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UAA Athletics

Alaska athletes with ties to Australia share in fight against bush fires

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: January 15
  • Published January 14

UAA senior point guard Jack Macdonald is from Melbourne, Australia. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Australia is on fire, and athletes from there or who play there are trying to help.

On Sunday in Sydney, players on the men’s pro tennis tour pledged more than $500,000 and Serena Williams donated her $43,000 paycheck for winning the Auckland Classic to recovery efforts.

On the other side of the world, the marketing manager at the Alaska Airlines Center started a fundraiser that has so far raised nearly three times her original goal of $350. One of the biggest contributors: UAA basketball player Jack Macdonald, who is from Melbourne.

“I’m lucky. My family and friends haven’t directly been affected,” Macdonald said Tuesday. “I’m just doing my part as a proud Australian, because there are thousands who have lost everything.”

A basketball player from Chugiak who plays for the Canberra Capitals of Australia’s Women’s National Basketball League is doing her part too.

When Kelsey Griffin saw that teammate Kia Nurse said she would donate $5 for every point the Capitals scored in their next five games, Griffin and her wife pledged to match Nurse’s donation.

“Erin and I had been talking about what we could do to help out for some time,” Griffin said in a story about the donations on the Canberra Capitals website. “Erin worked in the affected areas after Black Saturday in Victoria and knowing this fire is so much bigger, we can only imagine the devastation on the communities.

“We knew second-hand items wouldn’t be completely helpful right now and we weren’t sure how to help get supplies to the areas, so when Erin saw Kia’s Tweet, we knew matching it could be one of the ways we could help out.

“I love this country and want to do whatever I can to help however big or small it may be.”

Griffin played her first season in Australia in 2012 and became a naturalized citizen in 2015.

Nurse and the Griffins made their pledges Jan. 2. The next day, the Capitals had to postpone a Jan. 5 home game because of poor air quality inside AIS Arena — a result of devastating fires across the entire continent.

The toll of the fires has been horrific: 28 people dead, nearly 18 million acres burned and hundreds of millions — maybe as many as a billion — dead animals.

Macdonald said he has a cousin who is a Melbourne firefighter who has “battled some of the fires for a couple weeks.”

“There’s definitely a sense of discomfort knowing that people back home are suffering and going through a really hard time,” he said.

Last week Kate Lampert, the marketing manager at the Alaska Airlines Center, made a donation to the Australian Red Cross. The next day she went a step further by starting a joint fundraiser between the Seawolves and the Alaska Airlines Center.

Lampert’s goal of raising $350 was quickly surpassed and went over the $1,000-mark last weekend.

“I came up with the fundraiser idea because frankly, I couldn’t stand seeing one more picture of a burnt koala on my news feed,” Lampert said last week by email. “I know Jack Macdonald is from Australia … plus, Alaska just had the devastating Swan Lake Fire — that’s two connections.”

Macdonald, who said he feels helpless when he sees photos of eerie red skies and cities like Melbourne and Sydney engulfed in haze, is appreciative.

“Not being there to help, this was the next best thing for me,” he said.