Monday, January 8, 2018

One month out...

One month from this moment, assuming all goes as planned over that next month, I will be preparing to board a plane at Boston's Logan Airport on the way to Toronto and continuing on to Seoul, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
This is both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, but I'd say the excitement has the edge, at least in my head right now. Before I left for Russia four years ago, there was a lot of talk about the dangers that the region posed to people, particularly from the United States. That trip turned out to be the trip of a lifetime and something that I will always look back on fondly.
Obviously, the state of the Korean Peninsula has certainly been interesting as of late and part of me has a little apprehension about making the trip, considering the dangers that could lurk around every corner. But I've found that the Olympics have done a good job of making sure we are as secure as possible and for that, I am grateful.
As I tell people when they ask if I'm nervous about the trip, I could walk outside my apartment and get hit by a tractor-trailer. There's danger no matter where you are and how you choose to react to that danger will determine the path you take in your life. If you spend your time hiding away from the world because you're worried about what could happen, you'll find that you are missing out on experiences that could take you in many directions. I've often wondered what it would be like to just stay in my apartment and never leave, but I also know that I would be missing out on incredible opportunities like traveling to Russia and Korea. These are things I likely will never get to do again (assuming I don't hit the next big lottery prize) and to say I've done them is something I look forward to.
Yes, there is danger out there, both in Korea and here in New Hampshire. No place is truly safe, but I believe that as I make my way through this life, it's OK to confront that danger head-on.
Yesterday I poured over the Olympic schedule that was provided to media members in one of the many manuals we have been spent. I looked at places I needed to be to see local athletes (biathlon, women's ski jumping to name a couple) and then also tried to lock down seeing each and every venue and as many different events as possible. The schedule looks like it will be a tight a few days and a bit looser on others and certainly changes can be made as I go along.
While doing so, I blocked out a little time to catch up with a friend from college who is living in Korea now and will be at the Olympics for one of the days of competition. I am looking forward to catching up with him and seeing a little bit of the Korea outside of the Olympic bubble.
I also looked over the map of the area a bit, noting it's a lot like Sochi in that there is a mountain cluster with access to the outdoor venues and a coastal cluster with access to the indoor venues. There are media centers in both locations for me to do my work and the media center in the coastal cluster, from the best that I can tell anyway, is really close to where I will be staying, which will be a nice change from Sochi, when it was a 15-minute bus ride, often on a packed last bus run at 1:30 in the morning.
I also sent an e-mail to the US Olympic Committee in hopes of attaining a ticket for the opening ceremonies (for high-demand events, media must request tickets). However, I am realizing that it might be a tight fit to make it from the airport to my room and then to the ceremonies in time. In Sochi, I watched the opening ceremonies from the Moscow airport, which was pretty cool in and of itself, but it would be pretty cool to see them in person. Stay tuned.
Of course, I'd like to take one more opportunity to thank everyone who has helped to make this trip a possibility with their financial assistance. It is greatly appreciated.
I will likely post a few more times before I head out, but my plan, like in Sochi, is to have a blog post every day while in Pyeongchang.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Two months and counting until the big trip

Last Friday was a bit of a landmark day in the journey toward the trip to Korea for the Winter Olympics. Dec. 8 marked exactly two months until I will be on a plane headed for Seoul.
I have to admit that the recent political climate certainly doesn’t have me feeling great about the way things are shaping up for this trip. Back in 2014, when I was heading to Russia for the last Winter Olympics, there was a lot of questions about the political climate in Russia but as it turned out, everything was okay on the Olympic end of things. I am certainly hoping that this runs the same way.
However, last week brought a great headline that certainly didn’t make me feel at ease, as the headline on the front page of the Union Leader was a warning from a Washington official to get all dependents out of South Korea, due to its proximity to North Korea and all that’s going on there. Didn’t exactly stir my confidence in making this trip.
While there’s been a lot of questions about Pyeongchang and the entire Korean peninsula, I’ve never really doubted that I was going to go, since I’ve put a lot of money into this trip. Of course, saying I put a lot of money into the trip is a bit of a misnomer, since I’ve got a lot of help in paying for this trip. The only thing I’ve paid for myself at this point is the flight, which in and of itself is an interesting bit.
After looking around for the best deal, I found a flight on Air Canada that takes me from Boston to Toronto on Feb. 8 and then after a short layover, I will fly over the North Pole on a flight that will take more than 13 hours into Seoul, arriving late in the afternoon on Feb. 9. The return flight is even more interesting, as I leave Seoul at 5 p.m. in the afternoon on Sunday, Feb. 25, and fly through Toronto again, landing in Boston at 7 p.m. So in essence, the flights will take a whopping two hours although I’ll be on the planes for well more than 14 hours.

There are plenty of questions about Korea and the state of the Olympics moving forward, but as of right now, the plan is to be in Korea on Feb. 9 and stay through Feb. 25. My hope, like in 2014, is to see a little bit of everything during my time there and report on it through blog posts and articles in the newspaper each week. I will also try to see all the local people and those who have local connections. If you know of people with local connections that I might not know about, feel free to let me know so that I can try and catch up with them while in Pyeongchang. Olympic qualifiers are coming up in the next month or so, at which point I’ll have a better idea about what local athletes will be in attendance.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The road to Pyeongchang is truly official now

A few weeks ago I went in to TD Bank in Wolfeboro to make my trip to Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics official by sending the first payment for my accommodations to Korea.
However, I was short one piece of information that I needed and since I wasn’t going to be back in Wolfeboro during the day for another week, I made sure to get that information together for the following Friday.
So in I went the following Friday to make the wire transfer but the system for wire transfers was down and I was unable to make the transfer. Since the money was due by this past Friday, June 30, I had to get back in to the bank earlier in the week and on Tuesday, June 27, I met with Donna at the bank and we made the transfer official, withdrawing more than $1,200 from my Olympic account and sending it on its way to Korea to reserve my room for my second Olympic experience.
As I’ve mentioned here, that first Olympic experience was something I doubted I’d ever get the chance to experience again and it was all made possible by a lot of people coming together to help me raise money by donating or holding fundraisers. It was a true community effort and I am forever grateful for the help that I received.
When I applied for credentials for the second time, I was conflicted about how to pay for it. I get paid while I’m there, since I’m still doing my job, but it’s still not a cheap trip. The main expenses for the trip are the accommodations, which run about $2,400 for the two weeks I’ll be there and the flight, which I have yet to book.
Last time I received credentials, I viewed it as a once in a lifetime experience and I promoted it that way and people were incredibly helpful. This time, I couldn’t really bill it as a once in a lifetime, since it will be the second time, so I’ve gone about it a bit more quietly, not really promoting it anywhere but in this column. And people have helped out and there was more than enough to cover the first part of the accommodations.
I haven’t really held any fundraisers yet, simply because of the fact that this is now something I’ve done before and not a “unique” experience as it was four years ago. Truthfully, I did not expect to raise as much money as I did during that run-up to Sochi and when it came time to think about Pyeongchang, I was also a bit apprehensive. I don’t expect to raise what I did last time, but I’m honored with the response I received so far.
This job has its ups and downs but the people I get to see on a regular basis, be it the kids, the parents, the coaches and fans, are truly one of the best parts of the job. There are some great people out in the communities I cover and I can’t thank everyone enough for their support in chasing another crazy dream.
I’ve got some work to do before I pay for the flight and make the second payment for the room, but with the wire transfer complete, the road to Pyeongchang has become truly official.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sports news sparks a memory

A few weeks back in this space, I wrote about the top five things I’ve had the pleasure of doing while in this job. Of course this included the Olympics and some laps around New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the pace car.
However, there have also been numerous things that I’ve had a chance to do that had nothing to do with this job and one of those things kind of came to the forefront of my thinking this past week.
Longtime UNH hockey coach Dick Umile announced last week that he would be retiring after next season and that Mike Souza would be taking over as the new head coach. As it turns out, both of those gentlemen had a role in one of the highlights of my post-college (but still hanging around college) life.
While I was not terribly surprised that coach Umile is deciding to call it a career, I am saddened that he never was able to bring home a national championship for the UNH hockey team, though I guess he does have one more chance left to do that. He’s been at it a long time and he has earned his retirement and I wish him nothing but the best.
However, the closest he’s come to that national championship came in 1999, early April as I recall, when the Wildcats were in the Frozen Four in the hockey hotbed of Anaheim, Calif. I was there and it was one of the top non-work sports moments of my life, right up until the final moment when it all came crashing down.
I graduated from college in 1998 having played four years with the UNH Marching Band as well as in the pep band at most of the hockey games during that time. We had traveled with the team to Hockey East and NCAA tournaments around the Northeast, but for the most part, Worcester was about as far as we’d go during those days. I played more than my fair share of games in the TD Garden and the Worcester Centrum over the four years I was in school.
The fall after I graduated, I was working in Concord but also had a part time job at UNH in the dining hall where I worked as a student. One night before school started, I stopped by the band field where the marching band was having band camp and a few hours later, after meeting the new director, I was signed up for a fifth year of marching band.
My schedule allowed it and I continued into the winter, doing pep band games on a regular basis and it became obvious that this was a special team. Led by Jason Krog and Darren Haydar, they were a force in Hockey East and around the country.
The new band director had gotten in good with the athletic department and was able to secure the band a trip to California to support the hockey team in the NCAA Frozen Four. Because this was in the early days of our good relationship with the athletic department, there were not a lot of seats. The director had to choose, based on instrumentation and attendance. Being as I played trumpet (one of the most needed instruments in any pep band) and had been to a lot of games, I was one of three trumpets chosen to make the trip. I talked to my bosses and got the time off for a quick trip to California, which was also my first time on an airplane.
We had a great time in Anaheim. We went to Disneyland and did some sightseeing, but we also had a couple hockey games to play at. UNH won the semifinal game and after a day off, we were back at The Pond for the finals against Maine. We even got the chance to play the National Anthem on the ice before the championship game (and made Sportscenter in doing so). It was future coach Mike Souza who scored the goal that sent the game to overtime, but I will pretend that it ended in an overtime tie, though the Maine fans out there will surely know the rest of the story.

Anyway, as a UNH graduate and supporter, I wish coach Umile nothing but the best and I’ll be cheering for coach Souza when his time comes, just as I was on that April day in 1999 from the upper deck in Anaheim.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Another top-five moment is (hopefully) just a year away

It seems hard to believe that one year from now, if all goes according to plan anyway, I’ll be on my way to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
As I’ve stated numerous times, I am more than excited to get the chance to cover another Olympics and I’m grateful to everyone who helped me make it to my first one and who is helping to make it possible to go to a second one.
That being said, I thought it would be a good time to recount my top five moments from this job, which I’ve now been in for somewhere around 15 years.
Number five came last winter when the Brewster basketball team played in a tournament in the TD Garden in Boston. Covering the Brewster hoop team is a lot of fun, not just because they are perennial national championship contenders, but also because coach Jason Smith runs a great program and their a class act all the way. What made this tournament great was the chance to stand on the fabled parquet floor, the floor once used by greats like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. It was pretty cool to walk out of the tunnel and into the middle of this massive arena and just be able to walk up to the parquet and stand on it.
Number four would probably be the first combined skiing championship, which took place back in 2004. The NHIAA decided to crown not just individual team champions in alpine, Nordic and jumping, but also offer a combined trophy for the school with the best performance. After slalom and giant slalom for the boys and girls, Nordic classical and freestyle for the boys and girls and jumping, the final point difference was four points, with Kennett claiming the title over Hanover. I remember a lot of intense moments of coaches calculating and remember the great sense of school pride it instilled, since all disciplines were out cheering for the others at their respective events.
Number three is probably my first trip to Florida with the Kingswood baseball team. I did this on the spur of the moment, the spring before I went to the 2014 Olympics. I booked a flight, hotel and rental car and spent three days in the sunshine of Florida, a great escape from what had been a pretty long winter at that point. I’ve been back twice since and enjoyed the trips, but the first one always holds a special spot.
Number two came a couple of years ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. A woman entered the media center and asked if anyone wanted a ride in the pace car. It was hard to say no to that opportunity, even though I’d done it once before. The difference was this time, it wasn’t an SUV, it was a car and that meant we went even faster. Coming out of the turns just inches from the wall was exhilarating and scary, all at the same time. Driving 85 on the highway can’t come close to 100 down the backstretch of NHMS just inches from a concrete wall.
Number one is obviously the 2014 Winter Olympics. From the moment I got approved for credentials in October 2012 through the final day I was in Russia, it was an amazing experience. I can’t sum up just how awesome it was to have the great support of the community along the way. There are few things I am going to forget about that trip, even if parts of it were a blur. But seeing the greatest athletes in the world on the biggest stage, up close and personal, was just a dream and something I am more than excited to get to do again.

It will be here soon enough.