Even while discussing the damage to her car flooded by Hurricane Isaac, Brittney Reese was inundated with requests at the insurance company to see something no storm can ever take away from her.
“Everywhere I go, they want to see my medal,” said Reese, who won the long jump at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
She has been carrying her gold medal around her hometown of Gulfport, Miss., pulling it out when asked and posing for pictures.
The residents of the coastal city of about 70,000 on the Gulf of Mexico are happy to see something bright and shiny in the wake of Isaac, the hurricane which made landfall on Aug. 29. Since then, they have been busy cleaning up, fixing up and getting back to normal.
Reese’s home was flooded and her family will be living in a hotel, probably for the next couple of months, as the carpets, bedroom furniture and bathroom cabinets are replaced.
“My city is actually doing just fine,” Reese said. “My family and a couple of families in my neighborhood got a little bit of damage, but we didn’t get hit as bad as New Orleans.
“This was way better than Katrina,” Reese said, adding, “It's a blessing."
In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina brought devastation to the Gulf region, Reese’s home was in a flood zone and was sandbagged. Although it didn’t flood, the ceiling came down and the house had to be rid of mold. The family lived in and out of mobile homes and trailers.
“It was a tough time,” Reese said of the Katrina aftermath, “and makes you realize how blessed you are to have necessities. It was a true eye-opener. We don’t have a lot of homes back.”
Three years later, at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Reese’s goal was to win a medal for her storm-ravaged community. “When I got fifth, I was devastated and cried the whole way back to the Village,” she recalled.
Reese came through in London despite a stress fracture in her jumping leg that still bothers her so much that she had an MRI this week and is awaiting the results.
For her homecoming on Aug. 11, one day before the Olympic Closing Ceremony, about 1,000 supporters crowded into the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, along with cheerleaders, band members and the mayor of the city of Gulfport.
But Reese could only stay a couple of days because she had to head right back to Europe for meets. She was in Zurich, Switzerland, on the eve of her last competition of the season when Isaac struck. It made for a sleepless night.
“It was pretty tough,” Reese said. “It’s kind of crazy, because you worry about your family. You don’t know what was really going on. I called a couple of times to make sure they were safe. They had to go back one block to my grandfather’s house, and he didn’t get any flood water.”
While the storm was raging, Reese tweeted, “Now I really wish I was with my family!!” followed by “Y'all continue to keep my family in your thoughts and prayers our house is flooded and they had to evacuate … Thanks.”
Hours later, she was back on Twitter. “Waking up to my family still being safe is (nothing) more than I can ask for!!! … I just wanna thank God because it could have been worse!!”
And then an hour later: “Time to focus … Last meet of the season!!!”
The next day, Reese couldn’t get back to Gulfport fast enough. She already knew it wasn’t as bad as the earlier hurricane. “Isaac was unfortunate, but it wasn’t as bad as Katrina was because the kids were right back in school,” she said. “With Katrina we didn’t have that.”
But Reese was bummed that her car, a 2010 Cadillac she has named Cameron, was flooded while sitting in the driveway. “It’s in the shop and might still be drivable,” she said, her voice tinged with hope.
Reese has a busy week ahead, visiting her niece Jakara Hardy’s third-grade class, celebrating her 26th birthday on Sept. 9, going to a big family picnic and to the New Orleans Saints game on Sunday.
If Gulfport holds a food drive, Reese will take part, but she said, “My main concern when I got home was to get into the schools and talk to kids.”
Naturally, she's bringing her gold medal to her niece’s class. “My whole message is anything is possible,” said Reese, who also has won four consecutive indoor and outdoor World Championship titles. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, or from what family. It’s a matter of you putting in the work and trying to fulfill your dreams and reach your goals.”
Reese also came home to talk turkey. Last November, she donated 100 turkeys, including about 40 with all the fixings, for Thanksgiving dinners as a way of giving back to the community.
With a move to San Diego in about a week and a half, Reese is trying to figure out a way to get the city of Gulfport involved in helping her, “so I don’t have to be here to make that happen,” she said. Reese said she has spoken with members of the city council.
“If I don’t do anything with the turkeys, I will be doing something for the kids at Christmastime when I’m coming home,” she said.
Reese will be based at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., but will continue to be coached by Joe Walker, who retired from her alma mater, Ole Miss. He has since moved to Kentucky and Reese will go back and forth to train with him.
She also needs to schedule a trip back to Mississippi to have dinner with Gov. Phil Bryant.
“We both are busy, so we’re trying to make it where we both have free time,” Reese said.
No matter when the dinner happens, she should bring her gold medal. The governor will probably ask to see it.
Karen Rosen is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.