By Iuliana Petre
Killeen Daily Herald
Professional women's basketball player Naketia Swanier and fitness expert Keela Carr are bound by more than great physical strength and endurance.
Swanier and Carr are avid supporters of the military community including its soldiers, veterans and their families.
On Friday, the AAFES PX on Fort Hood will sponsor a meet-and-greet with Swanier and Carr from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., to give people an opportunity to learn about their efforts to support the military community through their foundations.
Last August, 22-year-old Swanier, who currently plays guard for the Connecticut Sun team in the Women's National Basketball Association, was inspired by her own experience as a "military brat" – her mother and father were both soldiers – and founded Ketia4Kidz, a non-profit organization that provides support to children of active-duty military personnel.
Although Swanier has played basketball since she was in elementary school, Ketia4Kidz is not about her love for the game. It is, instead, a source of support for military children who are experiencing the trials and tribulations of growing up in a military family.
"Our purpose is to motivate the children of active duty military personnel to achieve their goals and dreams by promoting excellence in academics and sports related programs. These programs will include reading, study skills, life skills and goal setting," Swanier told Prolebrity, a new online sports community dedicated to showcasing athletes' charitable causes among other personal engagements.
"She wants to help kids with whom she can relate," said Cornell Swanier, her father.
"Because of my background I thought (a foundation) was one of the things I could do to offer support and show military kids that they can be successful no matter what," Swanier said. "I want them to know that they should believe in their dreams and not to let anybody hold them back even though times are tough."
A thousand thanks
Two summers ago, when the now 35-year-old personal trainer of 12 years Keela Carr first met an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and amputee training for his third marathon, her life was completely changed.
"This young man was training for his third marathon and he had some stump changes. And although I am a great trainer and hold high certifications, that was an injury I didn't know anything about," Carr said. "It's not run of the mill. I was honest and told him I'd never seen this before and didn't know how to advise him."
The interaction motivated Carr to ask a family member working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a tour of the hospital in an effort to learn about combat-related injuries. What Carr received was more than she'd bargained for.
"I got there and was blown away," Carr said. "I come from a patriotic family but I think I had a naive sense of what exactly it means when you take that oath and put on that uniform. What I saw up close and personal at Walter Reed was that my freedom cost this young man his leg, this woman her peace of mind and so on. It was life changing."
As a result of her experience Carr developed a plan to meet with veterans by walking across the country.
She later started a charitable organization called A Thousand Thanks, with the main purpose of influencing change in the care of veterans.
"Our purpose is really to work with other existing veterans' organizations and come up with practical and workable ways to help those in need whether homeless, or suffering from a physical or mental illness. We have to have a better way to treat veterans, our soldiers and their families," Carr said.
Although it took her 72 days to complete the nearly 3,000-mile walk across America last year, Carr is planning a second walk to begin this Memorial Day – May 25. But, she is giving herself more time and plans to make more stops at military installations, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veteran facilities, and to talk to people.
"I want to spend time with soldiers and their families," Carr said. "I want to take my time to shine a light on our veterans, sing the praises of the troops and champion their cause."
For more information about Swanier's organization, visit www.Ketia4Kidz.org.
For more information about Carr's organization, visit www.athousandthanks.us.
For more information about Swanier and Carr's visit to Fort Hood, call the AAFES PX at 532-7200.
Contact Iuliana Petre at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7469.