#STINGDAILY: Living With Life's Ups And Downs

July 24, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

This was going to be about Cole Leonida, the great charity that the former Georgia Tech catcher and his brother have started to help bring fresh water to remote areas of the world, and a reminder of the fine nature of Tech people.

It has grown from there into proof that it is not always so many as six degrees that separate us from anything, including the good and evil of man, and that life’s ups and downs — many of them unpredictable — await us all.

There is a tale as well about how those needing help are as near as our neighbors and far away as the nations in Africa and/or South America where the charity (http://mycharitywater.org/leonida) created by Leonida and his brother, Alex, will aid local citizens. That site has an outstanding three-minute video explaining more about everything.

“We take for granted clean drinking water,” Cole said. “You wouldn’t believe the conditions sometimes. The water can be brown, or . . . almost like sewage.”

We also take for granted the liberty to go to a movie theater without having to worry about being shot while there, yet between our first and second conversations with Leonida, his hometown of Aurora, Colo., became a ground zero example of hell on Earth.

As Cole ran errands Monday following a minor league game in Viera, Fla., where he is working his way back from the second concussion of his young pro career, the topic came up. His girlfriend was in the car at the time. One of her acquaintances — Farrah Soudani — was injured in the Aurora theater where a gunman opened fire early Friday morning.

“I haven’t found out about anybody that I know personally, but that doesn’t make the situation any better,” he said. “It’s just been awful hearing some of the stories. Unfortunately, the girl didn’t have any health insurance.”

Only when asked did Leonida mention a website built by others to help Soudani. It’s gofundme.com/Help-Farrah. The site was up to more than $29,000 in pledges by Tuesday afternoon.

Leonida’s website started quickly as well. He first got the idea before being chosen by the Washington Nationals in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, when former Tech teammate Matt Simonds started a charity through “mycharitywater.org,” and asked Leonida to donate.

The next step came a few weeks ago when he had more time on his hands than he’d have preferred.

Leonida, playing for the Class A Hagerstown (Md.) Suns, was concussed while catching when a left-handed batter konked him in the head with a bat on his backswing at the plate. His first concussion came in ’10, in rookie ball, when Cole was trying to block a runner at the plate.

Nationals officials are playing it cautiously. Leonida, in fact, was excited upon our first conversation at the prospect of coming off the disabled list late last week just as his family was to arrive to visit him in Maryland. Instead, the Nationals sent him to Florida to rehab at the team’s spring training site.

“It’ll probably be just four or five days; it won’t be too long,” he hopes. “I played five innings, got a couple at-bats, but the most important thing is to get back in playing shape. The concussion was three weeks ago [Tuesday].”

In his recent downtime, Leonida saw something on ESPN about a distance runner on his way to the Olympics later this week. The runner had fled his country as a child, and although Leonida couldn’t remember the athlete’s name or country, he remembered the part of the show where producers went back to his homeland. Video of the conditions there triggered something.

“I started talking to my rommmate [Chris McKenzie] about how good we have it, and how horrible some other countries around the world have it,” Leonida said. “I called my brother and asked him if he’d want to help me out with this, and he was ecstatic.”

Alex, 28, is a financial advisor back in Colorado, where he works for their father’s company.

The brothers Leonida have never done anything like this before, and they set a target goal of $5,000. That was a recommendation made by the mycharitywater organization in order — usually — to create a positive water situation for a community of 250 people.

The Leonidas will not get to choose the location, but will be informed about all developments regarding their charity once money is collected and moved into the pipeline so to speak.

In some cases, the money will go to build a well. Sometimes, it will go toward filtration for existing water supplies. “There are different kinds of wells and different kinds of filtration,” Cole said. “They kind of assess the situation, and go from there.”

Leonida became further intrigued by mycharitywater because of its promise that 100% of the funds raised go to water treatment and/or cultivation. The organization’s operating costs are covered by separate philanthropic donations.

Within days, the Leonidas’ site fetched pledges for a few thousand dollars, and the Hagerstown front office began a site of its own (mycharitywater.org/suns) while also opting to set up collections at the ball park.

Excerpts from Cole’s recent letter to the Georgia Tech sports information department shed more light:

“We wanted to find a way to help others in need, and we feel that God has lead us to this organization for a very specific reason . . . we are going to raise our goal; the only question is how high?

“It is wonderful to see the good and generosity in people. No matter their background, race, upbringing, religious beliefs, political affiliations, or financial standing, it is clear that everyone wants to help however they can. I feel blessed to have stumbled upon this medium and [to have] the platform and contacts to make a difference.”

This story would have included no mention of Leonida’s hometown of Aurora, Colo., had the hard drive on my laptop not died (or been sabotaged?) late last week. When I called Cole back Monday to refresh details that were trapped in the hard drive where I’d entered them, I asked him — without at the time having his bio up on the screen of my newish laptop — to please remind me what part of Colorado he was from. From there, we ended up here. You never know, right? Sometimes it is amazing how so many lives zig-zag across one another.

Although donations slowed a bit as Leonida shipped to Florida, he and his brother have raised their target to $10,000.

Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com. Trying to build a Twitter following: @mwinkeljohn.

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