When junior defensive back Chrishawn Dupuy returned to the Miami University campus earlier this week in preparation to report for football camp on Sunday, he rolled into Oxford in his trademark silver 2000 Mazda MPV.

Customizing the vehicle that he has driven since his junior year in high school has become somewhat of a hobby for the New Orleans, La., native and his father. This summer the two even gave it a new paint job themselves.

“I started out putting knick knack things in it to make it more enjoyable, and I’ve just continued to add more and more to it. I won’t get rid of it when I get another vehicle because of all the different things I’ve put in there,” he laughed. “My dad seems to love it even more than I do.”

Over the years, the van has acquired a lot of miles and it looks very different than it did in 2005 when it was the Dupuy family vehicle, the one they used to evacuate their home before Hurricane Katrina—one of the most devastating hurricanes in U.S. history—ravaged the Gulf Coast, including the greater New Orleans area where his home in Slidell is located.

Chrishawn, who was 12 years old and entering the seventh grade at the time, recollected the events of the terrible storm.

“We evacuated on Saturday, August 27. Two days before Katrina hit,” he said. “We evacuated to DeRidder, Louisiana. It normally takes about three hours to get there but it took us nearly 12 hours due to traffic. Once we got there, we stayed at a VFW hall for about two weeks and then we went from hotel to hotel.”

Chrishawn recalled evacuating five or six times before when storms were predicted to hit their area. On those occasions, the family was only displaced for a few days. As they prepared to evacuate for Katrina, they packed enough essentials to last them a few days as they had for previous storms.

“If we’d have known it was going to do what it did, we would have been better prepared,” said Chrishawn. “We didn’t pack much because we didn’t expect to be out of our home for that long a period of time. That was unfortunate because we needed more clothes. Going from hotel to hotel was difficult after a while because there weren’t very many places to eat. It was just really bad and you had to try to survive from what you packed and make it last.

“It was just crazy,” he added. “At that young of an age you know what’s going on but you don’t fully understand, so you just try to take everything in and hope for the best. My family was upset, and I kept thinking it can’t be that bad. But once we were back and saw everything, it really was that bad.”

It took the Dupuys nearly a month and a half to be able to return to Slidell. According to Chrishawn this was mostly because there was no power in the area and it was not safe to return. Approximately seven feet of water had flooded the Dupuy home, damaging everything except for what was stored in the attic. The family lost nearly all of their possessions including many family pictures.

“It’s amazing to see the type of damage water can do,” he recalled. “We also had fish and snakes and all sorts of stuff in the house once we got back to see all the damage that was done.”

FEMA provided a trailer for the family in their front yard, and the rebuilding process quickly commenced.

“We were moving fast,” remarked Chrishawn, who also has two older sisters and an older brother. “We have a decent-sized family, so everyone was able pitch in and help rebuild the house.”

Doing much of the work themselves to clear out and begin replacing the water damaged walls, floors and other damaged fixtures, Chrishawn said the family was able to move back into their home in December or January of that year.

“We were one of the first people on our street to get back into our house. It took some people a year or more, and some didn’t come back at all.”

Being displaced from his home wasn’t the only challenge. The junior high that Chrishawn attended was completely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. For the remainder of the year another junior high in the area housed both schools with one set of students attending classes in portable trailers from 6 a.m. to noon and the other set of students attending classes from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For his eighth grade year, Chrishawn was able to return to the location of his junior high but continued to take classes in trailers. Because the local high school he attended was completely demolished by the storm, it was not until his senior year in high school that he was actually back in a true school setting.

“We were the first class to graduate out of the new school,” he commented.

Adaptability has been a key characteristic as Chrishawn has moved forward from August 2005, and it comes as no surprise that he quickly acclimated to his new surroundings when he arrived at Miami University in August 2011.

“Being from the south and coming to a northern school has been a great experience. I’ve seen different things and met people from all over the world,” he said. “One of the biggest differences is dealing with snow. It doesn’t snow in Louisiana, so that was definitely something I had to get used to. There is one temperature down there—HOT!

“Miami has allowed me to grow as an individual and mature more as a young man,” Chrishawn added. “Being so far away from home, it has made me more independent. Knowing that I’m receiving one of the nation’s premier educations makes the experience that much better.”

Chrishawn admits that it took him a while to commit to Miami, deciding in December 2010, just over a month before the February signing period.

“I really couldn’t see myself at another university,” he chuckled. “I sometimes ask myself why it took so long to make that decision back when the recruiting process was going on. But I’m so glad I did.”

There are 813 miles and more than 12 hours that separate Chrishawn from his home in Louisiana, and the van that he has customized to his personality has carried him back and forth from his Louisiana home to his Oxford home. But of all the trips the van has made in its time with the Dupuys, none are likely as important as the miles traveled during their 12-hour drive in August 2005.

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Come see Chrishawn and the rest of the RedHawks football team this season as Miami competes for a MAC championship. Be sure to purchase your season tickets today, which are available online here or by calling 513-529-HAWK (4295). The RedHawks open the season at Marshall Aug. 31 and host rival Cincinnati in their home opener in the “Battle for the Bell” Sept. 21.