In The Giving Spirit

FAYETTEVILLE--Sarah Pfeifer had a tough time answering the question. A senior post for the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks' basketball team, Pfeifer still gets a thrill out of coming up with the big shot when the game is on the line. But just as exciting for Pfeifer is her other joy in life.

Giving back to others. While the senior from Ozark loves delivering on the court, she also enjoys doing the same off it. So which is more rewarding? A game-winning buzzer-beater, or a chance to lend a helping hand? "Well, it's fun to win games, but it's fun to see those smiles on those kids' faces," Pfeifer said. "So it's a different kind of feeling. "We're here to play basketball, but that's giving us the opportunity to do that other stuff. So it's the best of both worlds." The other ‘stuff' Pfeifer is being allowed to do requires no special skill. It takes no extra athletic ability. No fadeaway jumper or stiffarm run is needed in this case. All you have to have is a big heart. Razorbacks For Christmas This holiday season, like all others for the past several years, many University of Arkansas athletes have had that big heart. And with the help of Arkansas Athletes Outreach (AAO), many Razorbacks and Lady Razorbacks are able to give back when the spirit of giving reaches its peak. "This year, we've done once a month an event where we bring underprivileged kids and athletes together," said AAO director of community outreach programs Kristy Savole. "Our greatest attendance is at the Christmas one, but we've done it once a month. "A couple of times we've gone bowling. In October we had a carnival here at our complex, but the Christmas event we did at Lokomotion was probably our biggest event. We had about 100 kids and 100 athletes." Back on Dec. 4, athletes from all UA sports — both men and women — joined together to give underprivileged children of Northwest Arkansas an evening they would never forget. The event was Razorbacks for Christmas. "We had the athletes arrive about 6:15 p.m. and the kids arrived about 6:30," Savole said. "Then we just lined them up and paired them up, one kid and one athlete. They basically got an hour to do whatever the kid wanted to do. Some played video games, some rode the go-carts, some played laser tag. Some even got on the mechanical bull, even though we told the athletes they couldn't, but that was alright. "So it was really just a night for the kids to have fun and feel special. And then they got to leave with a Christmas gift, which was a sweatshirt." While one night on the town might not seem like much, think how important such a night can be to the less fortunate. Pfeifer, for one, found out firsthand just how meaningful Razorbacks for Christmas was. "At Lokomotion, it was about 25 or 30 degrees and my little girl wanted to ride the go-carts," Pfeifer said. "So we rode the go-carts twice and we couldn't even feel our faces when we got off. "But she was smiling, and that made it all worth it." Razorbacks for Christmas is a perfect example of what an organization such as AAO is all about. Athletes giving some of their spare time to make the season brighter for lesser-privileged children. But this one event is just an example of the many things this group, and these athletes, do to make the world — or at least, Northwest Arkansas — a better place. "The once a month events are open to all athletes," Savole said. "Then we do some stuff with certain teams. Like we took the women's golf team to help distribute food with Life Source and the tennis team did some work with Habitat for Humanity. "So different teams do different things, and we also have an ongoing event called Champions of Character which is an ongoing program throughout the school year. We have 10 different middle schools we go to where we do character education. So all that is happening throughout the year." And with so much going on and so many opportunities for Razorbacks athletes to get involved, which events are actually the players favorites? Well, it depends on who you ask. "Different (athletes) have different things they like best," Savole said. "I'm in charge of this Champions of Character program and athletes that like being in front of a crowd really like this program because you get to feel like a rock star. "But there's a lot of different things they like." Giving Back No matter what type of community service event the players enjoy the most, you'd be hard-pressed to find any athlete who doesn't feel a great deal of pride with being involved. Arkansas junior Emily Peacock is used to getting her kicks on the gymnastics floor. But Peacock also finds just as much pleasure by lending a helping hand whenever possible. "I think just anytime there's a chance for us to give back, because we as athletes are in a position where we're looked up to, then we should do it," Peacock said. "It's hard sometimes to get out there and do as much stuff as you want, with practice and classes and all. But I try to do as much as I can." Peacock knows what it's like to be a young child growing up with an adoration for older athletes. And because of that, she feels it's only right for Razorbacks and Lady'Backs to give back to those little ones who look up to them now. "For me personally, when I was growing up I was always looking up to athletes," Peacock said. "So being able to interact with kids who look up to you is nice." And interacting with kids — as well as elderly, homeless and others in need — is what the AAO and its athletes are all about. While the underprivileged need help and are always looking for a good smile throughout the year, events such as Razorbacks for Christmas remind us why the holiday season is just a little different. For the kids especially, and for the Razorbacks and Lady'Backs who take part, the season is now a little more jolly. "I love interacting with kids.," Pfeifer said. "It's fun for me because I'm just a big kid. "But also, knowing that these kids don't have a lot and they look up to you and knowing that you can make their Christmas just a little bit better is always fun."

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