When I first set my sights on being a sportscaster, I considered the five main team spectator sports I might be asked to cover: football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball. Then, I became a certified amateur official in each one, so that I might better understand the games.
What I never considered were the myriad other sports I might be asked to report upon. I recall the day my news director in Rochester, N.Y. – a cranky sort who didn’t allow much in the way of discussion – informed me that I would be driving about 60 miles to do a story on curling. I considered asking him what curling was, but decided against that approach. Today, of course, a quick search on Google would clarify the ins and outs of the strange ice sport that involves little brooms and a “rock” resembling a squashed bowling bowl, but back then there was nowhere to turn for enlightenment. And so, after driving many miles along the barren edge of Lake Ontario, I threw myself at the slider shoes of the curling club members and admitted my ignorance.
Later, when I worked in Phoenix, I was asked to do a series on local athletes who would be competing in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. And so, one bright morning, I faced archer Jay Barrs who would go on to win an individual gold medal at the Games. Had I understood his exceptional skill-level, I might have felt just a little less uncomfortable about my stand-up. (A stand-up, for the uniformed, is the moment in a TV story when the reporter can be seen on camera. It’s the glory shot for we folks with big egos – and generally most of us can’t get our heads through a door.)
The thing about a stand-up is that it should be creative and memorable. I pondered my options. Then, without really thinking it through, I positioned myself just in front of the edge of the target.
My cameraman eyed me.
“Go ahead and shoot, Jay. I’ll stay right here,” I called as as he wondered off with his bow.
His walk to the shooting line seemed to take an extremely long time, during which I considered the possible outcomes. Of course, as he was on the Olympic team, he couldn’t possibly miss, right? But what if he sneezed or became distracted? Might I be wearing an errant arrow in my forehead?
“Ready?” My cameraman asked.
The good news was that Jay Barrs slammed those arrows into the target with picture-perfect accuracy and I managed to perform my stand-up without losing my breakfast.
Then there was the Olympic equestrian, a man whose name escapes me, but whose attitude lingers. I interviewed him, then watched as he took his horse through the jumps, the two gliding artfully over numerous raised rails and once up and over a high bar and down into a water feature. When he finished, he slid gracefully off the beast.
“I like to ride,” I said, only to make conversation.
He cocked an eyebrow, then tossed me the reins. “Go ahead.” He smirked.
What I wanted to say was that I liked to ride through a pretty forest and walk a horse through gentle streams, and, on rare occasions, gallop a bit, if there’s a clear, unimpeded path on which to travel.
He crossed his arms and stared at me.
I know a dare when I see one. So, stupidly, I pulled myself up onto that beautiful animal, and was immediately horrified to discover there was no pommel on the saddle. The rounded appendage one can grip should they be in danger of taking a giant header was nowhere to be found. Seems they don’t use them on British saddles.
Equestrian Man glared at me, a look that said I’d never ride the course.
And, he was almost right, because when I dug my heels into that horse’s sides and went hurtling toward that first jump, I panicked and pulled hard on the reins just a few feet short of the barrier.
I eyed my cameraman, who was shaking his head, acknowledging what I already knew. This was a bad idea. But, I couldn’t let it go. I walked the horse back to the starting point and took a breath.
Moments later, we were flying over that first jump. And then the next. I grabbed a big hunk of that horse’s mane and held on as we went up and over the last barrier and splashed down into the water. A long straightaway at a hard gallop completed the course.
When we stopped, I couldn’t dismount. I was shaking and thought I might be ill. When I finally slipped to the ground, my unsteady legs threatened to deposit me in the dirt. The equestrian, without saying a word, took the reins and led the beast away.
“You OK?” my cameraman asked.
“Give me a minute.”
Later, in the newsroom, after viewing my decidedly inelegant ride, my news director was the one who would need a minute. He looked as if he might have a stroke. “What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted.
He walked off shaking his head.
After that, I got to go back to covering safe sports. Like football.
Anne Montgomery’s latest novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other? The Scent of Rain is available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780996390149 and wherever books are sold.