Elite NFL star Larry Fitzgerald is a visionary, transforming his celebrity and passion for travel into a game-changing influence for a better world. Haley Beham caught up with Larry fresh off his trip to Rwanda, where he volunteered with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, to discuss his passion for travel, giving back and where his enthusiasm all started.
Larry Fitzgerald, a 10-year wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, is a force to be reckoned with both on and off the football field. Pairing his commitment to give back to the community with his love of traveling the world and exploring new cultures, he has been able to help people in both the United States and in countries in dire need of assistance like Rwanda, Ethiopia, the Philippines and Senegal. If you follow him on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, you’ll see a post or two chronicling the work he’s doing with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and Oxfam in the off season, but he isn’t a braggart and he isn’t receiving wide media attention. He’s just the kind of guy who gets casually mentioned for his good works by former President Bill Clinton during an interview on CNN. About his childhood, the Twin Cities native says, “Growing up in Minneapolis, it was a typical childhood—two-parent home, good schools, sports, lots of traveling with my parents.” His mother, in particular, was incredibly influential in his future philanthropic work. After her death in 2003, Fitzgerald was inspired to start the First Down Fund, an organization that funds activities for kids and supports children and families in crisis.
In 2006, the NFL veteran made his first trip to Africa, one he says was life changing. He traveled to Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world, where 70 percent of its 13 million citizens live in poverty. It was his first experience seeing real poverty, and he was motivated to help make a difference. Upon returning from Africa, he surrounded himself with like-minded people such as Anquan Boldin, a former teammate currently playing for the San Francisco 49ers who introduced him to Oxfam, and Bill and Tani Austin, founders of the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Since 2008, Fitzgerald has traveled on several missions with Oxfam, an organization working to find practical and innovative ways to equip people around the globe to lift themselves out of poverty. In Ethiopia, a country plagued by drought and famine, drained of resources and bereft of stable agricultural production, Fitzgerald and Boldin worked to educate people on how to live sustainable lives by assisting to create small plots of farmable land.
The NFL star also frequently travels with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing hearing care to thousands of people around the globe. When asked about a favorite travel memory, he’ll mention the first time he traveled to India with the organization, where he assisted with fitting a child for hearing aids. Once fitted, the child could hear instantaneously and Fitzgerald witnessed the light in their eyes at hearing the world around them for the first time. “It was really special,” he says, and an experience he’ll never forget. After that first trip to India in 2008, Fitzgerald has remained committed to the mission of the Starkey Hearing Foundation and continues to travel to countries around the world, assisting with fitting people for hearing aids. Although he travels around the world with relief organizations, the good-hearted philanthropist makes sure to fit in time for leisure adventures as well. “Traveling gives you the opportunity to interact with different cultures and meet interesting people along the way,” he says. On his last trip, he spent two days with Kingsley Holgate, a fascinating South African explorer, author and philanthropist working to bring awareness to rhino conservation and the alarming rate at which rhinos are being poached. Impressed by Holgate’s tremendous heart and dynamic character, Fitzgerald says Holgate will remain one of the most memorable people he’s met on his journeys.
With the NFL season well underway, we’ll continue to see Larry Fitzgerald on the football field for the Arizona Cardinals after signing an eight-year contract extension with them in 2011. Beyond sports, he’s committed to helping people domestically through his First Down Fund and internationally with continued missions through the Starkey Hearing Foundation and Oxfam. Of course, he’ll continue to explore the globe for fun, too. He’s been just about everywhere in the southern hemisphere. For the future, he’s looking to places like Russia, Scandinavia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and the Czech Republic, to name a few. The travel bug may have bitten him at a young age, but his love of discovering new places is spurred on by his passion to help people. “Traveling is the one thing you can buy that actually makes you richer because of what you learn,” he says. Larry Fitzgerald is a loyal Ker & Downey traveler committed to giving back to communities both locally and abroad, inspiring people to do the same through his journeys.