On January 4, Olympic gold-medal winner Jessica Mendoza (2004 USA softball team) started her 10-day trip through Afghanistan with other Olympians. She chronicled her trip exclusively for Women's Health.
A friend from a hospital visit. Although Sitkashe didn't know any English, we taught her each of our names. When I came back the next day to visit, she shouted out "Jess-i-ca!"
I gave her a glove with my name on it and a softball signed by the 2008 Olympic team.
I'm all "rucked up" in my helmet and bulletproof gear after riding in a black hawk helicopter. The ride felt like a non-stop rollercoaster. It maneuvered so fast that I could hardly breathe.
I was able to meet some of the local Afghani merchants. This is a photo of a very kind man and his work.
Shawn Crawford (track and field) races the fastest soldier in Jalalabad. Shawn was a little nervous at first, but he finished strong in the end!
I love the background of this picture. This is an Air Force base in Afghanistan at sunrise. Even though soldiers are getting ready to head out on their missions, this was the only time I felt people could truly enjoy the beauty of the morning.
Signing softballs for the soldiers at a signing in Bagram.
The five Olympians during a snowfall: Shawn Crawford (track and field), me, Shannon Miller (gymnastics), Mike Whitmarsh (beach volleyball), and Angela Ruggiero (ice hockey).
This is fan mail from all over the United States. It's amazing what the words of an 8- or 10-year-old can mean to these men and women.
From Jessica: Our first stop in Afghanistan: Kandahar Airfield. I'm standing at the "Taliban's Last Stand," where the United States defeated the Taliban in their last ditch effort to hold down the base. The roof of this building is blown to shreds, and there are numerous bullet holes in the walls.
This is our crew after leaving Afghanistan and landing in Qatar. We flew 6 hours in a C130. We'll never forget our experiences with the troops and the people of Afghanistan.