I started noticing on Sunday.
For so long, those of us working at the Olympics were so consumed with our work that we rarely talked about our families. We reveled in the excitement of the Olympics, focused on the many assignments and opportunities in front of us, and tried to stay afloat long enough to get a sustainable amount of sleep per night.
Things changed Sunday. The weekend brought, for many, a relative lull, in both activity and demand for content. We run far fewer newscasts on the weekend, so we can dial back somewhat on how many stories we produce. Many of us did so, enabling us to catch up with family members who had previous received the briefest of conversational windows.
For my part, those catch-ups – and the simple opportunities to breathe – allowed me to think about my life back home. I quickly realized how much I missed it.
I was not alone. I took part in and passed by conversations that included statements like this:
“Only one more week …”
“I talked to my kids today, and it just broke my heart …”
“I think I’m ready to go home.”
I have seen this happen before. On both of my previous Olympic assignments, I noticed a tendency for journalists to get antsy towards the end of the Games’ first week – which, for most of us, marked the end of our second week in a foreign country. The end draws nearer, and people begin to get both restless and wistful for home – even despite the mountain of work still ahead.
I remain torn. On one side, I cherish this assignment and know how rarely it comes. I have been fortunate enough to cover three Olympic Games in the last seven years – more than anyone else at my station in that time – and I see how infrequent that still feels. I don’t know when – or if – I will get to do so again. I want to take advantage of this opportunity, and I fully intend to finish strong in this coming week.
But then I think about my family. I was told not to wear my wedding ring to Brazil to keep it from getting stolen, so I have spent the last two weeks without it. I have been apart from my wife from the longest amount of time since we got married last year. I miss her dearly, and I also miss the regularity with which I used to talk with the rest of my family. When I am home, I try to speak with my parents every day; since I arrived in Rio, I have spoken with them every week.
In so many ways, this assignment is not sustainable. It pushes us physically and creatively unlike any other event. But it also separates us from our normal lives in ways that are temporary but begin to feel semi-permanent.
The good news? Usually things pick up as the final week comes to a close. Our work ends, we begin to savor our final days, and we rally for one final burst of momentum on our Olympic experience.
Then we go home – which, for me, is the best reward for a job well done.
Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.