our family," Michon said.
A new home
As the adoption progressed, Yves started visiting his future family on weekends at their Waseca home, which was a big change of pace from his foster home in Minneapolis. It was the first time he traveled south of the Mall of America in Minnesota.
He didn’t live on the safest of blocks at the time in the Twin Cities, so it was a nice change of pace to be in Waseca.
"Granted, it was nothing but cornfields," Yves joked.
He also loved that his family had pets — three dogs and three cats — as he'd wanted to have pets (mainly dogs), which he loves.
But then he'd had to go back to the Twin Cities, which would prove tough.
At times, he admits being afraid his family would back out before the adoption was finalized.
"My biggest fear at the time was that I was going to phase out of the system," he said. "It felt like you're waiting and waiting and being adopted as an older kid, I didn't think it was going to happen."
The process seemed to take forever to Yves, though he admits it feels like it went pretty fast when he looks back.
Finally, many family members traveled to Minneapolis to finalize the adoption.
"When it finally happened, it was very surreal to me," he said.
He remembers it feeling a bit like a dream. With his track record, he didn't feel like it was possible.
He tells people he understands if they want to adopt younger kids, but he tells people it can change a life to adopt an older child.
"As one that was adopted at 17, if I wasn't adopted, my life would have been completely different," Yves said. "Just having the opportunities that I've had growing up with my family are things that wouldn't have happened. I wouldn't have known how to fill out job applications, I wouldn't have been able to go to school. And where I'm at in life, I wouldn't be here. I feel like everyone needs that opportunity and that love in their life to kind of understand, someone to guide them. Being adopted as an almost 18-year-old, I feel like I was pretty much very close to the end of my childhood."
Yves found many opportunities from having family support. Before his adoption, he didn't often work to get close to people and he never looked into sports.
One day, he was playing catch with his dad at a park. He jumped up really high to catch a ball, and Waseca's football coach was in the area at the time and saw it.
They talked and a few weeks later, Yves was in football camp for the school and had fallen in love with the sport.
He started playing high school football as a junior, which wasn't common. Most of the people playing had been playing longer, which made him have to learn quickly.
"After football, I joined basketball and then I joined track — all things that I didn't know was possible, but I had the most fun playing those sports," he said.
Basketball was fun but the toughest to pick up.
In track, he started with hurdles but was jumping too high, so the coaches suggested he try the high jump, which would turn out to be his favorite — and best — event.
He credits his coach, who proved to be a strong mentor, with helping him learn the sport. He made state jumping at 6 feet, 2 inches his junior year, and he placed sixth or seventh that year.
He soared in his senior year, going to state and this time winning a title with a high jump of 6 feet, 7 inches.
His family foundation made it all possible.
"It changed everything for me, just having that foundation helped me," Yves said.
His parents were there every step of the way, cheering him on at each event.
He'd be jumping and hear "Go, Yvelette!" — his mom's nickname for him — in the distance.
He remembers pausing and thinking, "All this is not something that happens all that often for somebody my age, and I was just very grateful for everything I have and everything I have now."
"You come from this one lifestyle and you think, ‘This is what it's going to be like the rest of my life.’ Then everything changes, you have love and you have all these things in your life that you didn't have the opportunity, you didn't grow up with, and it changed everything for me. Just having that foundation to help me,” he said.
That same year, Yves performed in choir and show choir. For his senior solo, he took a song his family loved, "God Bless a Broken Road," and changed lyrics from "going home to my lover's arms" to "going home to my family's arms."
"It was a lot of crying in that stadium," he said.
After high school, Yves played football at Rochester Community and Technical College for a year, but he eventually changed gears and joined the Army National Guard.
"It was always part of my plan to join the military, because this country gave me everything that I have. And now that I had everything as far as my family, I thought like there was no better time than now, so I went ahead and joined the Army National Guard," he said.
He's now working toward a criminal justice degree, as he's been interested in the law — and upholding it — dating back to his time in foster care.
But he jokes he didn't always make the smartest decisions during his time in foster care.
"I wanted to make better decisions for myself," he said. "I came to the terms that I wanted to do criminal justice when I moved to Waseca and kind of got to see first-hand what the criminal just field looks like."
He admits school can be challenging since he came to the U.S. at age 12 and didn't speak any English, but he's had plenty of support.
"Having people in your life that can kind of help you and guide you through those things is kind of essential," he said. "And my family always tells me, 'You can do this.' And they always put that confidence in me. And it's very refreshing to have that in my life. It's been an interesting journey."
Yves passion for football hasn't waned, as he plays semi-pro football for the Albert Lea Grizzlies, something he says clears his mind and gives him the chance to play on a team.
"A lot of … the opportunities that I had wouldn't have been possible if not for my family," Yves said. "Because I had no idea how to fill out a college application. I had no idea how do any of that, and my family helped me with that, walked me through that."
Looking forward, Yves plans to retire from the Guard in about 16 years. He still has his sights on becoming a police officer.