Good as gold

Miner and family stay positive while he works overseas

Melinda Mawdsley

Mike Letlow doesn’t need to answer the question. He simply points to his wife and sons. They are what he misses the most.

Mike has been living in the central Asian country of Kazakhstan since early September, working for the London-based company European Minerals. A five-year pit foreman with the Seneca coal mine near Hayden, Mike decided to secure another job before the expected closure of the Seneca mine.

He went from mining coal near Hayden to mining gold at a “brand-spanking-new” mine two hours from Kostanai, Kazakhstan.

“I run the entire mine site — from the mill to the pit to maintenance, everything,” Mike said. “I’ll be there for a year. Right now, I’m in the process of training Russian and Kazakh people to do my job.”

Meanwhile, life goes on in Hayden, and Mike misses every moment of it — including watching his three sons play football and being youngest son Treyben’s ally against big brothers Tyson and Coy.

“They are really close,” Angela Letlow said about the relationship between her husband and Treyben.

A 12-hour time difference and an 18-hour flight separate remote northern Kazakhstan from remote Northwest Colorado, so Mike is dependent on temperamental technology to communicate with his family.

“It depends on if the phones are working or if the computer is working,” he said.

Language and cultural barriers distance Mike even further. Soccer and boxing are popular in Kazakhstan, a developing country. The satellite TV gets CNN and ESPN Euro, which broadcasts “lots of soccer,” Mike said.

Mike grew up playing football and basketball and running track in Louisiana. He didn’t grow up playing soccer, but he has found sports tapes worth watching while overseas. Hayden High School officials taped every varsity football game, and Tigers football coach Shawn Baumgartner has helped get those VHS tapes to Mike. Mike took a VCR to Kazakhstan in September.

“There was a British guy and a guy from Botswana who can speak English and understand English, but they are into cricket and soccer,” Letlow said. “I’m watching films, and these people, who don’t know anything about football, are sitting there, and they know their numbers — 88 (Tyson) and 5 (Coy) — and they are asking, ‘Why are they doing this, and why are they doing this?’ It’s pretty funny.”

All three boys played football. Tyson, a senior, and Treyben, a seventh-grader, play basketball. Treyben and Coy, a freshman, wrestle. Mike has become a fan of wrestling despite limited exposure to the sport.

“I’m coming back for state wrestling,” Mike said.

And at that, Coy smiled, welcoming the thought of advancing to the Feb. 16 to 18 tournament at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

The February weekend will be the next time Angela sees her husband and Tyson, Coy and Treyben see their father. Mike was home in Hayden from Dec. 19 until Sunday. He had a chance to see all three boys in action and was able to spend quality time with his family.

“I thought he was going to miss the whole season,” Tyson said. “But he came back.”

While Mike was home, he and the boys shot guns and watched Texas beat USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4. Tyson proudly displayed his Longhorns hat while sitting around the house Thursday night.

“We’ve been to Grand Junction and Fort Collins,” Tyson continued.

“We’ve done a lot of Christmas shopping this year,” Mike finished.

Mike has worked in the mining business since 1988, previously living in Nevada and Africa before moving to Hayden. He mined gold in Nevada, copper in Africa and coal in Hayden. His family was with him during all three jobs, but this year, “Home for the holidays” took on a whole new meaning.

“It’s been rough,” Mike said about the experience. “It’s worse when I leave.”

But the family remains positive and plans to stay in Hayden.

“I know he’ll be back for more of my games,” Coy said.

“That’s one of the reasons Mike decided to take this job,” Angela said. “It was a huge opportunity for him to advance in what he does. At some point, we’ll put the kids through school here and then maybe travel overseas.”

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