'Survivor' Ethan Zohn dribbling from Boston to Washington for charity
By Christopher Rocchio, 08/22/2008
After spending time marooned in Kenya and Panama as a Survivor castaway, Ethan Zohn should have no problem dribbling a soccer ball down the east coast.
The Survivor: Africa champ recently launched "Dribble 2008," in which he'll dribble a soccer ball more than 550 miles from Foxborough, MA and up to Boston, MA back down the East Coast to Washington, D.C. in an attempt to raise money for Grassroot Soccer -- a non-profit organization he co-founded in 2002 that uses the "power of soccer" in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The three-month journey began at Wednesday night's New England Revolution vs. DC United MLS soccer match and will continue through the streets of Providence, RI, New Haven, CT, New York City, Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, and various surrounding townships. Dribble 2008 will culminate in the nation's capital on December 1 -- World AIDS Day.
On Thursday, Ethan took some time on one of his hydration breaks to talk to Reality TV World about Dribble 2008 and the larger fund-raising campaign it's helping to launch; what the funds it raises will go to and how youth who get in on the act could earn a trip to South Africa; how he also has a personal goal during his journey; and if he'd be willing to give Survivor one more shot.
Reality TV World: Talk a little bit about Dribble 2008 and the larger Grassroot Soccer UNITED campaign. Where did the ideas originate and what was the inspiration behind them?
Ethan: To put it in a frame of reference, I lived and played soccer in Zimbabwe and witnessed what was happening firsthand with HIV/AIDS, had friends who got sick and died. I didn't know what to do at that time, so I came back to the States and got on Survivor and had a similar experience while I was playing Survivor in Kenya. So I used [the $1 million Survivor: Africa prize] to create Grassroot Soccer.
Grassroot Soccer is an organization where we train professional soccer players about HIV and AIDS, and then they go into the school to teach the youth about AIDS prevention. We've been running it for six years now, we're in 15 countries, 250,000 kids have graduated. We have an iron-clad curriculum that we're really proud of.
So now we really want to educate everyone in the United States about what we're doing in Africa and create a great, large-scale awareness and fund-raising campaign. That's where the Dribble 2008 campaign was created.
Grassroot Soccer UNITED is a worldwide, youth-led movement to end HIV/AIDS in Africa. The way we are announcing it and launching it and getting everyone excited about it is by me dribbling a soccer ball 550 miles from Boston to Washington, D.C.. I started [Wednesday] night at the halftime of the New England Revolution match. I will end in Washington, D.C. on December 1, which is World AIDS Day.
All along the route, we'll be having soccer clinics at high schools, beaches and college soccer tournaments. We'll be stopping at Puma stores, gyms, car dealerships...
Reality TV World: Okay, so you do you plan on spending time in the communities you stop in.
Ethan: Definitely. That's a huge thing -- probably one of the most important parts of the campaign. For me, I really want to engage everyone in a fun, cool project where they can really feel they have a part in helping fight this horrible disease.
By having soccer clinics and doing these college speeches, we really are giving all these kids and soccer moms and dads and referees and anyone we're in front of the opportunity to go to the website, buy cool Puma gear, to hold soccer tournaments or rally all of their friends to create an event.
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One of the cool things I think is the Top 11 fund raisers nationwide win a free trip to Africa in Summer 2009 [to attend FIFA Football for Hope Center]. That's hopefully an incentive for these kids. They'll win a trip, they'll get to meet some of their African teammates and they'll play soccer and hang out in South Africa.
Reality TV World: I know the event's goal is to raise $1 million for GrassRoot Soccer UNITED. What are some of the causes that you plan to use the funds for and how is the drive going so far?
Ethan: Every single dollar raised is going to go to help fund our project in Africa. Basically, it's roughly $25 to put a kid through our program. So it's $25 to save a life; $25 to give a kid the skills and knowledge that they need to remain HIV-negative, to go out there and live a healthy lifestyle. That's where we target everything.
The money's also going to help create more projects in Africa. As I said, we're in 15 countries right now. We really want to expand and we want to be able to reach as many kids as possible. So whether that's through creating soccer leagues or making our curriculum better or providing uniforms or doing training courses in Africa. All the money is going to those type of things.
Reality TV World: In addition to raising funds, you're also trying to personally set the world record for longest continuous dribble. What's the current record and are you pretty sure that Dribble 2008 will be able to beat it?
Ethan: I think it's completely attainable. The night before I finish, I'll be dribbling for 24 hours straight. So I'm hoping... I'm going to say 60 miles because I don't want to... I'm hoping to get more, but let's say 60 miles.
So I'll be doing that in the Washington, D.C. area on the lawn, which is a 1.9-mile loop -- so I'll be going back and forth, back and forth for 24 hours to break the record. So I think it's attainable. I like challenging myself.
Reality TV World: Did you ever imagine that you'd be able to use your love of soccer to raise awareness and funds for something as important as AIDS and HIV?
Ethan: I really didn't in all honesty. I never imagined I'd be in this position I guess you can say that I'm in, obviously, through reality television. That's what helped me get to where I am today. I mean I played soccer, I coached soccer, I refereed -- I love the sport. I've always wanted to be involved with the sport.
But there was a time in life when I thought I'd have to suck it up and get a real job. But luckily Survivor came along and allowed me this opportunity to really create Grassroot Soccer and do things like I am today. So I never really anticipated it being this big a part of my life, but I'm so psyched.
Basically I'm combining everything I love in life -- soccer and kids and Africa and saving lives. I'm blessed. I really can't complain about anything right now. (laughing)
Reality TV World: So Grassroot Soccer is your full-time job now?
Ethan: Yeah. It's all volunteer; I don't get paid for any of this.
Reality TV World: In addition to Grassroot Soccer, what else have you been up to since viewers last saw you as a Survivor: All-Stars castaway in 2004? Are you still dating [Survivor: Amazon winner and fellow All-Stars castaway] Jenna Morasca?
Ethan: Jenna's great. We're still dating, of course -- $2 million is better than $1 million as I always say.
Luckily, I'm still involved with the whole television thing. I've got a new television program coming out in October called Earth Tripping. That's going to be on Equator HD, and it's all focused on eco-friendly travel and adventure. I'm still trying to do some sports broadcasting as well.
I still keep in touch with a bunch of my reality friends and try to get them involved with what I'm doing as much as possible.
Reality TV World: If Survivor came calling again, would you do it?
Ethan: I hope they don't come calling because I'd probably have to say yes. I couldn't let that go by me without trying it one last time. So I'd probably say yes, but I hope they don't come calling.