Last night, one of my colleagues told me a story that disturbed me almost as much as whatever the hell is going on with Ryan Lochte. He was taking a jam-packed, 30-minutes-late bus back to the media center after another late night at track, and he noticed an empty seat. When he tried to sit in the seat, he realized it was occupied by the backpack of the guy who was sitting on the aisle. He asked him to move his bag, but the man didn’t speak English, and apparently didn’t understand the universal sign for, “Dude. Move your freaking backpack so one of the 50 people who are standing on this bus can sit down. Please.” A few other people tried. Then several journalists began snapping the guy’s photo and Tweeting about what a jerk he was. Undeterred, he and his backpack had a cozy hour-long ride back to Olympic Park, unconcerned that they were depriving someone of the chance to end their night on a positive note.
That story made me sad. I can’t tell you how many times throughout the past three weeks that my day has been made better by the kindness of one of my colleagues, an Olympic volunteer or a stranger. Last night at track, I was writing in the media room around 1:30 a.m. and was so hungry I was about to eat my notes. Unlike the previous five Olympics I’ve covered, the venue media centers here have no food and not much to drink.
When my friend Eddie from the AP saw me dumping sugar packets into a cup of hot water — survival mode, people — he came over from across the room and said, “Ummmm … did I just see you do what I think I saw you do?” And then he walked back to his backpack and returned with bags of trail mix and fruit snacks and saved my life in a scene straight out of 127 Hours. At least that’s how it felt in the moment.
Whether it’s a hug after a particularly stressful day, the talking through of a potential story idea, an offer to pick up a TV hit so I could get an extra hour of sleep, an unsolicited transportation hack that saved an hour traveling to a venue or the sharing of knowledge and contacts — thank you, Cliff from the AP, for your field hockey expertise, and all of my ESPN colleagues for being some of the most selfless journalists on the planet — covering the Olympics is a team sport.
When Julie, Ashly and I were out at beach volleyball, which is two hours from our set in Barra, and needed to shoot our nightly videos, our friends at Lululemon offered up their house, and then fed us and entertained the hell out of us while we worked. When I was feeling particularly depleted, they invited me over for an acupuncture and cupping session with the extraordinary Dominique Vallee. (It’s not just for Olympic swimmers anymore!) When the mixed zone is overcrowded and three athletes are giving interviews at once, Missy, Johnette and I split up and share quotes. We even transcribe them for one another. (That is an expression of true love any writer can understand.)
I could go on and on and on, and when I’m back at home, these are the moments I will remember and share.
Journalists at the Olympics are like a really big gymnastics team, flipping and spinning and contorting our minds in the hopes of individual success, but knowing our chances of finishing strong, and maintaining our sanity, improve greatly if we work together as a team. I can not stress strongly enough how impossible the past three weeks would have been without these people. They are all gold medalists in my mind.
Which makes me furious at the man with the backpack. Or maybe it just makes me feel badly for him. If he took a moment to look up from his own tough day, he’d realize he’s surrounded by teammates who are willing to carry his bag.