I had never been out of the country.
I got the phone call while driving. I was walking in the muddy media field towards my car after covering the Indy 500. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. I’d never thought I’d attend that race in my life. While avoiding puddles in my newer shoes, my professor had said there was one more coverage opportunity “in the works.” That was all I heard for a while.
I figured it was something close by, not too big. In a few weeks, the College World Series was happening in Omaha, Nebraska. I thought maybe that was the opportunity. After all, I’d worked with the NCAA the previous semester and it’s only a nine-hour drive or an hour flight, tops. It made sense.
Then I got the phone call.
“I was wondering if you would like to cover the 2019 Pan American Games for Team USA in Lima, Peru?”
I put the phone on mute and laughed. It was a laugh of bewilderment. One of those overwhelming laughs. Nothing about it was funny. It was just a pure surprise.
I had never been out of the country. And I was nervous as heck to say yes.
But of course I said yes. Who wouldn’t? I hung up and drove the rest of the way to my destination in silence.
Two years ago I’d never thought I’d live in Indiana. Two months ago I’d never thought I’d have a chance to go to Peru. Maybe my curiosity would have gotten the best of me and I’d visit Machu Picchu for a few days. But I never thought I’d be in Peru and covering Team USA sports for 17 days.
I now want to travel more.
I was immersed in an event bigger than I’ve ever seen. A celebration of sports, culture, and everything in between surrounded me. I got to catch a glimpse of the daily lives of people that live in another country. And I won’t forget a single second of it.
I won’t forget the people I’ve talked to. I’ve never been called “caballero” – the Spanish word for ‘gentleman’ – more in my life. I saw people on the street selling snacks, juices, and roasted corn. Vendors would stop in the streets on gridlocked highways to sell taxi drivers a piece of candy to make their days better. I felt that it was such a unique experience that everyone has to go see it themselves. Few words and pictures can describe my thoughts about this opportunity.
We landed and hit the ground running. I had 17 days of events, 16 different sports to learn, and ended up interviewing more than 25 athletes. Before Lima, I’d never thought I’d attend a modern pentathlon, a fencing bout, a handball game, a gymnastics meet, a wrestling match, or a taekwondo fight. And I was able to do them all.
I learned that some sports deserve more spotlight. Fencing, modern pentathlon, handball, and archery are criminally underrated. It’s not every day you get to see Khatuna Lorig, the woman who trained Jennifer Lawrence for The Hunger Games, compete against her 15-year-old teammate Casey Kaufhold, for a chance to hear our National Anthem.
There are so many intricate details that I could describe about this life-changing opportunity – dealing with media buses, language barriers, living out of a suitcase for two and a half weeks, having to use bottled water for everything, and eating at the same restaurant five times – but I going to try to sum it up succinctly.
The most important thing I learned on this trip is to believe in myself. Each day presented a new task. I had to learn about a completely different sport from one day to the next. I had to approach athletes that have never seen me, and instill trust in them that I’m not trying to earn a scoop or write a breaking news headline. I had to get my questions in fast. Reporters have five minutes — tops — to ask questions about the results. I had to find transport back to the press center by myself. And I had to navigate limited and confusing signage.
And I succeeded.
Part of me believes I fell in love with sports journalism because it challenged me. Like it or not, this career was going to drag me kicking and screaming to get over my anxieties of sounding foolish in front of somebody, talking on the phone, reaching out for an interview, and asking tougher questions after someone had lost. I’d like to think I did a great job at that here. While some athletes didn’t like the fact that they finished with bronze or silver instead of gold, they treated me with respect. I learned I don’t really have to fear anything in this regard.
My time at IUPUI may be over, but my time in the sports industry is just beginning. And while I didn’t start on the same ground as some journalists, they better keep up their pace because I’m catching up fast.
After Lima, I’m ready for anything.
By Brendan Rourke | @B_RourkeSports