In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, Monica Puig—the island’s first-ever Olympic gold medalist—is hoping to inspire from half a world away. Now into the Round of 16 at the Wuhan Open in China, Puig talks about believing, rebuilding and coming together.
In tennis, sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down, but you always have to find a way to win. Tennis is known for being an individual, almost selfish sport. At one point, I was so focused on my results this year and how I was struggling. I won the Olympics in 2016 and now I’m at rock bottom, but then all of a sudden something like Hurricane Maria happens and it gives you a reality check. As tennis players, it’s easily to get wrapped up in this sport, but there are so many more people that we need to think about and realize that this world needs people to pay attention.
The entire side of my mom’s family lives in Puerto Rico and I have a lot of friends there that I met from the Olympics. Thankfully my grandparents, my aunts and my uncles are okay. I’m able to communicate with them—as long as they have charged their phones in the car. I follow the governor on Twitter and Instagram, so I’m seeing what he’s doing, where he’s going and which places need more attention than others. Even though my base is in Boca Raton, Fla., Puerto Rico is definitely home for me. In my heart, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world but unfortunately that beautiful place is unrecognizable at the moment.
I’m not worried about our ability to rebuild. Right now I’m just worried about the people’s faith and fire. I don’t want that to ever go out. Many people say that this is going to make us stronger and better, but it’s one thing to say it and another thing to believe it. My focus right now is to try and encourage the people of Puerto Rico as much as I can to keep fighting and believing because we will get out of this. That’s why I started a fundraising page. We started out with a $25,000 goal and then a $50,000 goal, but now with $53,000 in donations after just two days, our goal is $100,000. I check the page every morning and night. Every single day I’m in contact with my agent with new projects and ideas about what we can do with the money, whether it’s buying things to send over there or going directly to the government to tell them to give it to the places in most need.
It doesn’t matter if we rebuild Puerto Rico in a day; I know the emotional pain will still be there because a lot of people lost their homes and that hits hardest. Now it’s about trying to get them to believe and to have that spirit that things will get better and that with time, everything will heal.
I also want them to know that they’re not alone because a lot of people have been paying attention, and a lot of other athletes have chipped in and started their own fundraising efforts. A lot of us are starting to come together now to form one group to make an even bigger impact.
I’ve seen a lot of my fellow players reply, re-tweet my fundraiser and donate. Casey Dellacqua sent me a tweet today saying that she donated and that was huge. Kei Nishikori posted on Twitter. I saw Boris Becker re-tweeted. A lot of people who I normally don’t talk to are re-tweeting the fundraiser and helping to spread the word.
It’s really amazing how one little thing can bring everybody together. It’s just like how that one sporting event at the Rio Olympics brought Puerto Rico together when I won the gold medal. Puerto Ricans are super proud of where they come from. It doesn’t matter who you ask, when you ask it. I’m very proud of where I come from and I think it’s that pride that we have that will help carry us to rebuild our homeland.
That’s what I’m hoping for right now—that the people of Puerto Rico will all come together, to realize that we need one another right now and we all need to be on the same page and that page is to help Puerto Rico come back.
You can donate to Monica Puig’s fundraising campaign here.