“What is the coolest assignment you’ve ever shot?”
That is one of the most common questions Elizabeth and I are asked regarding our careers. The answer has changed often for both of us. I tend to look back on the historic sporting events that I’ve been on the sidelines for, Elizabeth is always attached to the more intimate personal projects that she had worked on. For the first time, we might both have the same answer. Elizabeth and I were contracted for a shoot in Paradise Valley, Arizona at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Spa & Resort. The assignment was for Athletes for Hope, a non-profit by an elite group of highly philanthropic professional athletes, including Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong and Andre Agassi, who are dedicated to achieving excellence through their charitable work.
The athletes would spend the weekend giving philanthropic chats and participating in sports with a group who donated to Athletes for Hope. As part of a phenomenal team of photographers, consisting of Annie O’Neill, Nancy Andrews Lynn Johnson, Josh Franzos and Karen Ballard along with Elizabeth and I, we spent three days documenting the project, which included a tennis match with Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, cycling with Lance Armstrong, a fantasy baseball trip to the Cincinnati Reds Spring Training, 18 holes of golf and a tutorial with Annika Sorenstam. It concluded with an unforgettable 70th birthday party for Muhammad Ali.
The moon above Camelback Mountain.
Tennis star Andre Agassi meets former NFL player and current ESPN host Tom Jackson at a party on the first night as NFL hall of famer Anthony Munoz looks on in the background.
Jackson and Munoz discuss the recent Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants with Scottsdale, Arizona in the background.
Agassi greets Tony Hawk, the world famous skateboarder, during the party.
Tony Hawk shows off some of his recent battle scars.
Former tennis star Steffi Graf greets guests at the party, which was held by the owners of the Cincinnati Reds.
Former Cincinnati Bengals star Anthony Munoz enjoying the opening party for the event.
Andre Agassi gives an interview for a television station on the first night of the event.
Richie Law, a former participant on American Idol, gives an impromptu performance for the group gathered inside of Elements Restaurant inside of the Sanctuary Spa and Resort.
On the first full day in Arizona, Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Andrea Jaeger played tennis for two hours with some of the guests. Graf reats to a shot that she hit during the first game.
Andre Agassi returns a volley during one of the games that morning.
This next sequence of four photographs is the result of what happens when you ask Andre Agassi to not hold back and give his best shot. He did, and the result was classic!
He didn’t ask for that again.
Steffi Graf signs autographs for a few of the young men who participated in the tennis match.
That same morning, Annika Sorenstam, regarded as the greatest women’s golfer in the world, led a golf clinic and then spent the morning playing 18 holes with the guests who signed up for the event.
Everyone was all ears and hung on each of Sorenstam’s words as she gave tips and insight for more than an hour.
Sorenstam tees of while instructing the guests on their form, as well as giving insight on her mindset while she prepares to tee off.
Tom Jackson, the extremely personable co-host of NFL Primetime on ESPN, had a great time on the links.
The Body English didn’t get the ball to reach his destination on this shot.
A resident within Troon North Golf Club watched and photographed the event briefly from the balcony of his home.
Sunrise Yoga was offered during the first day, led by Lauren Imparato of I.AM.YOU studio in New York City.
Dhani Jones, who has played in the national Football League with the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cincinnati Bengals, led a power workout for a group of the guests inside of the yoga studio at The Sanctuary Spa and Resort.
A group of Iron Chef’s were a part of the festivities as well, and an Iron Chef Competition was one of the highlights of the weekend. Let by Chef Beau McMillan and included former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and Soccer star Mia Hamm.
Around 20 guests headed over to Goodyear, Arizona to participate in a baseball “Field of Dreams” with the Cincinnati Reds at their Spring Training complex. General Manager Walt Jockety and Cincinnati Reds Majority Owner Bob Castellini greeted the group and spoke to them at length about their operations and well as the recent transations within the team leading up to the 2012 season.
A guest taking a photograph inside the Reds locker room.
Chris Waddell, the most decorated male skier in Paralympic history and the first paraplegic to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro unassisted, thanks a staff member of the Reds as he is given hats and shirts for his day at the ballpark.
Bob Castellini Jr. has a laugh with friends and guests as they make their way through the training complex to watch the Reds take batting practice.
Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer and current ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan signs autographs during the groups visit.
A Reds fan who has already collected a few autographs, waits patiently for batting practice to end so he can obtain a few more.
Chris Waddell and Cincinnati Reds Head Coach Dusty Baker share a laugh as Baker makes his way to the plate to check on his players.
Guests had the opportunity to get into the batting cage and see first hand what a 100 mph fastball looks like. They didn’t get the chance to attempt to hit the ball (liability and all!)…
…but they did get the chance to swing at the pitch without a bat!
Saturday night was the big event, with everyone involved gathering for the 70th birthday celebration for Muhammad Ali. Jennifer McMullen, the Art Director for Sportsmark, turned a tent ontop of a tennis court into this masterpiece.
Culinary students worked alongside the iron chefs for the spectacular meal served at the birthday party. They finally got to relax and have some fun after their work was complete.
Guests gathered at the entrance in anticipation of the arrival of “The Greatest”
7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong enjoys his conversation during dinner at Ali’s birthday party at The Sanctuary Spa and Resort.
Muhammad Ali gets a celebratory fist bump from baseball hall of famer Johnny Bench (l) Deanna Castellini and a few friends after Ali entered his party.
Lance Armstrong gives a toast celebrating Ali’s birthday, and revealed that through common DNA testing, that he and Ali were actually distant cousins. The comment drew laughter and some intrigue, prompting Armstrong to confirm with Ali’s wife Lonnie that he was telling the truth. ” Very distant”, Lonnie Ali joked.
Anthony Munoz gave a touching tribute to Ali. He told a story about his multiple surgeries that he endured during his college career and how he returned home from the last one, there was a personal note from Ali, whom he hadn’t met, giving him encouragement and positive advice.
One of Muhammad Ali’s favorite hobbies has been magic, and they brought in a magician to perform for the Champ during the dinner. The guests howled with excitement throughout his entire program.
ESPN’s Tom Jackson also gave an inspriational tribute. Talking about the racial struggles growing up in the 60’s, he pointed to the night of Ali’s championship victory over Sonny Liston. “Ali called himself beautiful” Jackson recalled, ” and for the first time I said to myself, I’m beautiful too.”
Muhammad Ali acknowledges Ben Utecht, the former Indianapolis Colt Tight End who sang a song that he wrote for Ali.
Utecht performing for Ali and the crowd.
Muhammad Ali gives former Cincinnati Red and host for the evening Johnny Bench a look as Bench joked with Ali prior to everyone singing him Happy Birthday.
Joe Morgan shares a laugh with Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad Ali spent the first half hour of his party greeting as may of the guests as he could accommodate, including Tom Jackson, who shared a personal story with Ali.
Muhammad Ali kisses the hand of the six-week-old son of soccer star Mia Hamm,