Endurance Kids

Y'know that #relatable moment when your intern at the U.S. Olympic Committee is sitting in the cubicle across from you and watching the TV show you were on when you were 15?

No? Hm, weird.

Well, for those of you that are new around these parts, I was on a TV show when I was 15. It was called Endurance. You can read about it here and here and there's definitely an Endurance wiki somewhere on the internet, but I do not Google myself so you're on your own! *finger guns*

This summer was the 11th anniversary of the show's filming -- ELEVEN! YEARS! -- and to celebrate, a few of us had a little reunion. And it all kind of got me thinking.

I tried out for Endurance because I was the World's Biggest Fan of the show and thought it would be the coolest thing in the world. There wasn't really much thought to it beyond that. I imagined doing all these challenges, getting a partner and a team color, and meeting some (hopefully) awesome people that would (hopefully) turn into FRIENDS 4EVER and we'd (hopefully) have awesome reunions and it would all just be grand!!!

I didn't think about running into the dude that sent me to elimination on our shared college campus four years later. I didn't think about the friends I'd meet while studying abroad who'd watch my episodes of the show in a hostel in Copenhagen. I didn't think about the coworkers I'd eventually tell about my reality TV past, or the fact that I will be able to own Two Truths and a Lie for the rest of my life. I didn't think about all the "soooo, there's this thing I did..." conversations I'd be having with new people in my life for, uh, the rest of my life.

The reality of reality TV (heh) was totally lost on me. But here I am, 11 years down the road, living life as a grown-up reality TV kid.

^ A grown-up reality TV kid.

Now, let me be clear and say that reality TV is not my life by any stretch of the imagination. Until I started watching American Grit (which had one too many weird similarities!), Endurance very rarely crossed my mind. I give it a passing thought each year on significant dates, but otherwise packaged up my experiences into some insider knowledge on reality TV, hella real trust issues and the knowledge that my dreams are never out of reach if I make a good enough five-minute audition tape (metaphorically, of course).

But at 26 years old I suddenly found myself hanging out with two of my cast mates that I hadn't seen in years, and I realized... we're all making s#!t happen for ourselves. Lilly lives in LA and is a story producer for reality TV shows; she has literally worked with some of the people that were our producers on Endurance. Aric teaches guitar for a living and left our reunion to go to Vancouver to interview some music industry bigwigs for an article he was writing. And I'm working at the USOC, getting to go to Games and say I used to live at the Olympic Training Center.

Very different paths, sure, but we all had our passions and just kind of... did them!

Are we like this because of Endurance? Or were we always like this and Endurance was just a byproduct? Who knows. But either way, maybe there's something to this "reality TV kid" thing.

It's a pretty cool thing to be.


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Snippets From Rio

'Sup?

Y'know, I didn't mean to go so long between posts this time. I really didn't. But I actually have a good excuse this time: it involves a kidney transplant and no days off of work for about a month and a half. But that, kids, is a story for another time.

We're gathered here today for the last of my Rio Paralympic recaps. *crowd cheers* It was almost exactly a year ago that we flew to Rio, so this is rather aptly timed.

I've mentioned that I kept a journal while I was there and wrote in it every night -- which is the basis for these blog posts, in fact -- and I tried really hard to be... good at it. I've kept journals on and off in the past, and in reading through them years later I've been disappointed in how little I talk about important moments and feelings. I had a persistent bad habit of writing in the vein of "we did such-and-such, and it was awesome," or something equally as boring and lacking insight. In Rio, I wanted to make sure I didn't just give a play-by-play of my days, but also took the time to record my thoughts and feelings and experiences. So I really made it a priority to be present in the moment when I realized something special was happening, and would occasionally take notes in my phone to remember things to write down later on. Some things, I'm sure, fell through the cracks, but overall I did a pretty good job at writing down the important stuff!

So, to wrap things up, here are some of my favorite miscellaneous moments moments from my Rio experience.

+ On the way down to Brazil, the PR group I was traveling with had a layover in Houston, as did most of the other athletes and staff. And everyone was traveling in Team USA gear, naturally. Not long after we arrived, we were standing in the terminal when a woman in Team USA gear and a wheelchair rolled over to us and said, "Woooooo! What sport?!" Our answer to that was, y'know, not a sport, but it was a really fun moment and my first real Games experience as the member of a delegation (and not a fan eagerly looking for people wearing delegation garb). Stuff like that continued to happen during the Games themselves; people in Olympic Park would say "hello USA!," and one morning a security officer sang Born in the USA to me as I was being scanned into the media entrance. :)

+ On our first day in Rio, our group ended up spending the afternoon walking along the beach across from our hotel (#blessed) and stopped at a little beachside stand to sit and get some food. Our table was right by a speaker that played Brazilian music 99% of the time, but played a few songs in English completely out of nowhere. The first was Here Comes the Sun, and the second was Revolution. Both are by the Beatles, and both were played in the London 2012 ceremonies. Here Comes the Sun was one of the groups I saw rehearse multiple times when I was a volunteer, and the song is on my London 2012 playlist. To be sitting in Rio four years later and hear it playing out of the blue... I got a little choked up. What a full-circle moment.


+ A day or two before competition started, I was on a morning media shuttle from the hotel to the press center. On the way there, we passed some para-cyclists riding on the path next to the road; there were one or two hand cyclists, and a tandem bike with a visually-impaired athlete and his guide. I don't know why it stuck with me the way it has. Maybe it was because those were the first athletes I saw in action in Rio. But whatever it was, that was the moment that it hit me that this was all actually real.

+ I hate to even bring this up, but... Tim Tebow signed with the Mets the day after the Opening Ceremony. That morning I was completely exhausted after the late night, and when I pulled out my phone to check Twitter on the shuttle, my brain literally couldn't comprehend what I was reading. I thought it was a joke and needed to see it confirmed by about two dozen sources before I could accept it as truth. (Still kind of can't accept it as truth, to be honest.)

+ On one of the first few days of competition, I went to judo to see a friend of mine compete (and he ended up winning bronze!!!). In judo, they have multiple weight classes finish up in the same session, so there were a whole bunch of medal finals while I was there. In the first match I saw, a Colombian girl won bronze... and I almost cried. It was so unexpected! But she was (obviously) so excited and celebrating and crying and all that, and it was the first time I'd ever seen anyone win a medal in person. I was at judo for three-plus hours that day, and watching athletes celebrating their medals didn't get old.


+ One afternoon, several of us that were working at the main press center (MPC) had lunch at some food trucks that were parked near the tennis venue in Olympic Park. It was crowded and seating was limited, so we ended up sharing a table with a Brazilian couple and a man from the Netherlands. They all spoke great English and we had some great conversation. It was such a quintessential Games moment, and felt like what I imagine the dining hall in the Olympic village feels like.

+ I've written at length on my paracanoe experience, but one of my favorite ~in the moment~ moments came that morning, in a very early Uber on the way there. This driver was so incredibly nice to the two Americans who couldn't speak his language! He gave us little candies and we taught each other the word for them -- "bala" in Portuguese -- and there was this moment that I was chewing a banana-flavored candy given to me by the Brazilian guy driving the car I was in as a favela loomed straight ahead of us and Forever Young played on the radio... I don't know, man. It was a moment.

+ On the last full day of competition, several of us went to see the wheelchair rugby semifinal in the afternoon. My coworkers stayed at the venue after it was over, as they were planning to go to wheelchair basketball after that, but I had different plans for the evening and walked back to the MPC through Olympic Park by myself. I hadn't yet been in the park alone, and it was so nice to wander slowly, stop to take pictures at my leisure, and just sort of take it all in one last time. I'm always so much more reflective when I'm alone and have time to really be present and introspective, and I'm so glad I had that walk to myself.


+ It's really odd to include this moment on a list of "favorites," because it's not even remotely happy, but it was extremely significant and I have to make note of it. On the media shuttle to the MPC on the final day, I saw on social media that a girl I worked with at the gym in college had died of breast cancer. She was young and beautiful and healthy -- she was a trainer, for crying out loud! -- and even though we were never close, her death hit me hard in that moment. There I was, living my professional (and personal) dream, knowing I would be going to what's basically a giant party (the closing ceremony) that night, while someone else's life had just ended. It was a pretty brutal reminder that I'm really lucky, and to really appreciate everything that I was experiencing.

+ Aaaaand finally, the closing ceremony! It was really good, though (as expected) nowhere near as good as the opening ceremony. BUT! I think my weepiest moment came during this one, during the flag handover ceremony. During each closing ceremony, the mayor of the current host city passes the Olympic/Paralympic flag to the mayor of the next host city. It's the only thing that truly links one Games to another. So as I was watching the mayor of Tokyo receive the flag, I got to thinking. Four years earlier, I watched the London organizers hand the flag over to Rio from my parents' living room, and all I could do was hope that somehow I'd be there in 2016, that I'd be involved in some way. And there I was! I'd done it! In four years I'd gone from a volunteer on the outside looking in to a credentialed member of the U.S. delegation. It was the craziest full-circle moment of my life. It hit me like a truck, and I totally cried. Still makes me a little misty, if we're being honest.


And that's that! Obrigada for the memories, Rio. I'll cherish 'em forever.

But now... less than six months until PyeongChang! :)

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A Walk In The Park

I am going to finish these Rio Paralympic recaps if it kills me. Best-case scenario, before the one-year anniversary of the Games. Worst-case scenario, before the next Games and another backlog of recaps. Dream big?

There's not a whole lot left I need to post about, but it's very important to me that I talk about Olympic park.

During the Games, the park was absolutely beautiful and full of people (despite all the worries about Paralympic ticketing and attendance). I can't even explain to you how excited I was to just make the walk from the main press center into the park, to pop into venues, to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere. But then the Games ended, and less than six months later the venues were in total disrepair. It breaks my heart. I have so many positive memories in those venues, in that city, and to see it all so decrepit already is devastating.

Deservedly so, everything you read about Rio and the Olympic park lately has been negative. But I'm going to take some time to rehash positive memories I experienced in these venues.

The Carioca Arenas


On one of our first days in Rio, the day before the opening ceremony, a few of us went for a walk in the empty park to try to get the lay of the land and see the sights. Our credentials got us into all venues, so we stopped into one of the Cariocas (three adjacent, semi-connected arenas) to explore. While we were there, we ran into two Olympic Broadcast Service volunteers who we ended up befriending. They showed us around, got us behind-the-scenes and explained how covering events would work in the press tribunes and mixed zones. (And we ended up running into them again at the opening ceremony!) It was such a pleasant encounter and is one of my favorite memories from the whole Games.


We'd gone to that particular Carioca (3, I believe) because one of our group was going to be covering judo there in the next day or two. I ended up going with her to one of the afternoon judo sessions and got to see my first medal ceremony -- there were zero U.S. athletes involved and I still cried. I also watched a friend of mine from my Olympic Training Center days, Dartanyon Crockett, win bronze! It was so exciting! And, yes, I cried some more!


Carioca 2 was the site of one of my favorite bizarre, spontaneous Games memories. On this particular day, a coworker and I went for a walk in Olympic park on a slower morning, again to see the sights and explore (and shop for souvenirs, natch). What we didn't account for was the weather: it was 99 degrees (and humid) that day. We weren't out there for very long before we realized we were very far from the press center and very, very hot. Like, seek-shelter-before-we-pass-out hot. We tried to get into the aquatics arena, but the morning session had just ended and they turned us away. So we headed for the Cariocas, thinking that at least one of them would be open. Carioca 2 was our savior. We sat in the air conditioning, guzzled press-issued water bottles and watched some boccia. These athletes are some of the most severely disabled at the Games, and it was really cool to see people who could barely move without assistance compete with a high degree of skill.


And Carioca 1 was the site of wheelchair rugby, aka murderball, aka one of the more violent sports you'll see. It's like able-bodied rugby: guys just brutally collide with each other. It's nuts, and so cool. Our guys won silver in a double-overtime nail-biter on the final day of competition.


Also, the outside of the Cariocas gave you that quintessential Games vibe:


And from the inside, you got views like this:



Rio Olympic Arena


The second stop on our tour led by the OBS volunteers, the Olympic Arena hosted wheelchair basketball. There was a closed practice going on while we were there, so we weren't allowed to stay very long or see very much. But it was an ~exclusive~ tour, so I was still geeked out to the max. I love me an empty arena!



The Tennis Center


The tennis stadium was beautiful from the outside, but I never made it inside. The outer courts, though, hold a special place in my heart, as this was where I got to see my first Paralympic action in person!



The Futures Arena


Goalball! Guys, goalball was probably my favorite discovery of the Games. It's a sport played exclusively by visually-impaired athletes -- there's no able-bodied equivalent -- and it's just... so cool. I was blown away. It's rare for me to discover a new sport nowadays, so sitting down in the Futures Arena with no idea what to expect and having those nonexistent expectations blown clear out of the water was insanely fun!



The Aquatic Stadium


Embarrassing confession: I totally failed at swimming during Rio. There was so much of it, two sessions every single day, so I'd get busy with work and just tell myself I'd go see some swimming another day. I had plenty of time to see some swimming! But on the last day of competition it hit me that, crap, I had completely failed to see any swimming! That night I had my heart set on seeing the women's sitting volleyball gold-medal match, but a coworker and I went to swimming in the 15-minute window we had before volleyball. It was a truly pitiful effort on my part, but I'll never forget those slightly stressy 15 minutes. We were checking the time constantly and got to see Jessica Long finally win her first gold of the Games... and by "got to see it," I mean it was the last race we stayed for and we literally booked it from the arena while Jessica was still crying on the pool deck after her win. Better than nothing, right?

 ^ That's Jessica winning!

And the only picture I got of this building is from the back at the shuttle stop? Man. I'm sorry, swimming. I took you for granted.

Within Olympic park, I never made inside the velodrome or the Maria Lenk Aquatics Center (though that one wasn't in use during the Paralympics). But I'll include one more venue that was just down the road from the park.

Riocentro Pavilion


The home of sitting volleyball! I used to intern at USA Volleyball so I was beyond excited to get over to Riocentro and watch some sitting. I went at least twice: the first time, the U.S. women lost to reigning gold medalist China, 3-2; and the second time, the gold-medal match, the U.S. women crushed China 3-0 to win gold. That place was LOUD! And it was a temporary venue, so the stands would literally shake when the crowd got rowdy enough.

I'll never forget that gold-medal match. We all thought it would be a nail-biter, but the first two sets weren't even close. It was an utter blowout. My coworkers and I kept shooting each other stunned looks; we couldn't believe what we were seeing. It was easily one of the greatest sports experiences I've ever had.

 On Mondays, we wear green. ;)

And hey, y'know how I said we left swimming while Jessica Long was crying on the pool deck after she won gold? I was on Getty Images during the volleyball medal ceremony, and...


Whoops?

The Park


And finally, I couldn't leave out some scenes from within Olympic park itself! 


The first three pictures are from before the Games began, hence why it's so empty. Once the gates were open, it was crowded every day.

So don't let all the sad stories tell the whole story. Olympic park was beautiful and lively and it'll have a special place in my heart forever.

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Without A Paddle

Objects at rest tend to stay at rest; objects in motion tend to stay in motion; and Darcis that have slight blogging momentum tend to bang out a bunch of posts all of a sudden after barely picking up the proverbial pen for the better part of a year.

That's how it works, right?

In any case, howdy ho and welcome to my quickest second-post turnaround since, what, 2015? Yikes. Blogging was so much easier when I was unemployed.

Moving on! How 'bout some more Rio Paralympic things?

We have a bad habit in the United States of getting into a "gold medal or bust" mentality, when nothing else is good enough. Silver and bronze may be somewhat acceptable, but if there's no medal involved, it's either a gargantuan disappointment or nobody cares about said team/athlete/sport. It's a shame, really. I'm guilty of it myself, but it's important to remember that not every athlete needs to medal to accomplish something great.

That being said, several days after I attended paratriathlon, I was sent to paracanoe to cover athletes that had very slim medal hopes. And I had no idea what to expect.


The event was held at Lagoa Stadium, which was the Olympic rowing venue. The media workroom was up in this sort of tower they have there, which provided plenty of shade and lots of indoor space -- I'm very pale, so this was a welcome relief! And I'd never covered a water sport like this before, so I was fascinated to learn how the mixed zone and press access worked: there was an area on land that the athletes would be coming through, but there were also some floating pontoons that they'd pull up next to. Volunteers would let selected media personnel down to the pontoons, where you could sit or kneel and chat with the athletes while they're still in their boat. How cool!


Paracanoe made its Paralympic debut in Rio, so it's still very much a growing sport and the competitive fields were pretty small. We had three women competing, each in a different classification. The top two boats from each five-boat heat would move on directly to the finals, while everyone else had to race semifinals, from which the top four boats of the six advance. So only two boats from each class wouldn't advance to the final.

Our first athlete, Ann Yoshida, capsized in her semifinal, so she didn't finish and didn't advance. I headed down to the pontoons pretty apprehensively, worried about talking to her when she was angry or upset. But she was... great. Very disappointed, obviously, but very appreciative of the whole experience and happy to have been there at all.

I was pretty shocked. But in the two mornings I spent at the Lagoa, that was the overwhelming theme: total joy at simply being there.

#JustParalympicsThings

The finals were the next day, and our remaining two athletes made it through to compete: Kelly Allen and Alana Nichols. Alana is essentially Paralympic royalty; she'd won Paralympic medals in wheelchair basketball and alpine skiing already. So she's a big deal, but was not expected to medal in paracanoe.

Her race was first, and she finished seventh out of eight. I was kind of bummed, and again, I was a little worried about how this interview was going to go. I had some time to stew with my worry while waiting to talk to her, because NBC's crew beat me there. So I waited patiently while Carl Lewis did his interview. (Yep. I got to hover awkwardly off-camera while Carl Lewis interviewed an athlete. It was amazing.)

Once Carl Lewis (!!!!!!!) was done, it was my turn to ask Alana a few questions. She was wonderful and gracious, and got to telling me about her morning. She said she was out on the water at 6:15 am and it was so beautiful and she was so grateful to be there that she cried. And as she's telling me this very touching, personal story, she started getting choked up! Holy cow. That's a moment I'll never forget: six-time Paralympic medalist Alana Nichols got emotional talking to me about how grateful she was for her medal-less Rio Paralympic experience. (And then she thanked me for "all the coverage." I love the Paralympics, man.)

This is what a rockstar looks like.

Kelly's race was next, and she finished eighth of eight. But rather than being disappointed, she was practically glowing when she pulled up to the pontoons. She was, and I quote, "overwhelmed with joy." She was thrilled to have just made the final and helped the sport make its Paralympic debut.

I was FLOORED by what a positive experience paracanoe was, both for the athletes and for me! I was so energized by their enthusiasm (which was extra great because this was when I started to get sick), and it was such a cool perspective to get.

Sometimes it's not about medals. It's about the journey, and taking the time to be grateful and cry out on the lake at 6:15 in the morning.

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