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McIlroy finds inspiration in humanitarian trip

Posted on: June 15, 2011 9:32 am

BETHESDA, Md. -- It's the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and would probably be classified as a fourth-world nation if the scale went down that far. It's been wracked by poverty and disease, politically pillaged for decades, and repeatedly drilled by Mother Nature.

But Rory McIlroy noticed something remarkable, and quite unexpected, when he made a humanitarian visit with UNICEF to Haiti last week, a place where he actually qualifies as an elder statesman at age 22.

An indomitable spirit.

The kids that the rising star met had no idea who he was, and have never seen golf, much less played  it, but milled around him like a pied piper as he handed out soap and helped educate them about the dangers of cholera and other diseases that have long afflicted the island nation, which was leveled by an earthquake 1 1/2 years ago.
Amazingly, among the devastation that left the Northern Irishman grasping for the right adjectives to describe his two-day visit, he found optimism.

"They didn't have a clue who I was," McIlroy laughed. "But the spirit of the children -- I mean, children are so resilient. It was almost as if they were oblivious to what was around them. Once they went in the school, they were happy, they were singing songs ...."

Haiti is the only life they have ever known. For them, there's no comparison, no contrast. McIlroy, however, has already traveled the globe as the No. 8 player in the world. The visit doubtlessly had a far greater impact on him than the kids he saw on the trip.

He carries photos of the trip on his cell phone. His new Twitter avatar is a photo of Rory holding a grinning Haitian child. That anybody smiles in a country where more than half the country lives below the poverty line is incredible in itself.

"Yeah, I thought I had perspective before going to Haiti, and then actually seeing it, it just gives you a completely different view on the world and the game that you play," McIlroy said. "It just makes you feel so lucky that I'm able just to sit here and drink a bottle of water, just the normal things that everyone does that you take for granted."

Things he will never again take for granted: Paved roads, habitable housing, sanitary conditions. Between jaunts to clinics and schools that UNICEF helps fund, McIlroy got an awful eyeful of the Port-au-Prince out his car window.

People living in tents and shantys, lacking running water and electricity, while navigating roads that were more pothole than pavement.

"The thing that I remember is driving past the presidential palace, and the dome on the top of it is just hanging off," McIlroy said softly. "It's just a mess.  I've got a picture of it on my phone.  I was just thinking to myself if they can't even repair [things for] the president  then they can't do anything. They just need so much help."

Golfers are involved in plenty of humanitarian efforts. Padraig Harrington, for one, has long been associated with the Special Olympics. Phil Mickelson funds an organization for at-risk schoolkids. Many have game, and heart.

He left for Haiti after his final round at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio on June 5, and it's already been a publicity boon for UNICEF, which signed McIlroy as an ambassador earlier this year. He wanted to do something for people in is proximal age group, and UNICEF concentrates on providing aid to children, it was perfect.

Sixty percent of the Haitian population is age 18 or younger. McIlroy said the kids often are going home and educating their parents on health-related issues they learned at UNICEF schools and clinics.

As though the experience wasn't jarring already, McIlroy trekked straight from Haiti to the posh and privileged embrace of Pine Valley, perhaps the top private course in the United States, for a couple of days of practice. Two locales could not underscore the polar extremes of the wealth spectrum more succinctly.
"It gives you a huge sense of just being so fortunate and just doing normal things every day," he said. "Even having streetlights and smooth roads, those people down there don't have that, and they might not have that for the next 15 or 20 years."

Plenty of folks were impressed by the grace that McIlroy showed when he blew the 54-hole lead at the masters in April, shooting 80 in the final round and imploding on the back nine. But in a grander sense, the Haitian episode might be much more important to his development as a person and player.

Context, after all, is an important thing in anyone's life.

"I'm nowhere in the position that some of these kids are, but walking into a school in Haiti last week and seeing a few of the faces light up, and playing soccer with them, just doing normal stuff that, again, we take for granted every day," he said. "It's a pretty cool feeling to be able to fill that child with a little bit of hope or joy for a couple of hours."

McIlroy is already considering a return trip and working out the logistics for a proposed visit to Sri Lanka, another impoverished nation, later this year. His ambassador trip to Haiti has been a public-relations boon for UNICEF, generating stories in the Washington Post, ESPN and other huge media outlets.

A new president was recently elected in Haiti, and the populace if hopeful that things will eventually change. They almost can’t get worse.

"It's still a country in a very bad state, but it's definitely going in the right direction," McIlroy said. "It's great to see."

Category: Golf
Tags: mcilroy, us open

Since: Apr 21, 2007
Posted on: June 16, 2011 7:12 pm

McIlroy finds inspiration in humanitarian trip

Is it just me?  Did Rory play the role of Danny Noonan in Caddyshack?  He's grown up to be a fine golfer... those lessons with Chevy paid off!

Since: Feb 15, 2008
Posted on: June 15, 2011 11:04 am

McIlroy finds inspiration in humanitarian trip

Oh no, now we'll have to endure countless interviews with Toilet Brush Head about his "work" in 3rd world countries. Where's Sting when you need him?

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