With Haiti earthquake tragedy fresh in mind, Berto campaigns on
WESTON, Fla. -- It was mid-January and
"Really?" Berto asked. "Wow."
And that was it. No way it could be that bad, Berto thought. I'm sure they get earthquakes all the time. I'm sure everyone's OK. It wasn't until Berto got home and flipped on CNN that he saw the extent of the devastation. He saw the reports of the more than 200,000 dead and thousands more missing. He saw the ravaged capital of Port-au-Prince and video of millions of his countrymen wandering the streets, their homes reduced to a pile of rubble.
He reached for his phone like a reflex. He called his parents, who had been trying to get through to relatives all day without success. He thought about his sister, Naomi, and young niece, Jessica, who were living in the middle of the disaster area.
"I was really worried," Berto said in an interview with SI.com. "The last thing on my mind was boxing."
So the next day he went back to the gym. He trained. He sparred. But it was no use. During breaks he would sneak peeks at CNN to see if there were any updates. And when he was working he wondered if a family member was trying to reach him.
"I tried to keep the same routine but [Haiti] was the only thing I was thinking about," Berto said. "I couldn't really sleep too much. I kept seeing those images in my head."
"He was continuing to work but he was totally preoccupied," said Berto's promoter,
The fight was off, and within days Berto was on a plane with a team from Project Medishare bound for Haiti. His sister and niece had survived but eight other family members, including an uncle and several cousins, did not.
"I just had to get down there," Berto said.
What he saw was unnerving. Fighters are used to seeing a degree of suffering. If a power puncher like Berto is doing his job, his opponent ends up flat on his back. But nothing could have prepared him for what he saw in Haiti. Bodies decomposing in the streets. Hands of corpses reaching out of the rubble. Children playing in the street with bandages taped to their skulls. When the bandages were removed, Berto said, "you could see part of their brains."
The staff on site immediately put Berto to work. He was asked to help pull bodies from the debris and hold patients down while their limbs were amputated. He wandered the streets to lend support to the survivors, many of whom recognized him.
"I saw a lot of death," Berto said. "It was straight out of a horror movie and we were right there in the middle of it."
He stayed a week, but his mind stayed longer. Back in the U.S., Berto's thoughts constantly returned to the crippled nation he had left behind.
"I was messed up," he said. "I'd walk into my house or drive down the street and [Haiti] would just hit me."
He wanted to help. He
Several people in Berto's camp are uneasy about this fight. Quintana (27-2, 21 KOs) is a former welterweight titlist who handed
Berto (25-0, 19 KOs), however, says he is ready. He hopes that a convincing win will put him in the discussion for a future fight with
His promoter is on board.
"If that's something Andre wants to do, I'd go with him," DiBella said. "You can't go to Haiti to make money. You go to create hope and make a statement. You do it as a community service. Frankly, it would be a wonderful thing to do. Haiti is a broken, Third World country right now. He would be doing something to bring a diversion to the suffering."
Said Berto: "It's not over. We still have to help Haiti recover. There are still a lot of people there that are in trouble. And I want to do everything I can to help them out."