Olympian Nick Cunningham of Monterey was preparing for the World Cup bobsled season when Hurricane Sandy struck New York City.
As a sergeant with the New York National Guard assigned to the World Class Athlete Program in Lake Placid, N.Y., Cunningham didn't flinch. He and fellow guardsman Joe Mortensen, a luger, voluntarily drove six hours south to help with relief efforts earlier in the week.
"In the past 48 hours we focused on what was important," Cunningham wrote in a blog. "It wasn't about bench press, squats, or power cleans. It wasn't about the Olympics, looking for funding or trying to find that fast line. It was all about giving these people their lives back. To give a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on."
The San Jose native, who grew up surfing and competing in rodeo, pilots USA II and hopes to advance to the 2014 Sochi Games. He and his crew currently are preparing for the international season one year before the Winter Olympics.
Cunningham and Mortensen were joined in New York City by bobsledder Dallas Robinson, a Kentucky national guardsman who also voluntarily left training to help victims.
Robinson said he and Cunningham raced to the worst-hit neighborhoods where they "stepped out into shin-deep water and put on our work gloves."
Cunningham, who played football and ran track at Monterey High, recalled the reaction of the residents.
"Some just cried while others wanted to clear out as much as possible before their family returned home to see the destruction," he wrote. "Nobody was mad, pointing a finger or looking to place blame. Everyone was helping everyone. Neighbors were helping each other; strangers were helping move ruined cars from the roads. I have never been more proud to be American."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.