For nearly half a decade, New York City has gathered to salute the U.S. Ski Team and send America's skiers and snowboarders off onto the global circuit. This past week, nearly 20 Olympic medalists were among athletes at Gotham Hall for the 46th annual sendoff. But it was a different atmosphere this year as New York was grappling with the havoc wrought a week earlier by Hurricane Sandy -- something that wasn't lost on the USSA athletes gathered in the city.
Despite coming off a record year, with a dozen athletes winning season titles, media events and fanfare just didn't feel right this fall in New York. Instead, a dozen U.S. athletes gave up their day in the city to pitch in with relief efforts through New York Cares.
"Today I had the honor of being with a dozen of my teammates helping those in need," said Olympic champion Billy Demong in his address to the sold-out crowd of supporters. "As a native New Yorker, it's really impressive to be among athletes like this."
As New York shouldered yet another bout with Mother Nature in the form of heavy snow, athletes dug in at a New York warehouse, helping with New York Cares' coat and clothing drive. Athletes, staff and supporters also brought warm clothing to New York to help with the drive. With hundreds of thousands still without power and heat, the clothing was critical to relief efforts.
"It was nice to help give back to a city that has gone through so much," said Sarah Hendrickson, who was enjoying her first trip to the Big Apple. "As athletes, we always want to help but sometimes can't find the time. This was perfect and a pleasure for us. It's the little things that help get a community back on its feet after something so tragic, and I loved helping!"
Hendrickson, who won nine of 13 World Cup events en route to the title a year ago, is about to head to Europe for the opening of 2012-13 World Cup season Thanksgiving Weekend in Lillehammer, Norway.
"It was nice to do something with our hands, to not only help those that have been left in need from the storm, but to also see firsthand the challenges that aid workers and volunteers are up against," said Demong. "After a few hours of sorting through bags of donations, I realized that the efforts of those behind the scenes are so vital to the survival and recovery process. It was a powerful experience that helped me realize what an important role organizations like New York Cares have."
"It was extremely rewarding to help out for the day with the team, knowing that every little bit counts," said U.S. Freeskiing slopestyle star Ashley Battersby. "There were a ton of donations from the athletes as well as the public to help those families in need of some warmth. I'm so blessed to have been a part of helping New York Cares with my teammates and doing what we can to help give back."
As if on cue, snow blanketed New York for the team's Gold Medal Gala. And while it was good to foreshadow the season ahead, it also highlighted the concern shared by New Yorkers in the throes of one of the city's biggest national disasters.