Almost one year ago, a devastating tornado crossed through central Oklahoma, just 11 miles from the University of Oklahoma campus. Forty minutes later, the tornado had left a wake of debris and broken lives 14 miles long as a state and nation mourned for those affected by the tragedy.
But while the tornado changed the lives of those in its path, the twister also changed the lives of those whose hearts were touched to help come to the aid of those who lost everything.
Members of the Oklahoma rowing team felt that pull of the heartstrings and joined with the OU athletic department and the university in the hopes of helping in any way possible. The Sooners were able to offer donations and spent time cleaning up neighborhoods affected by the storm.
The experience blessed many lives – including those on the team. With the memory of that experience still in their minds, this season’s team captains – junior Rachel Cantrell, senior Laura Combs and sophomore Jessica Hogan – discussed ways the Sooner rowers could continue to give back to their community during the 2013-14 season.
The solution? Divide up in order to do as much good in as many places as possible. Members of the team chose where they wanted to volunteer, creating small groups that provided more flexibility in scheduling visits and more personal experiences.
“We wanted to have more projects and a bigger variety instead of just doing something for one day,” Cantrell explained. “Each person has a good opportunity to serve and could choose where they wanted to go. It felt like people are more apt to do more when it caters to their interest. It really amped our girls up to reach out.”
One group volunteered at a nursing home, bringing cheer to the residents living there. Activities included making crafts with the residents, arranging flowers for them, playing games and simply being a friend and lending a listening ear.
“I have always loved working with the elderly,” said senior Belle Stixrood. “To see their faces light up when we come play a simple game like just completely makes my day. They all have such a spirit about them and they are all so funny. Their stories are great, too. It's just always an all-around great experience.”
Another group visited the cancer unit of a hospital where they visited with patients, handed out snacks and worked them in a room where patients can scrapbook. Yet another group visited an animal shelter, walking, washing, feeding and playing with the dogs there.
“Working at the animal shelter with my teammates has been an enlightening experience,” commented senior Meredith Thornton. “It has allowed me to get to know my teammates in a different way and allowed us to help the community. It is so rewarding to represent a community that we have helped make better.”
The Sooners worked with young people in the community as well, including time at Western Heights High School in Oklahoma City talking with members participating in the Special Olympics about the importance of staying healthy and how to be fit.
Recently, members of the team joined with many others in the athletics department to host an event sponsored by Nike called N7, an initiative committed to bringing sport and all of its benefits to the Native American and Aboriginal communities in the United States and Canada that resembled an old-fashioned field day with sport-related and cultural stations.
Sooner fans might also have spotted OU rowers at blood drives and at local schools as part of Sooner Jr., the athletics department program that teaches elementary students about fitness fun, academics, nutrition and sportsmanship.
So the Sooners hope to give back to Oklahoma with the memory of last year still in their minds, hoping that whether the difficulties that those around them face are large or small, they can lend a helping hand.