In any case, today I thought I'd start diving into the events I attended as a pseudo-press officer: paratriathlon and paracanoe. My job had me essentially acting as web manager, so for most of the events I attended, I was there as a spectator while working on other things. But for those two sports, I was there specifically to produce some sort of content around the event. I wasn't really a press officer, but I was something to that effect.
My first sojourn out from behind my laptop was to women's paratriathlon. The triathlons were held at Copacabana -- not too shabby a venue, huh? -- and the media center was up at the top of Fort Copacabana. Luckily I had a travel companion in Joe, one of the U.S. Paralympics photographers who had attended the men's paratriathlons the day before, otherwise I have no earthly idea how I would've found my way up there. The #views were worth the struggle, though.
I was there to help the actual press officer from USA Triathlon, Cassandra, cover the races. She wanted me to be on the course taking pictures to live tweet, and then help record athlete interviews in the mixed zone once the races ended.
Not a bad place to start a triathlon.
Paralympic sports have a number of different classes for different impairments; so blind athletes compete against blind athletes, athletes missing a limb compete against other athletes missing the same limb, etc. That means there are multiple triathlons for each gender, whereas in the Olympics there's one women's triathlon and one men's triathlon. If I remember correctly, there were three women's races, and two of them started about five minutes apart. It was incredibly hectic trying to a) take good photos, b) figure out who was who and in what class, c) come up with good copy, and d) do all of that in a few seconds and tweet it out to the world. It also felt like it was 100 degrees, so there was a whole lot of sweat involved. But I think I held my own pretty well (and one of the athletes' husbands asked for the original file of one of the pictures I tweeted, so I'll take that as a very high compliment)!
As both races progressed, Cassandra and I parked ourselves at the finish line. U.S. paratriathletes are easily some of the best in the world so we were expected to win numerous medals, and all in a very short amount of time. The first classification finished and it was a U.S. athlete, Grace Norman, who won gold. Cassandra handled that on Twitter before running over to meet her in the mixed zone, leaving me in charge of the other classification.
That's how I found myself crammed up against a metal barrier at the finish line of a U.S. podium sweep on September 11th.
I will never forget frantically snapping pictures, sweat dripping down my back (TMI?), thinking to myself, "DON'T CRY. YOU'RE WORKING. YOU CAN CRY LATER."
Then I ran to the mixed zone to find out what winning a Paralympic medal on 9/11 meant to the first female American soldier to lose a limb in active combat. (GUYS.)
And THEN came the medal ceremonies, and as much as I had hoped to one day hear the U.S. national anthem at a medal ceremony, I'd never gotten so bold as to dream about a podium sweep.
After many hours of sweat and grime (like, I cannot reiterate to you enough just how gross I was), we returned to the media center to work for an hour or so. I helped Cassandra get some stuff onto USA Triathlon's website, and when we were done we took an Uber back to the MPC. Or, well, we tried to. Our driver didn't speak English and the area around Olympic Park was unaccessible to unmarked vehicles. So, uh, he drove around fruitlessly for awhile as Joe tried to communicate in part Portuguese, part Spanish, part English and part mime. We must've been in that Uber for an hour and a half, and this poor driver almost ran out of gas trying to drop us off. But even though none of us could understand each other, we were all cracking up at the absurdity of the whole thing, and he eventually got close enough to a nearby hotel that he could drop us off basically on the side of the road. So we trekked to the MPC to get back to work.
Later that night we were able to take the 10:30 p.m. bus back to the hotel, so all told that ended up being a 15-hour workday. I'm looking at my journal entry for that day, written at probably 1 a.m., and there are several times near the end that my handwriting gets all flat and lazy and veers off the line: I was literally falling asleep on my notebook.
Working in sports: definitely not glamorous. But man, what a day.