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.
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.