By the time my Olympic experience ends, I will have worked 300 hours in three weeks.
And I am feeling every last one.
I have been in Sochi, Russia since the start of the month, and I will remain here through the next few days. When it all ends, I will have done the following:
- 35 packages and four live shots for my home station, WXIA-TV
- 15 blog entries for 11alive.com and this web site
- Five interviews on an Atlanta radio station
- Four daily Olympic wrap-up videos for USA Today
- A handful of stories that have appeared on TV stations across the country
That would be plenty for four journalists combined, let alone a one-man band such as myself.
I will do myself a favor and decline to tally my hours of sleep.
The Olympics are, without question, a massive grind. I have now worked two Winter Games – Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014 – and I have learned the rhythm of how they wear down the body. Call it a symphony of energy, in three week-long movements:
Week 1: The 16- to 18-hour days begin, traditionally accompanied by a cavalcade of early assignments and growing pains. But most reporters, at this point, are unfazed. They have been waiting for months to kick off this trip, and they survive the first week thanks to a healthy dose of natural adrenaline.
Week 2: Say goodbye to that adrenaline. As the Games themselves begin, the body fights back. Colleagues get sick, feel sore, and often make uncharacteristic mistakes. But energy arrives from the events and athletes themselves. Suddenly the Olympics feel like the Olympics, and the action keeps everyone plenty busy.
Week 3: The extremes on both sides kick in. On one side stands the body, battered and exhausted, pleading for the end to arrive. The mind tends to agree. But on the other side stands the soul, with its constant reminders of the magnitude of the moment. To cover the Olympics is to receive an extraordinary, singular assignment; one feels compelled to cherish it.
I am nearing the end of Week 3, which means I am in many ways fading. My back, shoulders, and calves feel absolutely spent. My eyelids can barely keep from drooping. I keep pondering the idea of dropping 1,000 rubles into the nearest massage chair and letting it go to town for an hour.
But then I walk around the Olympic park, take in a medal ceremony, watch an event, or just look around at the picturesque Sochi scenery.
In those moments, it’s hard to say goodbye.
I will, though – starting with this blog. You are reading the final post from my Olympics journey. On Monday, the Telling the Story blog reaches its one-year anniversary. I will celebrate that, as well as the end of the Olympics, by taking a week off. I will return with new posts in March.
As for the rest of my time here, I will file my final stories Saturday and then pack my equipment Sunday. A few colleagues and I will remain in the area for a few days before departing for the States.
And then, the following week, I will return to work, every bit the same and yet so much different.
I will honestly miss the grind of the Olympics. I will miss the autonomy of setting up my own stories, churning out my own content, and having a specific beat and focusing on it. Beyond that, I will miss searching the giant playground known as Olympic Park for story ideas. Heading out there every day has been like fishing in a crowded pond, where if I wait long enough, I can always catch something.
I will even miss the long days. I often tell my best stories when I completely immerse myself in them, and I have been able to do so here.
(On Tuesday and Wednesday, I one-man-banded a live shot from Russia at 2 and 3 AM, with hardly anyone around in the International Broadcast Center. As far as professional accomplishments go, I can honestly say I never expected this.)
But in order to immerse myself in the Olympics, I have put the rest of my life on pause. When I fly home to Atlanta, I will not just return to work; I will return to all of the other responsibilities, relationships, and facets of my life that I truly cherish.
I have missed the rest of my life. And I look forward to getting it back.
But when I do, I will look fondly upon and appreciate the past three weeks, 300 work hours, and one Olympic experience.
FOR MORE ON MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: No shame in silver for Elana Meyers
FOR MORE ON MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: How to succeed at pin trading
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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.