Former Miami Heat star Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t miss many slam dunks. Nana Meriwether is a slam dunk, and Shaq missed it.
Meriwether, who will travel from her home in New York to take part in the fifth annual Wild Fox Model Beach Volleyball Tournament on South Beach this weekend, is a former Miss USA (2012) who followed an All-American volleyball career at UCLA with postgraduate work on a USC medical degree, which she put on hold to run a namesake nonprofit that provides health care in five African nations.
The South African-born Meriwether’s father was the first African-American to integrate Duke University Medical School (Dr. Delano Meriwether also was a world-class track star in the 100-yard dash), and her mother overcame apartheid in Soweto and turned a United Nations scholarship into a law degree in the United States. In December, Nana Meriwether was asked by the United Nations to speak at a tribute to President Nelson Mandela at the United Nations Correspondents Dinner.
But she’s not all work: Last Friday, Meriwether attended Howard Stern’s celebrity-studded 60th birthday bash in New York, posting an Instagram video of Steven Tyler and Slash ripping through Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” and calling it the “sweetest birthday party I've ever been to!”
So, pretty awesome. Meriwether and Shaq went on a date last summer, and … she’s still waiting for Shaq to set up a second date. Diesel, are you KIDDING me?!
Describing him as a great date — “He’s down to earth, really, really funny, a gentleman, a great guy” — Meriwether doesn’t put the onus entirely on Shaq.
“We’re both such busy people,” Meriwether says. “Maybe in the future.”
The relationship got started last year after Meriwether started a brief social-media wave with her published admission that not only was she chronically single, but found it so difficult to meet a guy in New York that a former Miss USA had an online dating app on her phone.
Meriwether says Shaq “heard about my situation,” and worked the publicist network until he got her phone number. He called and asked her to a movie. Of course, it happened to be the New York premiere of “Grown Ups 2,” in which Shaq also appeared.
“It was a very traditional way of asking a girl out,” she says. “He was such a gentleman. It was a great evening.”
Meriwether says she’s open to a second date, but is not waiting by the phone. Nor does she think any woman should.
“We’re really ambitious. We’re educated. We’re career-driven. So we’re not settling, you know what I mean?” Meriwether says. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing that I’m single. I’m not dwelling on the fact that I don’t have a man. Right now, I’m focusing on what I’m doing with my career.”
The job of running a nonprofit like the Meriwether Foundation involves being the public face of the organization and shmoozing in places where potential donors may be. So she attended the Stern bash, assorted Super Bowl events (she Instagrammed a shot with a grinning Broncos coach John Fox, taken before ... you know), and she's joining some of her model friends at this weekend's Model Beach Volleyball Tournament.
While it all sounds like fun and games, it can make for some long days, she says. But the cause is worth it.
Her foundation (MeriwetherFoundation.org), created by Meriwether and her parents in 2007, offers health, nutrition and educational programs in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Meriwether was born in South Africa while her parents were doing similar work there in 1985.
“We started in health, so we built clinics. But once you’re on the ground you realize other social services are needed. So usually on our sites there’s a hospital, a school, an agricultural project, and we also bring water,” she says. “The goal is to build resilient communities.”
The Model Beach Volleyball Tournament will include at least 10 teams of local modeling-agency talent, sprinkled with celebrity fashion figures such as Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar star Nina Agdal.
Meriwether, who was a 6-foot middle blocker at UCLA, is supposed to serve as a "coach" for the matches, but is looking forward to getting on the court, too.
"Why not? I haven't played since, like 2006-2007, so it'll be a joke," she says with a laugh. "But it'll be fun. I hope it's like riding a bike."