22,000 Miles for 965 Pounds
She has played basketball all over the globe. She has won an Olympic gold medal and is considered one of the most elite women’s basketball players on the planet. Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings has recently finished playing professionally in Russia, and beginning in January, she will ply her trade in Korea.
She travels the world for her game – considered as both her career and her passion.
Another passion, though, is children. And specifically, since its establishment in January 2004, Catchings’ passion has become her Catch the Stars Foundation, Inc. Its mission is to motivate youth to reach their dreams by providing positive academic and sports-related programs. For a pair of fitness clinics conducted as part of her foundation, Tamika has circled the globe, literally, for mere hours at a time.
On consecutive weekends in November, Catchings flew from Russia to Indianapolis, and back again. In less than 60 combined hours in Indy, Catchings conducted two clinics and raised nearly 1,000 pounds of canned food as donation to Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana – for what has become her annual Thanksgiving contribution with proceeds raised from her clinics. Not to be deterred by playing in Russia, the Fever’s all-star forward and all-star citizen traveled over 22,000 miles for the otherwise-free-of-charge clinics, attended by approximately 200 youngsters. She arrived late on the evening of Nov. 11, returning to Moscow on the morning of Nov. 13. One week later, she arrived in Indy at 9:30 p.m., Nov. 18, only to board her return flight at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 19.
In between plane rides and clinics, on the Saturday evening of her first visit, she treated a dozen youngsters to a dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. A component of her foundation’s S.T.A.R.S. program (Sisters Teaching and Reaching Sisters), the event was part-reward and part-teaching for a group of local children who might not have otherwise experienced an evening of fine dining. S.T.A.R.S. provides assistance with special school-related programs, and is itself an eight-week program that explores goal-setting, self-esteem, career planning and decision making.
Catchings was recently named as one of three finalists for the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup – a national award presented annually in Atlanta, Ga., which honors an outstanding professional and college athlete who best display character, teamwork, and citizenship – attributes deemed central to transforming individuals, sport, and society.
Indeed, she is deserving of such praise.
Prior to boarding another airliner for her return to the United States for the holidays – during which she will conduct her annual holiday basketball camp in Indianapolis, Dec. 28-30 – she spent an evening answering questions from Russia, via email, for the Fever Website! Here is Part I of the Catchings holiday interview.
Tamika Catchings: “That was something that I had included in my contract with my Russian team. Most of the time I don't agree to go overseas unless I can come back for my camps and clinics, or I wait until all of them are over and done before pursuing a playing opportunity. The decision is the team’s, and Spartak Moscow was happy to allow me to play and still be a part of my camps and clinics.”
FW: Did you ever consider canceling your clinics? Or not going to Russia?
TC: “I considered not going to Russia way before I would ever consider canceling my clinics. Having these clinics as part of the Catch the Stars Foundation is important to the kids, the community, my volunteers, and all who are involved. The thought never crossed my mind.”
FW: You have done these camps and clinics for several years now, including your annual Thanksgiving donations to the Pacers Thanksgiving Dinner and Gleaners Food Bank. When you started these things in 2001, did you ever think they would become such a regular part of your life?
TC: “I was hoping from the beginning that these things would be vital in my life. One of the things I have always wanted to do was make a difference in the lives of the younger generation. This is a way to reach out and give back. It has become a regular activity for me because what I love are the smiles on these kids faces. That's what I live for. I think that is God's true purpose for me.”
TC: “I was sitting around one day with my sister, Tauja, and a friend, Lori Satterfield, and we were trying to figure out something cool that would tie around Thanksgiving. We could do a basketball clinic; or offer a dinner; or figure out how to do something even bigger to impact our youth while giving them an opportunity to help those less fortunate than them. That's how the whole idea started four years ago, and here we are still hosting our clinics.”
FW: How many canned food items do kids usually bring to the clinics?
TC: “Each child is responsible for bringing 10 canned goods. Of course, we'll still let them participate if they being more (smile).”
TC: “We organize the fitness clinics from scratch for the most part. We are always open for suggestions from those who help out because it is a team effort in hosting the clinics. We do a variety of activities. Whatever fitness activities we can think of, we try to pull them together. I try to incorporate things that kids can do on their own, such as push ups, jumping rope, hula hoops and more.”
FW: How have your fitness clinics and camps grown from year to year?
TC: “Each year we are able to reach out to more and more youth in the area. One of the things that really helped this year was not only doing a clinic at Riverside Family Center, but also at Washington Park. We're trying to reach out to kids in all areas of Indianapolis.”
FW: How has the management of your camps and clinics grown from year to year? What kind of staff do you use to organize them when you are out of the country?
TC: “The management of our camps has grown as the number of volunteers have grown. It's funny because I've never wanted to over-use our volunteers, for fear that they won't want to come back and help. But, they are always the ones trying to get us to allocate more responsibilities to them. We have definitely gotten better, and will continue to get better. It has been a little difficult this year with me being out of the country, but Tauja and Lori have gathered with the volunteers to put out more information in the community.”
FW: You'll be home for holidays, for roughly two weeks beginning Dec. 16. But during that time, you are spending time in Indy and Texas, with another outreach commitment in New Orleans, and back to Indy for your camp. When does Tamika get time for herself?
TC: “I look forward to getting to Texas as soon as I can to hang with my family. Being in Houston is like having time for myself. Anytime I am with family, that is Tamika time too! The camps are such a joy to do that they become my time too. I try to live every day fulfilling all of God's plans for me. Somehow, someway he always makes time for me.”
FW: Is there ever a time that you take time to remove yourself from career and commitments, and just spend time to think and do your own thing? How do you like to spend your alone time?
TC: “I do have times where I remove myself from career and commitments. In those moments I find myself just watching movies, chillin’ with my friends, writing poetry, and lately I've been reading ‘The Purpose Driven Life.’”
Tamika returned from Russia on Dec. 16. She hosted a Christmas party with a group of youngsters involved with her Catch the Stars Foundation, on Dec. 17, and then will fly to Houston to spend her holiday with family. In true Tamika-fashion, she will take part in a Habitat for Humanity outreach event in New Orleans, Dec. 20. Following Christmas, she returns to Indianapolis for her Catch the Fever holiday basketball camp, Dec. 28-30.