It didn’t take long for Meghan O’Leary to translate frustration and concern into action.
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in August 2005, the Baton Rouge, La., native initially couldn’t stomach some of the news coverage of the disaster.
“Being here and seeing what was going on was real difficult,” says O’Leary, who is co-captain of UVA’s softball team. “Even though [New Orleans] is not your city, it’s still your home. It was upsetting. I couldn’t watch the news. There were a few days where I had to just turn it off.”
Shortly afterward, though, a different feeling took over.
“You kind of get that fight in you. You want to help, and you want to take action,” she says.
So O’Leary went to work. She connected with a number of other Louisiana natives at UVA, and that led to a series of town hall-style meetings about the issues facing people in the affected areas. O’Leary, a fourth-year, and other students began organizing events to raise money and collect supplies to ship to relief organizations.
As time has passed, O’Leary has witnessed the healing that New Orleans has experienced. The NFL Saints’ return to the city was a major shot in the arm for a wounded region.
“I’m not even a Saints fan, and I became a Saints fan,” O’Leary says.
It comes as little surprise that O’Leary would tackle an issue like Katrina relief with such energy. She played volleyball at UVA as a first- and second-year, then joined the softball team. She saw time as a pitcher early in her career before becoming a full-time outfielder.
At one point this season, she had posted the Cavaliers’ fourth-highest batting average (.293) and had started in all 29 games while handling a Jefferson Scholar’s course load (double major in religious studies and sociology).
“Meghan O’Leary is involved in everything,” says head coach Eileen Schmidt (Col ’94). “I had to do a letter of recommendation for her the other day, and I thought, ‘This kid is such a UVA kid.’”
O’Leary’s passion and her continued work have inspired her teammates. Fellow fourth-year Lindsey Preuss, whose hometown of La Plata, Md., was struck by a major tornado in 2002, intends to pitch in before entering the working world.
“She’s inspired me,” Preuss says. “I plan to go down to New Orleans right after graduation and take my sister and, hopefully, some of the girls on the team.”