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A Moment's Notice

March 26, 2009 10:43 AM
Tracey hard at work
By Jeff Sikes, USTA.com

TUCSON, Ariz. - USTA Southwest 4.5 women’s team captain Heidi Nikodemus hopes to never get a call or text from teammate Tracey Kiest, because if Nikodemus’ phone rings or vibrates and it’s Kiest on the other end, it will probably mean just one thing: Her good friend will be missing their next USTA League match, with a good chance of several more to follow.

You see, Kiest works as a Communications Manager for the Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter in Phoenix, but her job could really be anywhere a disaster in America strikes.

In charge of coordinating communications and assessments for the humanitarian organization, Kiest is usually elbow deep in flood waters or trying to locate food, shelter and water for tornado or hurricane victims, or helping locate services and information for people displaced and distressed by all the things that typically make front page news.

”I am pretty much running into disaster zones that people are running out of,” said Kiest. “You never know what a day can bring, and I’ve come not to expect anything because I have seen everything. It’s really amazing to see the human spirit in times of such overwhelming troubles.””

Like a doctor on call, Kiest typically has four hours to be in a place whenever a disaster strikes that the Red Cross feels they need her at. That means USTA League matches, doctors appointments, hair appointments, birthday parties, anniversaries, however important to her, go straight to the back burner.

This year alone Kiest - a former news producer for NBC affiliate KPNX in Phoenix - has been in Iowa for the massive flooding that crippled the Cedar Rapids area and was at the Havasupai fires up near the Grand Canyon. Last year saw Kiest in Americus, Ga. on the scene and in the trenches after a tornado ravaged that town and killed 20 people. Record floods in Kansas in 2007 also had Kiest packing her bags at a moment’s notice.

Nikodemus was worried that Kiest might actually be unavailable this week when she saw the wildfires raging in California. But luckily, Kiest’s schedule has remained clear enough to allow her to make it here to the 4.5 USTA League National Championships.

”It was definitely a worry of mine that Tracey might not be here, because it’s just a realization that something could happen to take her away,” said Nikodemus.“But we understand it’s her job to go, no matter how bad we may want her here with us.”

A former college volleyball player at Mississippi State and at Arkansas State who has been playing tennis solidly since third grade, Kiest said she’d seen the Red Cross in action so many times and worked with them so often while doing TV stories in Phoenix, she felt it was time to make a career change, and the organization was a natural fit for her.

”I give out a lot of hugs and listen a lot to people in distress, just do anything I can to keep people going and in good spirits,” said Kiest. “It makes me really appreciative of days like this, where all I’m doing is kicking back, playing tennis with my friends at my first nationals, and having a ton of fun.”

To donate to Red Cross efforts or find out more about the Red Cross, log onto www.redcross.org.

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