As part of a new series in association with the Women’s Tennis Association, the world’s top tennis players will write for Metro.co.uk on a rotational basis ahead of each major tournament. Starting in Madrid, Puerto Rico’s first ever Olympic gold medal winnner Monica Puig opens up on her relationship with her home country and the impact Hurricane Maria has had.
It changed everything.
Despite leaving my hometown of San Juan when I was only one to move to Miami for my dad’s business, Puerto Rico is definitely the place I call home.
I spent my whole summer vacation there in my childhood. I’d leave the day school finished and come back the day before school started. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, they’re all over there.
My favourite memory is going to the beach with my grandmother. She would go and find sand dollars on the ocean floor and my brother would be chasing crabs around. It was just fun being outside. We were never indoors for very long. There was always something to do.
The people of Puerto Rico have always supported me, my dreams and goals. They’ve been behind me every step of my journey.
Although the three Bs – baseball, basketball and boxing – dominate the sporting scene, I saw videos when I won Olympic gold in Rio three years ago of everybody glued to a TV screen. Whether in restaurants, bars or malls, everybody came together.
The day after I won I heard was the first day in history where there was no records of domestic violence, no crimes, nothing, everybody was just kind of united watching this sporting event. It turned out to be one of the best days in Puerto Rican history so I feel fortunate to contribute to that.
Just a year later, Hurricane Maria hit.
– 3,057 deaths (2,975 in Puerto Rico)– $91.6billion estimated damage– According to World Vision, seven months after the storm hit, 62,000 people were still without power– According to the New England Journal of Medicine, households went 84 days without power, 68 days without water, and 41 days without cell service, on average.
Puerto Rico was battered by the storm (Picture: EPA)I had played an exhibition match with Maria Sharapova in Puerto Rico 10 months before but I was in Wuhan when the news broke.
I was obviously really concerned, for the well-being of my family and the entire nation. My grandparents are quite old and you never know what could happen. Cell service went down, you couldn’t get in touch with anybody. There was no power, no water. It was very nerve-wracking.
Thankfully after a couple of hours my grandparents were able to call and tell us everybody was ok. But then I had the opportunity to go back after the season finished and I could not believe what I saw.
It literally looked like a war zone.
Maria has caused devastation shortly after Hurricane Irma passed through the area (Picture: Getty)All that you saw going in and out of the airports and through the sky was military aeroplanes bringing supplies and rescuing people.
I have a couple of friends – some of whom I knew from the Olympics – who lost everything. Everything destroyed.
They started off with a home and all of a sudden walls gave in, roof caved in. I saw videos of it afterwards and it was not a pretty sight. It was shocking.
It’s had a huge effect on my life. It’s made me see things in a different way. I still complain, like everybody does, about minor things but it’s definitely put things into perspective. My worries really aren’t that bad when you think about it. It’s nothing compared to what these people have suffered.
As a tennis player, I come to many different places, I stay in many nice hotels. Even when I went to Puerto Rico I was still staying in a hotel that was running on a generator, while there were still people who didn’t have any power at all. It definitely opens your eyes.
I was really grateful to the tennis community for coming together for Puerto Rico (Photo: Women’s Tennis Association)I follow the news and the governor of Puerto Rico so I always know what he’s doing or what he’s trying to do. Obviously the situation now isn’t 100% clear but in time hopefully things get better.
There’s people who are in areas that are difficult to get to who need support, and also people who FEMA and the Red Cross can’t necessarily help because they don’t have papers for their houses. That’s really unfortunate because they probably need help more than anyone. It’s going to take time to heal.
Hopefully within a couple of months things will improve.
When you go to a place and you see the destruction you fully understand the magnitude of despair. So when I went into the nitty gritty parts of Puerto Rico… it was just shocking.
That’s when you really get an idea of what these people need and how these people are feeling. If people are thinking the situation is ok now, then they really haven’t seen what I’ve seen. It’s going to take time to heal and recover.
Power may not return for months (Picture: Reuters)Puerto Rico needs to rebuild. It’s not just putting a bandaid on a problem and it’ll be fixed or solved. If something like this happens again, you need to be ready. People need help. Everywhere in the world, people need help.
You have to have a heart and a big one to be able to help people, even if you don’t know them. I don’t know every single Puerto Rican on the island but I’m still ready to help each and every one of them because if It was me, I would want help as well.
I was really grateful to the tennis community for coming together for Puerto Rico, it really shows the sense of closeness on the tours that people are willing to reach out.
Billie Jean King reached out. So did Kei Nishikori, Nick Kyrgios and Casey Dellacqua. Maria Sharapova came with me to Puerto Rico, which was great. With the funds I had raised through the Donate With Monica page, we were able to get essential supplies.
The hospitals were running short of supplies. We got a bunch of supplies of insulin, water, portable stoves and propane to power the stoves because you can’t survive on granola bars and snacks forever. A warm meal helps a lot.
Monica Puig and Maria Sharapova during a press conference (Picture: Getty)We supplied lanterns as well, with USB cords which were solar powered, so people could have light and charge their devices while it was sunny outside.
These were things we went to various hospitals and communities to give. There were people who literally lined up to receive this things from four in the morning – so the demand was very high. I’m glad we were able to help these people.
I’m still just trying to create awareness for Puerto Rico. After this, I want to help not only my island but other parts of the world that are struggling. I want to be able to help people, I want to be able to help children. I like that hands-on experience of just being there for somebody who needs you.
We need hope and inspiration. After something like this, it can really crush you, crush a nation. But they need that fighting spirit and while obviously they need material things, it really comes from believing things will get better.
I don’t know how much time it’s going to take, but hopefully Puerto Rico will recover fully soon.
Watch Monica discuss her experience of Hurricane Maria here
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