As the calendar year 2015 comes to a close, it is fitting that a former athlete provides a book filled with stunning portraits of athletes that have inspired and possibly empowered others to follow their own dreams. The result is Sports Souls, a unique project that was a true labor of love for Andrea Mead Cross, highlighting the efforts of elite athletes and the positive impact of animals in their accomplished lives.
Born in Detroit, Cross was named after former American alpine skier Andrea Mead Lawrence, making her own mark as an elite athlete in swimming with the University of Florida and as a nationally ranked competitor in triathlons. While Cross has found a new career standing behind the lens, seeing the world through a unique perspective, her love of sport was never extinguished.
Considering her proud athletic background, the collection of her athletic photographs into a book brings her love of sport full circle. As a child, it was her mother who introduced her to a book that would forever change her view of sport. Titled The Heart of a Champion, said book served as the catalyst to inspire Cross to become a highly competitive swimmer. Coincidentally, her father would introduce her to photography, as it was his passion.
Photography quickly opened Cross’ eyes to another way of appreciating sport, capturing its essence, and in effect, immortalizing the athletes in a captivating image that could define their accomplishments. The exceptional quality of her work would eventually see publication in periodicals such as Fitness, National Geographic and Sports Illustrated, while also being featured on Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” and the ABC Evening News.
When approaching athletes about appearing in Sports Souls, Cross covered a wide range of athletes from sports such as beach volleyball, bobsled, cycling, gymnastics, ice and sledge hockey, snowboard, skiing and water polo, among others. Although some of the featured athletes may not be household names, their accomplishments are nothing short of impressive, poised to gain a place in the hearts and minds of readers.
With over 25 athletes featured throughout the pages of Sports Souls, all photographed by Cross, she was pleased with the general reaction of the athletes that were approached. Optimistic that the feedback shall be positive in the aftermath of the final product, text also accompanies the photos in the book, providing insights into the lives of those that agreed to be featured in front of her lens,
“As with most athletes timing is always an issue due to their busy training and race schedules, but the athletes we worked with seemed excited to be a part of the Sports Souls project!
And as far as whether they liked the work? (laughs) I think so for the most part. I have been very fortunate that I have had a favorable reaction to my work in general. Yet, like art, photography is subjective. Sometimes traditional sports photography fans have a difficult time understanding it, but I do know I am never going to please everyone!”
During the creative process, there was no shortage of athletes that served as inspiration for Mead Cross. Among those that she discussed, an athlete that touched her emotionally was Christy Gardner. Having been athletic for many years, including a competitive run in lacrosse as a player and coach, Gardner’s left was forever altered.
Serving as a member of the Military Police in the United States Armed Forces, Gardner suffered an injury in the Demilitarized Zone (located in Korea). The result was a series of surgeries, and the new reality of dealing with life as a disabled individual, struggling with seizures and the need for a service dog. Going by the sobriquet Moxie, it would provide Gardner with an invaluable teammate.
Through it all, Gardner maintained a remarkable dignity. Finding a new athletic opportunity in sled hockey, she was part of the US national team that captured the gold medal at the inaugural IPC Women’s World Ice Sledge Hockey Challenge in 2014. A few weeks later, she would have the opportunity to grace the ice at Washington Nationals Stadium on New Year’s Eve, along with her teammates from the Wounded Warriors.
Since the photo shoot with Mead Cross, Gardner underwent her greatest challenge yet, displaying the courage and strength that is destined to make her a role model for so many others, whether it be in sport or with regards to disabilities. With tremendous pain below her knees, she made the visceral decision to undergo amputation. Last summer saw Gardner undergo surgery in California, getting one leg amputated. Such courage made her a source of admiration for Cross,
“Definitely there were many, but on the top of my list is Christy Gardner, a player with the USA Women’s National Sled Hockey team. Her individual story touched me deeply. The extent of her injuries suffered as an Army Sergeant were devastating and have left both her legs basically paralyzed below the knee.
She relies on her service dog Moxie, who is just a sweetheart, to assist her in case of seizures also caused by the previous military injury. And yet her undying spirit to continue with life (and) not just sports inspired me tremendously.
After her photo shoot I met her team in the hotel and had the opportunity to spend some time with them. I just remember having a very emotional moment in the elevator as I left. Christy as well as her team had such a genuine joy and spirit I will never forget. It was an amazing experience.”
Gardner was not the only woman in hockey that Cross enjoyed working with. Having established themselves as one of the finest pairs of sisters in the modern history of women’s ice hockey, Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux have seen their careers come full circle in 2015.
Prior to establishing their legacies as program cornerstones with the University of North Dakota, the two became the first pair of twins to compete in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games. Making their debut at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, they would become the first pair of sisters to make a mark on women’s hockey in the United States.
In a year that saw them become the first pair of sisters to compete for the US in women’s ice hockey, there was another accomplishment that would have an eventual impact. Winny and Chelsey Brodt helped the Minnesota Whitecaps become the first American-based team to win the Clarkson Cup in 2010. In so doing, they became the first sisters to win the coveted Cup.
Heading into the 2015-16 season, the Brodt sisters and the Lamoureux twins enjoyed the unprecedented opportunity to become teammates for the first time, all suiting up for the Whitecaps. Now linked in a special way, their gathering as teammates represented one of the true feel-good moments for women’s ice hockey in 2015.
For Cross, the chance to work with the Lamoureux twins was an enjoyable moment defined by fun and friendship. With a love of sport that extends to all members of their family, it was no surprise that Cross’ photo shoot would become a family affair,
“The Lamoureux twins, Jocelyne and Monique, I also have to mention. Both are 2x Olympians in ice hockey and both are 2x silver medalists. That is just the beginning of their long and accomplished resume, yet the two were the most humble, friendly, and “real” individuals. They come from a very close and sports oriented family, their father an ex-hockey player and coach, their mother a former collegiate swimmer and marathon runner, their four brothers all played or are still playing hockey-it’s amazing.
During their photo shoot, their mom Linda was a fantastic help (and makes the best lattes bar none!) as well as their dad Jean-Pierre, who opened their home to us so we could warm up on a chilly Grand Forks, North Dakota day!
Yet, one funny thing that happened-I left the door open at one point and their two dogs got out! We all just started running all over the neighborhood to get them back! It was a trip we could not stop laughing about that!”
In reflecting on the photo shoots, another athlete that Cross was inspired by included Tony Azevedo. Serving as the team captain for the US national men’s water polo team, Azevedo has enjoyed four Summer Games appearances during his exceptional career.
Among his career accomplishments, he has earned a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games and a gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. As a side note, he also played professionally in Croatia and Italy. His sister Cassie not only played professional water polo in Italy (along with Hungary), her golden retriever Conan is a licensed lifeguard and rescue dog.
One aspect that has defined Azevedo is an enjoyment of life. Suffering from a fall at the tender age of four, where his heart stopped beating for four minutes, it did not prevent him from pursuing his dreams, rebuffing the medical suggestion that he would never be able to play sports. Currently running a water polo academy, employing a well-rounded approach consisting of training, nutrition and planning, from dealing with failure to leadership and teamwork interaction, he is helping to globalize the sport.
“Another athlete, Tony Azevedo, a 4x Olympic water polo player and USA team captain came out to his photo shoot on a day that was cold and windy! (with a little rain mixed in…) We were in Huntington Beach, California in the winter time and he came with his wife Sara and his new son Cruz!
Tony is an incredible athlete and it is so refreshing when these athletes are as passionate about life as they are their sport. His wife Sara was also awesome! She even donates her time when she can to animal rescues in Brazil. They definitely make the most of life and it was a pleasure to have had the opportunity to work with him.”
Working with producer Kelley Kwiatkowski, the two collaborated on an exceptional project, both proud of the outcome. As Cross reflects on her experience photographing some remarkable world-class athletes and even more remarkable people, there was no shortage of motivation and subsequently, inspiration.
For the reader, Cross hopes they obtain a positive experience upon glancing through the pages of Sports Souls. An intersection that unites a love of sports, an admiration of athletes and the support for animal rights, its concept is empowering yet passionate, capturing the residual warmth of friendship and the need to be soulful, which Cross writes about in her introduction.
“Through the photos, I am hoping the reader will be able to see a different side of the athlete that they haven’t seen before. I try to push each athlete as far as I can without going to far; everyone has different capabilities and limitations. Let us just say I do my research well in advance of each photo shoot to learn as much as I can about each athlete-for example understanding possible physical restrictions (because of a previous injury), it is just part of good preparation.
Yet, basically I am reaching for something more then just an athlete posing for a picture; I hope to take them beyond the norm. Along with the visual experience we had each athlete add their personal thoughts to their section, which we thought would be cool, it gives the reader an inside glimpse as to what motivates and inspires them to succeed!
I think Sports Souls is two-fold; not only did it turn out to be a great project overall, but it also is giving back to a cause I am passionate about; animals in need. The athletes were extremely supportive and generous to be a part of this, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with each one of them.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”