“This tragedy has brought a lot of suffering, but it has brought also a lot of love between people. Every experience has a negative and a positive. It is only up to us what we focus on.” — Petra Nemcova
True beauty reveals itself in one who can find virtue in a life-shattering event. Sports Illustrated cover-girl Petra Nemcova was faced with such a challenge after enduring the tragic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed the life of her beloved fiance and shattered the supermodel’s pelvis.
Proving beauty isn’t only skin deep, she has since rebounded to establish the Happy Hearts Fund (HHF), a non-profit organization dedicated to rebuilding children’s lives after natural disasters. HHF empowers children in disaster- affected areas by providing access to education and technology in a sustainable way. The initiatives are focused on bridging the gap between emergency post-disaster relief and fully restored infrastructure.
Since the organization’s inception five years ago, HHF is active in nine countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Chile, India and Hurricane Katrina-affected areas of the US, and has built/rebuilt 51 schools and kindergartens. Its programs have benefited more than 31,000 children and 335,000 community members.
In the wake of the recent tragedy in Japan, HHF remains committed to rehabilitating communities through education. Japan will soon be the tenth country where HHF is active in improving children’s lives.
Nemcova’s charitable commitment to help others has been recognized by the likes of Glamour’s “Women of the Year” and Vanity Fair’s “Women in the Know.” In 2005, she published her autobiography, Love Always, Petra, sharing her message of strength and positivity. In 2007, she hosted a new reality competition series for TLC entitled, A Model’s Life, where she served as a mentor and friend to the prospective models as they competed for contracts with NEXT Model Management. Recently, she garnered incredible national attention and awareness for the HHF cause through her appearance on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.
Coupled with the emotion and insight that comes only from experiencing a life-altering tragedy, Nemcova’s belief in living life to its full potential also comes from her upbringing in communist Czechoslovakia. Living in a communist regime for the first twelve years of her life, Nemcova, like the rest of the nation, never possessed the freedom to dream. The lack of everyday freedoms and the lack of knowledge about other cultures prevented people from yearning for something greater; most people didn’t realize what greatness they could achieve.
As communism fell in Czechoslovakia, Nemcova was finally offered a taste of true freedom and the ability to not only dream, but to live the dream she envisioned. As a result, her love for every gift of life, be it the food on her table or the wind in the trees, is both inspiring and moving to everyone who hears her gentle words of gratitude.
At the podium, Nemcova shares a passionate story of what the tsunami and her childhood taught her about the preciousness of being and the importance of living in the moment. Audiences will be profoundly affected and forever changed by her powerful and uplifting message that each of us has the choice to learn from hardship and use the experience to help make the most of every day.
Switching gears as quickly as she at times must change wardrobes, the supermodel also discloses the not-so-glamorous side of the fashion industry. From air-brushing to eating disorders and beyond, Nemcova speaks candidly about the realities and the dangers of being in the spotlight.
AT A GLANCE: Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue cover girl in 2003, Petra Nemcova has worked with many of the industry’s most prominent photographers and has been featured in Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan.
She recently spoke at a special event of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN Headquarters on “Partnering with the Philanthropic Community to Promote Education for All”, as well as at the Observer/TEDx “Festival of Ideas” on disaster preparation after the tragic earthquake in Japan.
Nemcova is a native of Karvina, Czech Republic. She now resides in New York City, but is truly a citizen of the world.