NORWALK — The day the earth shook so violently and so many buildings and worlds came crumbling down, Paul Louikenson was only eight-years old.
It’s a day burned forever into his mind, a time the Brien McMahon junior football player can’t escape from, even as he stood on Casagrande Field with a whole new family he never even knew existed in January of 2010.
“It’s not a day I like remembering or talking about,” the player the Senators call “Lucky” said of the massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck his native Haiti, killing more than 100,000 people. “I know it was just one day, but that one day destroyed a lot of people’s lives and took away a lot of people’s hopes.”
These days Louikenson, a 6-foot tall, 280-pound starting center, likes to talk about his second chance — his move to the United States and his opportunity to be a part of the Brien McMahon football program.
Senators coach Jeff Quieroga said Louikenson’s impact on the team is just as big as the team’s impact on his player.
“In order to overcome something like that, you have to be mentally tough and that’s what he brings to the team,” Quieroga said. “He’s mentally tough. He’s disciplined. He wants to be better. He came here for a better life and now he’s here, he’s not going to waste his opportunities.”
Louikenson agreed he’s taking advantage of everything life is now offering him.
“This really changed my life,” he said. “When I came here, I left everything — my mom, most of my family, is in Haiti. I came here to live with my dad and, at first, I was really shy. But (football) it brought me closer to everything, to all these guys and now I just love playing.”
He’s lucky to have gotten the chance, that’s for sure.
Louikenson had just finished up a school day in Port au Prince and had gotten some extra help from a teacher when his mother came to pick him up.
“We were about to walk out the door and the ground just started shaking,” Louikenson said. “Everything was starting to fall down.”
Louikenson’s mother pulled his teacher away from a wall right before it collapsed. All three had escaped when that portion of the school collapsed into a pile of rubble.
Outside, his country had become hell on Earth, with widespread death and destruction at every turn.
“At one point, I was sitting down and this wall started shaking,” he remembered. “When I got up, that wall fell, too.”
Louikenson and his mother walked 13 miles to get home that day, first-hand witnesses to a country’s carnage.
“It didn’t bother me that I had to walk,” he said. “Everything I could see was falling, and everybody was running and screaming. People were sitting down on the ground crying. It was like the end of everything.
“All I was thinking about was, ‘Is everything going to be OK?’ ” Louikenson added. “Will there even be a tomorrow after today?”
Louikenson was lucky even before he became “Lucky.”
Once he arrived at home, he found his home still intact, but due to dozens of strong aftershocks, nobody was going indoors.
The constant threat of tsunamis drove his family and neighbors to higher ground multiple times over the first few days.
“At night, it was the most dangerous time,” he said, referring to the darkness and the looting.
Before the Earth shook that day, the family had started the process of filing paperwork to get Louikenson to the United States to live with his father.
It took a couple of extra years, but when Louikenson was 11 he came to Norwalk and found a new home, a new beginning.
“My dad was already here and he was working on papers before the earthquake, so it was already planned I was going to come here,” he said. “I’m very lucky. I’m happy I got out alive, but I’m still so sad so many people died and so many people were suffering.”
A big kid, Louikenson was talked into trying out for football as an eighth grader by a friend.
As lucky as he was, he didn’t become truly “Lucky” until his freshman year at McMahon.
It had nothing to do with his back story, but with a coach simply mispronouncing his last name.
“Everybody was already getting it wrong. My name is Lou-ee-kensen, but he called me Luck-in-son,” Louikenson said. “And it got to be Lucky. I liked Lucky. I thought it fit me.”
Playing for a program that has only won two games in three seasons might not seem too lucky for the football purist, but Louikenson knows his story is about more than winning games.
Thanks to football, he has dropped close to 50 pounds and has gotten stronger, squatting 450 pounds, his coach said.
“I’m enjoying the game and these guys are like my family,” Louikenson said. “I can’t imagine my life without these guys. I can go into any class and I won’t feel like a stranger because I know at least one of these guys will be there. I know they have my back and I have their backs. I’ll never let them down and they’ll never let me down.”
It is that team attitude that shines from his center every day, Queiroga said.
“One thing Lucky does is he makes sure we’re sticking together,” Queiroga said. “He thrives on being that central figure and he’s really big into team bonding. Our offensive line is a close-knit group and he’s a big reason why, that’s for sure.”
Louikenson might still have plenty of family back in Haiti, a country that is still rebuilding in places after that fateful day eight years ago.
But he’s lucky to have found another on Casagrande Field and inside the halls of Brien McMahon High School, too.