Larry Fitzgerald stands in front of the Taj Majal on his recent trip to India. For a full report, visit Fitzgerald's website. (Photo courtesy Larry Fitzgerald)
Larry Fitzgerald landed at 9 a.m. Wednesday after a lengthy trip to India spent giving needy children hearing aids.
By the afternoon, the Pro Bowl wide receiver was at the Cardinals' Tempe complex, getting in a workout since "I missed the first week."
The quick return was part dedication, part reality.
Jarred a bit by his humanitarian trip, Fitzgerald knows he is lucky to have the job he does. He also knows, given his stature in the locker room – and, although unsaid, the departure of Anquan Boldin – his leadership is crucial.
"My teammates voted me a captain last year so I appreciate them honoring me with that," Fitzgerald said in an otherwise empty locker room. "I have to make sure I come in here and work the way they have been working and pull my weight. This is a different team this year and to a certain degree we are all kind of starting new."
There's a part of Fitzgerald that also is starting new.
Fitzgerald has long been a world traveler, and by his count he has been abroad for 53 total days since the Cardinals lost in New Orleans in the playoffs in mid-January. His initial trip was for pleasure – visiting Cambodia and Thailand, among other places – but his most recent trip carried more importance.
Fitzgerald's Minnesota neighbor is Bill Austin, who built Starkey, the largest hearing-aid manufacturer in the United States. Austin, through his Starkey Hearing Foundation, goes around the world fitting children with hearing aids. Fitzgerald promised he'd go on a mission this offseason, and went with Austin to India and Nepal over the past couple of weeks.
The group fit about 6,000 people with hearing aids, with Fitzgerald taking part.
Calling it "amazing" and promising to take his son on such trips once he is old enough, Fitzgerald said he will continue to do the missions annually.
"I think I needed to see that," Fitzgerald said. "Sometimes in this country we take it for granted how good we have it and I saw first-hand things can be a lot different. It was to the point where (poverty) was on such a large scale you almost want to turn your head and pretend you don't even see it. Going through train stations and seeing thousands of people sleeping there and climbing over people.
"But through all that, the people were so friendly, so nice. Here in America, people complain if it's not sunny or little things like that. Those people take the smallest things and find joy in them."
It doesn't mean traveling is over for Fitzgerald, who chronicles his trips on his website (larryfitzgerald11.com). He'll return to Minnesota for a time at some point. He is also going to attend some World Cup soccer games in South Africa with some buddies – including Vikings defensive end Jared Allen – after having fun at the last World Cup in Germany.
"The parties are pretty fun," Fitzgerald said with a grin.
He's also trying to meet South African president Nelson Mandela, whom Fitzgerald almost met last offseason during his trip to the area. Mandela was sick then, but Fitzgerald called such a meeting "my life goal."
For now, though, he's back to work. Back to football. Back to a life where he's trying to run sprints despite jet lag.
"At the end of this trip I was missing my teammates and talking to (strength) coach (John) Lott every day seeing how my guys were doing," Fitzgerald said. "I was itching to get back with the fellas and start on the 2010 season."
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