Because I won my Olympic gold medal in Nagano, Japan in 1998, the country has always held a powerful and touching place in my heart. Like many, I was really shaken by the scary sights of the tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011. In the wake of this horrific disaster, I am reminded of how we were struck by similar heartache and fears not so many years ago here in the United States after Hurricane Katrina. Amidst the despair and disbelief rose some real heroes whose true concern and efforts gave us all hope that from the desolation, New Orleans would be reborn. I wanted to share a story today of one of those very heroes in the hopes it ignites more supporters to champion the work still needed to be done in Japan and for future natural disasters.
(Story from When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out)
I can still remember sitting on my front stoop when I was young, listening to the local musicians of New Orleans. They were part of a real community, and supported each other like no group of artists I’ve ever encountered elsewhere.
So I was shocked when I moved to New York City and saw firsthand the competitive nature of the “real world.” The Big Apple made me realize how unique New Orleans truly was. Growing up, you would hear one musician finish his gig and then encourage the crowd, “You have to go across the street to take in this other guy’s set because he’s even better than me.”
The New Orleans I knew changed forever on August 29, 2005, as the world witnessed. The music stopped; there were no more musicians in the streets, and no crowds tapping their feet to the rhythms. A destructive presence changed it all, and her name was Hurricane Katrina.
I remember getting the call from my parents that fateful day. They were safely on their way to Baton Rouge, but they warned me of the devastation that was left behind. Despite these warnings, nothing prepared me for what I saw unfold on the following morning’s news.