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Michael Barnes

Texas 4000 Tribute Gala, More Katrina Stories and more

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Abigail Aeitler and Josh Hernandez, riders in the 2015 Texas 4000.

Abigail Aeitler and Josh Hernandez, riders in the 2015 Texas 4000.

CHARITY, HEALTH AND TRAVEL: They almost glow. Riders for the Texas 4000, University of Texas students who bike to Alaska to raise money for cancer causes, are not just fit, alert and confident. They fairly radiate good will. At the Austin Music Hall, 570 guests welcomed 71 riders from the 2015 tour. This group — split into three equidistant routes — raised a record $750,000, quite a bit I’d guess donated by the ride’s 500 alumni. Altogether, the 12 rides so far have raised more than $5 million.

Alex Zwaan and Annie Mara, riders in the 2015 Texas 4000.

Alex Zwaan and Annie Mara, riders in the 2015 Texas 4000.

I talked with riders, staff, board members, backers and relatives during the longish fundraiser. Rarely have I encountered such unbridled enthusiasm for a cause and the way it transforms those raising the money. Among the notables in attendance was new UT President Gregory L. Fenves. Bet he was as impressed by this team as I was.

Julie Tumblin is part of the Smoking for Jesus Ministry that relocated to Marbel Falls after Katrina. Photo: Jay Janner

Julie Tumblin is part of the Smoking for Jesus Ministry that relocated to Marbel Falls after Katrina. Photo: Jay Janner

MEDIA 1: Church is the most recognizable reminder of Katrina’s legacy in Central Texas. Sample taken from Marty Toohey‘s extensive story as part of the Statesman’s “Hurricane Katrina: A Decade Later”: “The pastor had finished preaching. A few people lingered in the sanctuary, preparing to shut off the lights. And outside, far from any big city lights, the countryside was swallowed up in a darkness that gave the stars a backdrop against which to shine.  “I would say it’s the darkness,” said Julie Tumblin, musing on the biggest difference between her former life in New Orleans and her life in this Hill Country community. “It’s still a little strange, even after all this time. Even though this is home.”

Kimani Williams has worked at Quality Seafood since he and his family fled New Orleans. Photo: Jay Janner

Kimani Williams has worked at Quality Seafood since he and his family fled New Orleans. Photo: Jay Janner

MEDIA 2: Katrina led Quality Seafood’s Kimani Williams to a better life. Sample taken from Matthew Odam‘s well told story as part of the Statesman’s “Hurricane Katrina: A Decade Later”: “New Orleans native Kimani Williams had ridden out plenty of storms in his 27 years. He knew the drill: Purchase canned goods, water and batteries. Hold tight. Hurricane Katrina loomed, but Williams wasn’t leaving the city’s Seventh Ward. “Same old song,” he said. Then former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin sounded the alarm: “This is a mandatory evacuation,” Williams remembers the warning. “911 will not be available to you. Your safety is not promised to you.” Williams thought of his wife, Kenyatta, and three children, ages 5, 3 and 3 months. He changed his mind. Time to leave.”

Matt Rourke's famous photograph of Sheila Dixon holds her baby Emily Dixon while waiting for evacuation from New Orleans.

Matt Rourke’s famous photograph of Sheila Dixon holds her baby Emily Dixon while waiting for evacuation from New Orleans.

MEDIA 3: Woman, daughter made famous in Katrina photo thrive. Sample taken from Tony Plohetski‘s deeply moving story as part of the Statesman’s “Hurricane Katrina: A Decade Later”: “Ten years later, I still flash back to the moment I first laid eyes on Shelia Dixon, cradling her precious baby girl in the aftermath of that monstrous storm, and can feel a lump in my throat. Exhausted and hungry, filthy from wading the flooded streets of New Orleans and drenched in sweat, former Statesman photographer Matt Rourke and I were three days into covering Hurricane Katrina, watching as choppers dropped hundreds of distraught evacuees along a highway I’d traveled my whole life.”

Cassie Smith, a 24-year-old New Orleans native, has worked in the American-Statesman newsroom since 2014.

Cassie Smith, a 24-year-old New Orleans native, has worked in the American-Statesman newsroom since 2014.

MEDIA 4: Katrina is a ‘blessing in disguise’ for some relocated millennials. Sample taken from Cassie Smith‘s personal story as part of the Statesman’s “Hurricane Katrina: A Decade Later”: “As I stood at the window in my doctor’s office, I recognized a familiar face. The medical assistant was one of my former high school classmates. In 2005, we both arrived at Cedar Park High School as new students. Prior to that, we both attended school in New Orleans. We each relocated to Austin with our families after Hurricane Katrina. While I waited for the doctor, she and I caught up. She is happily married with two kids. I, single, graduated college and am working in my chosen field, journalism. We both agreed that life has been good in Austin.”