Among the hundreds of people whose stories were chronicled by TODAY in 2007, some stand out months later, begging for the answer to the question: “Where are they now?”
On Friday, TODAY brought six of those people back for updates on the stories that so captivated viewers when they first aired.
Among them are a couple who had a storybook wedding hosted by Martha Stewart; a soldier who surprised his two sons at school with an unannounced homecoming; a cheerleader who took a smearing and kept on cheering; a disgraced beauty queen who made the most of a second chance; and a man who amputated his arm to save his own life.
Here’s where they are now:
Tara Conner was the reigning Miss USA back in February when she made the first of three appearances on TODAY, and it was for all the wrong reasons. She had just gotten out of rehab after reports surfaced in December that she had been drinking underage and doing drugs. Pictures on the Internet of her kissing Miss Teen USA Katie Blair added to the scandal.
Given a second chance by pageant co-owner Donald Trump, Conner completed her year as Miss USA, returning to TODAY after crowning her successor in March . She was back in October to talk about her MTV reality show, “Pageant Place,” which she co-hosted with the current Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.
Slideshow: Beauty queen scandals She’s recently celebrated her first anniversary of sobriety. Last year, she spent Christmas in rehab; this year, she spent it in Kentucky with her family.
“It’s definitely a different holiday season,” she told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Friday in New York. “It’s been such a good year.”
She said she’s enjoying her life of sobriety, and was not tempted to leap off the wagon at a big 22nd birthday bash earlier this month in Las Vegas. “It’s really not that hard,” she said. “I keep sobriety every single day.”
She said she has mixed emotions about what she went through, but, she added, “I’ve never looked back on it and regretted it. I’m living out my dreams.”
She is living in Los Angeles now and pursuing jobs in the entertainment industry while working as an online correspondent for the E! Network.
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Still working daily on her continuing recovery, she says she talks to other alcoholics and addicts every day and is working on a book about her experiences.
“I’m being brutally, brutally honest in the book,” she said. “I’m an open book generally in life. Why not put it down?”
Video: Update: Iraq soldier’s family reunion
Lt. Thomas Bourne
We met Lt. Thomas Bourne a week before Thanksgiving when he came home from Iraq on leave and surprised his two young sons, Preston, 8, and Walker, 5, at their school in Louisa, Va. Bourne’s wife, Amy, had kept her husband’s homecoming a secret from the boys, whose joyous reaction to the sudden appearance of their father made one of the year’s most memorable video highlights.
Lt. Thomas Bourne
Bourne had been in Iraq for five months, and he crammed as much family time as he could into his all-too-brief two-week leave. On the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, he returned to Iraq, where he is stationed in Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad.
Preston and Walker miss their dad, an Army reservist who is a teacher in the school they attend, especially at Christmas, which they are spending with their mother at their grandmother’s home in Paris, Ill.
They understand why he can’t be home, but they can’t wait until July, when his tour of duty is scheduled to end.
Amy Bourne, speaking from Illinois with Preston and Walker, told TODAY’s Ann Curry that it was tough saying goodbye again a month ago. “But we’re looking at it this way: After this next little bit, he gets to come home to stay with us,” she said. “We’re looking at the positive side.”
She has told the children that their daddy’s helping the people of Iraq.
“He’s trying his best to save us, and I’m really proud of what he’s doing for our country,” Preston told Curry.
Asked what message she would give to other families in the same situation as hers, Amy Bourne said, “To stay strong and keep on the positive side of everything. At times it’s going to get hard and stressed out. But keep your chin up. They’re over there for a just cause, and they’re over there because they want to be there.”
On Sept. 11, Sampson Parker was harvesting corn at a farm the construction supervisor had purchased as a kind of hobby outside of Columbia, S.C., when his right arm got caught in the corn picker. When sparks from the machinery set the corn stubble around him on fire, Parker cut off his own arm with a pocket knife. After getting out of the hospital and returning to work in November, a cheerful Parker met with TODAY, speaking from the same cornfield that had been the scene of his dramatic, life-or-death decision. He was awaiting delivery of a prosthetic arm and looking optimistically toward the future.
He’s still waiting for his new arm, which will come equipped with different attachments, including a “farmer’s hook” that will allow him to continue to pursue his hobby.
“It’s just like buying a piece of equipment,” he told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Friday in New York of the wait for his new arm.
“We’re waiting on the elbow part to come in from Germany.”
He looked as good as he said he felt: “I’m doing great, yes sir. It takes about twice as long to do stuff, ’cause I only have one arm. But I’m doing good.”
On the job, he said, the only time the lost limb comes into play is when he writes up his daily reports. “I have to do it left-handed, and that’s a little bit slower,” he said.
Despite his experience, he’s not giving up farming. “When it comes springtime, we’re going to be back down there planting corn,” he said.
While Parker said he doesn’t think about the accident, he does appreciate every day in ways he didn’t before.
“I thank God every morning when I wake up that I’m alive,” he told Lauer, “because I could have been gone.”
Video: Update on trampled cheerleader
She was the high school cheerleader who got flattened by the Auburn (Wash.) High School football team on Oct. 26 as she tried to do a quick fix on the paper banner the players charged through before the game. But as many times as the video has been replayed on television and the Internet, Cali Kaltschmidt has seen it only twice, which has been more than enough.
It had been an eventful week for Kaltschmidt, who had been in an auto accident the day before she was elected Homecoming Queen and then run over by the team. The following week, she was in New York appearing on national television while the video of her accident was becoming one of ESPN’s Top 10 videos of the year. On YouTube, it has been viewed more than one million times.
In the week following her sudden fame, she said, her classmates had a lot of fun with her. “Not much sympathy; definitely just kidding,” she told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Friday from Washington.
But while the video lives on, her life quickly returned to normal.
“It only lasted a few days,” she said. “After that, it calmed down. It was definitely fun while it lasted.”
Cali’s cheerleading season ended with the football season shortly after her accident. Since then, the senior has been busy helping to lead the Auburn High girls’ basketball team to a season that so far is undefeated.
She’s looking forward to attending junior college while she decides what to do with her life and then intends to transfer to a four-year college. She’s also thinking about joining the Universal Cheerleading Association and participating in cheering competitions.Video: TODAY’s wedding couple update
Jessica and Cody Helgeson
On Friday, Oct. 5, the couple known to TODAY viewers simply as Jess and Cody tied the knot in the TODAY Show Martha Stewart Wedding. After weeks of preparation, during which viewers voted on such details as the cake, wedding dress, rings and honeymoon destination, Cody Helgeson and Jessica Mapel exchanged vows on the Plaza and were whisked away to a Breakfast at Tiffany’s reception.
They brought back videos of their idyllic honeymoon in the Seychelles and went back to Phoenix to find themselves on the cover of “Martha Stewart Weddings” magazine. They’ve since gone back to their jobs as servers at a local restaurant — the place at which they met nearly three years ago — and are continuing their pursuit of college degrees in architecture for him and nursing for her. They each have a year to go before graduation.
“It is the best thing in the entire world,” Jess told TODAY’s Ann Curry on Friday of married life. Snuggling next to her husband and with her formerly long blonde hair cropped off short of shoulder length, she told of how she and Cody have purchased a home of their own and hosted their first Christmas dinner for about a dozen family members.
They served prime rib and a turkey, which came out as perfectly as a bird that was cooked Slideshow: Jessica and Cody say ‘I do’ upside down could be.
“It was probably my fault,” Cody said of the minor culinary faux pas, showing that he’s already learned the best way to marital bliss. “I’ll take the blame.”
Asked what advice he has to couples considering marriage, he enthusiastically urged them to take the leap. “Just get on with it and start having fun with each other,” he said.
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