Former Battery Creek athlete joins fight against HIV/AIDS

July 28, 2009 

After raising three sports-fanatic children with plenty of athleticism among them, Walt and Gayle Wierzbicki are used to a glove here and a football there lying throughout the house.

But even they've never seen anything like the mound of sports gear currently spilling over in their garage.

"It takes up about a quarter of our double-car garage," Walt Wierzbicki said with a chuckle. "There's everything from basketballs to footballs to batting helmets to catcher's equipment and a whole lot of other baseball and softball stuff."

Only, this mess is a blessed one, sparked by their oldest daughter, Ashley, and her unique efforts some 8,000 miles away.

In December, while serving her second year as a Peace Corps volunteer in the sub-saharan African country of Lesotho, Ashley Wierzbicki was approached by a local youth group seeking ways to empower the youth through sports and HIV/AIDS education. For Wierzbicki, a former two-sport athlete at Battery Creek High School and sailor at the University of South Florida, the answer was an easy one.

"At home, it seems it is always what more can I have, what more can I get," Wierzbicki said by e-mail. "Here, I've learned to seek what I need and value it.

"The hope is that through extracurricular (activities), they can empower the children to have greater self-confidence, self-worth and better decision-making in regard to their futures," she continued. "This is an essential component to HIV/AIDS prevention."

By the time school starts back in October, Wierzbicki's ultimate goal is to help the youth group use this equipment in forming extracurricular sports for the village's primary school and the many Basotho youth of Lesotho. And judging by the response, she ought to have no problem accomplishing just that.

Since soliciting help through e-mails and letters distributed throughout South Carolina, Wierzbicki has generated numerous donations -- hence, the mountain of equipment in her family's garage.

Beaufort High School softball coach Doug Plank helped by sponsoring a tournament at Burton Wells Park in which he asked participating teams to donate extra equipment. More help poured in from Beaufort High athletics director Jerry Linn as well as a handful of other community and military members.

"The biggest haul came from the softball tournament," Walt Wierzbicki said. "There's certainly enough there to support what Ashley is trying to organize and put together at least three or four teams.

"We even have some footballs because she's hoping to introduce American football to the kids."

Thing is, before Ashley Wierzbicki has a chance to teach the Basotho youth how to airmail a football, she must figure a way to ship the mounds of sports gear from her family's Beaufort garage to Lesotho.

"I know how much sending a care package to Ashley costs, but of course, this is much bigger, so we'll see how it all works out," said Walt Wierzbicki, who hopes to continue collecting items until the end of August. "I'm in the process of organizing and contacting Federal Express to weigh our options."

Still, this temporary roadblock hasn't slowed Ashley Wierzbicki's purpose. During her nearly two years in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, she has seen too much disarray and lack of resources to not pour her all into this cause nor believe that a way cannot be made.

"To be honest, the most eye-opening experience has been learning that people just want a voice and with that, a voice to be heard," she said. "It seems so much is given to the people of the Third World under the assumption that that is what they need, but they are never asked, listened to, or truly heard."

"Among my myriad of goals, the most important one is short -- to be understood and to truly understand."

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