For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
Her Olympic gold-medal win felt like destiny. Maybe, for this longtime Miami resident, Puerto Rico was an ideal as much as a place; a part of her that was lost that she wanted to gain back. “I know the country really appreciates this,” Puig said, “and I really wanted to give this victory to them. And the way I did it tonight, I wouldn’t want it any other way.” – Stephen Tignor / December 2016
When you’re a tennis player, sometimes it feels as if you have no home. For 10 months of every year, you live in airports, on planes, in hotels. On any given morning, you may not remember what city you’re in, or even what continent you’re on.
Maybe that’s one reason why Monica Puig is so committed to identifying with the place she calls home, Puerto Rico. While the 24-year-old grew up near Miami, Puig’s roots and loyalties, as well as her mother’s family, are in the small U.S. territory.
In 2016, Puig dedicated her year to qualifying for the Puerto Rico Olympic team. Then she became the first athlete from the island to win a gold medal in any sport.
With that glory came a sense of responsibility. When Puig heard about the devastation that Hurricane Maria wrought across Puerto Rico last fall—it caused the worst electrical blackout in U.S. history—she was on the road, this time in Asia. The distance from the island, her family and the friends she had made on the Olympic team only fed her sense of desperation.
“I feel so connected to my island, and I’ve received such incredible support my whole life from the people, that I felt completely helpless,” Puig says. “I had to do something immediately. I wanted to take direct action.”
She began with a fundraising campaign on YouCaring.com, which raised upwards of $150,000. When her 2017 season ended in October, Puig made her action as direct as possible. She took Maria Sharapova up on an offer to play an exhibition in San Juan, and to deliver supplies to the people, most of whom were still without power.
“I think the supplies we brought—the lights, stoves, gas, medication—provided some much-needed products for a lot of people,” Puig says. “But more so, being there with them, I had a chance to at least lift their spirits a little bit.”
Puig also brought some much-needed attention to Puerto Rico’s cause, which has become harder to come by over the last 12 months, as the media has largely moved on. While electricity has been restored and the survivors have gotten back on their feet, what was once seen as a low death toll has ballooned from 64 to 2,975.
“I wish there was more help for an extended period of time,” Puig says. “The recovery and rebuilding efforts take years. So it’s important to keep supporting the people of Puerto Rico for the coming months and years. They really need it.”
On court and off, Puig will try to keep lifting their spirits. Her gold medal, and the chance to play for her homeland, mean more than they ever have.