FLAGSTAFF, AZ — The videos online were stunning -- cars swept away by rushing water winding through the mountain roads of Flagstaff.
“When you see it, you’re just kind of in shock,” said Taylor Gomez.
“It was super, super scary,” said Taylor Jacobson.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in Flag,” said Jacob Clouse.
Last week floodwaters turned streets to rivers, threatening homes and businesses. The rains raced down burn scars with deadly force. Many watched in disbelief, but once it was over, student-athletes from around Flagstaff moved mountains -- mountains of sand, that is -- in a fight for their community.
“I think when your community needs you, you drop everything to help them,” said Gomez, a soccer player at Northern Arizona University. “Flagstaff has been through a lot here recently with the Museum Fire and now the flooding.”
Gomez was one of the dozens of NAU athletes filling sandbags over the weekend. The effort was organized by the United Way of Coconino County. The grueling work, while difficult, was worth the backaches that came with it. The call to action also spoke to athletes like Jacobson and her teammates with the NAU volleyball team.
“It was tough at first and it was like, 'wow, this is labor carrying these sandbags,' but then you think like where are these sandbags going, and how much they really do help,” said Jacobson.
The storm's devastating impact can be seen everywhere, including areas around Coconino High School. Varsity Football Coach Mike Lapsley couldn’t ignore it.
“We knew right away it was our chance to jump on any opportunity we could to help the community,” said Lapsley, who ordered his team to the sand pile following a Saturday workout.
He says for hours, the cars continued to show up and the players kept shoveling despite the rain starting to pour.
“A few came up when we would fill their cars and they would take them and they were really appreciative of us and it was just cool to see we were helping people out,” said football player Jacob Clouse.
It’s a spirit that embodies the city of Flagstaff -- a connection that’s hard to put into words but on that day, easy to see.