Tracy Evans recognized for humanitarian efforts in Africa |

Tracy Evans recognized for humanitarian efforts in Africa

Christopher Kamrani, Of the Record staff

A volleyball net and a baseball tee. That’s all it took to tattoo smiles across the faces of children in Malawi, and to three-time Olympic aerialist and Park City resident Tracy Evans, that’s all that matters.

In 2008, Evans took a volunteer trip to Malawi at the suggestion of her mother. Once she got there, she realized sports were the avenue she’d take to make a difference.

Evans worked at an orphanage in Malawi in the mornings, worked on projects in the afternoons, and was able to play with kids in the village afterward.

Then it hit her.

"I asked myself, ‘What kind of activity could we introduce’?" she said. "(I) thought about maybe teaching them some new sports that’s when I decided to bring over a volleyball net and baseball tee.

"Basically, we introduced them to baseball. They had no idea how to hold a bat or how to run the bases."

She said the children were elated as they learned different sports.

"But as soon as you threw soccer in the mix, they all freaked out and went crazy," she said.

Following the trip to Malawi, Evans started her own nonprofit organization, Kids Play International, in December 2008. It is designed to build and organize sustainable school sports clubs in Rwanda and Malawi.

"From that volunteer trip to Malawi, it made me want to figure out how to give back everything I’ve done through sports," she said.

Since the foundation began, Evans, other volunteers and current and former professional athletes have made trips to Africa to help with Kids Play International.

Fast forward to May 2011.

Evans, who wore the stars and stripes proudly on the world’s biggest stage in 1994, 1998 and 2002, was awarded the 2011 Female Athlete Philanthropist of the Year Award by the United Athletes Foundation. The black-tie gala dinner in Manhattan, N.Y. Evans’ philanthropic efforts in the countries of Rwanda and Malawi were recognized by her athletic and humanitarian peers.

"The award in general kind of came as a surprise," Evans said.

Not as big of a surprise as when she showed up to the Grand Hyatt hotel prepared to give her acceptance speech and realized she didn’t know whom she was being honored with.

"Oh, who’s the male?" she asked herself.

It was Hall of Fame wide receiver and former San Francisco 49er great Jerry Rice.

"I thought to myself, ‘Oh goodness, OK," she said, laughing. "(Rice) was super nice. It’s always pleasant to be able to meet these extremely successful athletes and that they’re giving back. That’s what it’s all about, I think.

"To be able to use that and give back to others is great."

The United Athletes Foundation (UAF) is a coalition of roughly 150 current and former professional athletes who are using their influence for good worldwide. Evans became acquainted with the initiative when she met former NFL player Reggie Howard at a different humanitarian function.

"We just had a convo," she said. "(UAF’s) motto is to accomplish more together than (on their own); trying to reach out to athletes outside of their organization to come together."

Evans is heading back for another volunteer trip on June 6 with some Olympic backup, too.

Former Olympic luger Cammy Myler and former Olympic female ice hockey player Chanda Gunn will be among the former athletes following Evans in early June.

She also said a town like Park City, where there’s seemingly an Olympic athlete on every corner, could continue to send pro athletes to the villages of Rwanda and Malawi in the near future.

When asked to compare an Olympic selection to this unique honor, Evans said it’s difficult.

"They are (comparable) in the sense of accomplishment," she said. "This is so not about me, it’s about Kids Play International and helping African youth to become independent and educated adults so they can give back to their communities; to make their country a better place for their kids in the future. It’s a different feeling of accomplishment.

"There’s a group of people helping me to accomplish this goal now. I think my athletic achievements were a little bit more personal. It’s not a done deal; it’s not a finished product. It’s definitely a work in progress."

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