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As he plays out his career, Hill, now a 40-year-old forward with the Clippers, has committed himself to combating misinformation about nutrition and has enlisted in the crusade against inner-city "food deserts," where not enough stores stock fresh produce, and where obesity and diabetes rates are perilously high. "The opportunity is there for grocery chains to do some good and make some money," he says. "For corporations to help educate. A lot of kids have never tasted a real tomato. We need to offer them safe, healthy options."
To counter the deep-fried, fast-food diet endemic to urban America, Hill has made a point of including three Washington, D.C., Subway franchises in his real-estate portfolio. He has hooked up with The California Endowment, which is addressing nutrition in 15 of the state's urban communities. And he has cultivated relationships with all levels of the movement for healthy diets. At the grass roots, Hill cites Growing Power, former ABA player Will Allen's inner-city composting operation in Milwaukee, as a model for urban farming—one means of bringing fresh produce to food deserts. And Hill has served on the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and made appearances for Michelle Obama's Let's Move anti-obesity initiative. "When an athlete comes in and talks about his experience, it's more powerful," Hill says. "If [former Washington Bullets] Elvin Hayes or Jeff Ruland had come to my [northern Virginia] grade school and told me anything, I'd have done it."
Hill recognizes the irony: As sound nutrition has extended his career, it has postponed his ability to throw himself even deeper into a cause he calls "near and dear to my heart." But because he understands at such a personal level the value of eating well, retirement figures to turbocharge his efforts to address the problem. He envisions a critical role, for example, for African-American churches. "It's a rite of Sunday that once worship is over you go home and eat, and not always the healthiest thing," he says. "So we'd talk to pastors.
"Foundations and [assistance] networks have spent millions researching their communities, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel. It's a matter of bringing resources together, of getting in front of the necessary people and being an advocate. It should be like the seat-belt campaign, only for a healthy lifestyle."
HEARING AND HEALING KIDS
To win over a room of young people, Catchings might do what she did with students at Ball State several years ago. "How many of you have ever worn a hearing aid?" she asked. A stray hand went up. "And worn braces?" More went up. "And glasses?" Many more went up. By the time she got to "And how many of you have ever been bullied?" practically the entire room was reaching skyward.
Catchings herself can tick each of those boxes. She can also say that she went from these four kinds of imperfect as an adolescent to starting at forward for the undefeated 1998 NCAA title team at Tennessee, winning three Olympic gold medals and, in October, earning Finals MVP honors while leading the Indiana Fever to its first WNBA title. She knows her journey confers credibility on everything she says.
And cred is critical. "I'm telling them what I had to go through to get where I am," says the 6'1" Catchings, a seven-time WNBA All-Star. "Not, 'I'm a professional athlete and better than you.'" Whether you call it mentoring or role-modeling, Catchings, 33, is a passionate believer in the power of the intervening elder. Today it works for kids who go through the programs she launched during the first of her now 11 seasons in Indianapolis, just as, once upon a time, it worked for her.
Diagnosed at two with profound hearing loss, Catchings needed hearing aids in both ears to pick up voices. It didn't matter that her dad was former NBA center Harvey Catchings; in grade school peer pressure and comments from classmates got to her, and one day in frustration she chucked the devices into a field. By the time she entered Tennessee, she had largely compensated for her disability. But Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt staged an intervention, and Catchings agreed to try a next-generation hearing aid—this time, a tiny, barely noticeable apparatus.