At a time when people around the world are enduring difficult circumstances, one Turkish Airlines EuroLeague player experienced in surviving calamity can teach a lot about perseverance.
FC Bayern Munich center Greg Monroe has first-hand experience of coming through a challenging time for society, having been forced out of his home by a major hurricane during his teenage years. Monroe was born and raised in New Orleans and in August 2005, when he was 15 years old, the city was plunged into a state of emergency after receiving a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina, one of the most intense storms ever to make landfall in the United States.
"I was a sophomore at high school and we lived about 15 minutes from downtown New Orleans," Monroe reflected on that traumatic period. "I remember the day my family decided to evacuate the city. We had been watching the news because there were hurricane warnings pretty much every year and every time there was a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, we had to be very aware.
"I always think we were very lucky that we were able to be together and have everybody accounted for. It was much worse than that for a lot of other families."
"This time it was a bad one and the city recommended that people evacuated, so we left and went to Houston [around 500 kilometers west of New Orleans]. I left with my family and we were pretty fortunate that the whole family was able to stay together – three from my house with me, my mom and my sister, but about 15 or 20 of us all together. I always think we were very lucky that we were able to be together and have everybody accounted for. It was much worse than that for a lot of other families."
Initially, Monroe and his family – along with other evacuees from New Orleans – assumed their relocation would just be a temporary measure and that they would head home as soon as the storm passed. But the brutality of Hurricane Katrina, which killed nearly 2,000 people and caused damage of more than $100 billion, made that impossible.
"We evacuated to Houston and were living in a hotel for a few days until we really understood what had happened," he continued. "We found out that the storm had directly hit the city of New Orleans and everything was a domino effect from there. We knew it was about to hit, but nobody could have predicted how bad it would be. We got out of harm’s way and we knew there would be damage, but not to that extent. We went to Houston thinking it would be for three or four days, but we ended up staying there for a month and a half."
When Monroe and his family were finally able to return home, there was still a lot of work to be done in rebuilding their home and their lives.
"The first floor of our house had been flooded so we had to change everything – all the furniture, the flooring, the electrical appliances."
"There had been a lot of damage," he recalled. "The first floor of our house had been flooded so we had to change everything – all the furniture, the flooring, the electrical appliances. We also had a hole in the roof to deal with. But we were lucky just to be able to go to our home at all because there are still homes which have stayed abandoned to this day."
Not surprisingly, Monroe regards that harrowing period of time as one of the key turning points in his life, changing his perspective on the world for good.
"I definitely looked at life through a bigger lens after that," he said. "I appreciated things more. As a teenager, I was still maturing, and growing as a person. But I was old enough to understand everything that was happening and to go through something like that gave me a different outlook on life. Everyone who went through it came out more mature. You have to. You have to come out stronger in order to continue living your life."
"Sports were an outlet for everybody in New Orleans at that time. They brought everybody together."
As part of that maturing process, and as he witnessed how the city recovered from the devastation of that storm, Monroe was struck by the central role taken by sports and athletes in pulling people together and encouraging a community spirit.
"Sports were an outlet for everybody in New Orleans at that time," he said. "They brought everybody together. Sports came to the forefront because many shops and businesses were closed, and there wasn’t much to do – especially for teenagers. So going to watch games, whether it was high school, college or professional, became a big thing to do. People were able to just enjoy themselves and forget about everything else.
"And a lot of the sportsmen in the cities were great role models. Guys like Drew Brees and Chris Paul… the way they embraced the city and helped out in any way they could to speed up the recovery process. The city will always be grateful for what they did and the leadership they showed. That stayed with me and now I try to give back as much as possible, carry myself in the right way and understand that being a professional athlete is a privilege. We have people looking up to us, so it’s a duty for us to set a good example for younger people."