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Cards' Fitzgerald's passion for photography rivals his NFL exploits

The Arizona Cardinals All-Pro wideout has always had a fascination for people, places and cultures; and that inquisitiveness was nurtured by his parents, who made sure he and his younger brother, Marcus, experienced life outside their home in Minneapolis as much as possible.

With vivid fondness, Larry recalls his childhood trips to New Orleans each year to visit his mother's family, the big fish fries and eating crawfish, the elegant architecture of the French Quarter and the wild celebrations during Mardi Gras. There were also memorable trips to the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and Mississippi, his father's birthplace -- just to name a few.

These trips opened his and Marcus' eyes, said Larry. So when Larry was old enough and had the means, he began traveling and exploring the world in his offseasons, his camera in hand.

Larry's travel log is as robust as his NFL stats. Since 2005, he's traveled through 80 countries on every continent but Antarctica. He's been on five USO Tours, including a 2009 visit to the Persian Gulf. This year, before preseason began its grind in late July, he toured through South America, Europe, Australia and Africa -- the latter on three occasions.

Fitzgerald's passion for photography is another nod to his childhood. His sports journalist father always had a camera dangling from his neck and snapped countless shots of the family on their journeys. "I asked him once why he took so many pictures of me and I remember him answering, 'First of all, I love you, son, and second, I want to capture the moment,' " Fitzgerald said.

Larry's first camera was of the Polaroid instant variety, a gift from his parents in high school. Today he carries two digital cameras (a Canon G12 and a 5D-Mark 3) with him at all times. His vibrant photography has captured the African sunrise and its exotic (and sometimes dangerous) wildlife, a bottomless view from the snow-capped mountains in Katmandu, and the intricate mosaic ceiling-work of a Spanish cathedral. The portraits have focused on beaming children in India, sumos grappling in Japan and the Maasai warriors of Kenya and Tanzania.

"Some of these pictures he brings back from Africa are unbelievable because you don't think he can get as close as he does," said his father, Larry Sr.

However, this isn't just a case of an adrenaline-junkie, millionaire athlete satisfying his adventurous appetite. Larry's travels have also been shaped by the guidance he got from his mother, Carol, who died in 2003 due to complications from breast cancer.

As a disease intervention specialist for the Minnesota Dept. of Health, Carol met with low-income families affected by HIV and AIDS in the inner-city neighborhoods. Sometimes, she'd bring her sons with her.

"We hated going over there, but we'd play ball with the kids there and tried to help," said Larry, who remembers his first visit at age 7. "We were with kids who had much less than we did."

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Larry's mother also took part in multiple nonprofit community initiatives, like Circle of Love, an AIDS support group, and the African American Breast Cancer Alliance. As Larry's father taught him to look outside himself, his mother encouraged him to actively practice compassion there as well.

"My mom expressed to us at a very young age that giving our resources was nice, but giving our time means so much more," he said.

With his mother's words as his ultimate motivation, Larry's trips are often planned around charitable missions. In March, he and Baltimore Ravens' wide receiver Anquan Boldin joined Oxfam America in Ethiopia to assist in communities recovering from severe drought. In July, he traveled with the Starkey Foundation to Uganda and distributed hearing aids to the impoverished. Fitzgerald returned to Uganda a second time in late July -- after preseason had started -- to be involved in a charity event with former President Bill Clinton.

"I know my mom's watching me from heaven -- I wanted to show her that everything she instilled in me, the lessons I learned help me become a better man and continue forward," said Larry.

The trips offer perspective and a chance for reflection. During one trip to Zambia a few years ago, Larry was invited into a villager's modest shelter and watched the woman diligently sweep her dirt floor as if it had been laid with fine marble.

"She took pride in what she had," he said. "It makes you think about what we take for granted, like being able to turn on a faucet to get clean water."

Experiences like this help keep Larry self-motivated and hungry for knowledge in all areas of his life. Last summer, he interned at J.P. Morgan on Wall Street, where he got a crash course in everything from bond letters to interest rates to hedge funds.

"You read about athletes and their struggles all the time. I know it's hard to miss," said Larry. "[The internship] answered all of my questions. When I talk to my [financial] advisers, they're not talking over me. I'm understanding what they're telling me."

During another offseason, Larry took culinary courses. He's currently pursuing online the college degree he put on hold in 2004, fulfilling the promise he made to his mother that he'd complete his formal education.

Larry Fitzgerald Jr. is truly a student of the world and, like his masterful catches on the field, shows no signs of stopping yet.

"I don't think I've found that one burning thing that's calling me yet [after the NFL]," said Larry, who in Week 3 of the 2012 season became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 700 career catches. "I take a lot of pride in what I do for a living, but it's a big world and there are a lot of great things you can be involved in."