In conclusion …

Before we left on this trip, everyone in my hometown fawned over me. They could not believe this opportunity I had earned, and they were congratulating me on great things before I had even so much as started packing. To my credit, I told them all the same thing, this trip is a vacation unless I make the best of it.

Cheers, to the group that made it all worthwhile. (Photo by Jillian Fellows)
I think I failed.

Making the best, does not mean doing everything you want to do and then some. To me, making the best is taken what you are given no matter how small or insignificant that opportunity may be. I had pipe dreams, and they never materialized, and all I had left was day dreams.

True I was given little. Actually, a classmate and I were given the least, but I still could have done more. It would not have been easy or convenient, and truthfully it’s easier and probably fair to blame others for my misfortune, but where will that get me?

Better to focus on the positives, I saw a beautiful city, had some once in a lifetime opportunities and met some of my best friends. Maybe I did not achieve any of my professional goals, and I will tell that first to anyone that asks me how London was, but I will quickly tell them of all the fun I had here and to not think for a second I regret anything about coming. And in that regard, I ended up making the best of this trip.

The Olympics are more than the games

When I tell people that I went to the Olympics, they instantly get supremely excited and start some version of 20 questions.  How was it?  What was it like?  Were you at opening/closing ceremonies?  My answers are usually generic to a tune of something like this: “It was really cool. I had so much fun.  It was a once in a lifetime experience.”  But the one answer that I give that throws some people off is to the question, “what was your favorite part?”

Teams from Germany and Brazil prepare to face-off in the Round of 16. (Photo by Colin Brown)

The majority of people would think that my favorite part would have something to do with the Olympics.  Possibly watching the United States women’s soccer team at Old Trafford, attending beach volleyball matches or getting the chance to interview both the men’s and women’s USA basketball teams.  Nope.  Not my favorite part.  Don’t get me wrong, those experiences were unbelievable, but they weren’t NO. 1 on my list.

My favorite thing about my trip to London was meeting new friends from a wide variety of countries.  If you know me personally, you know that I am an incredibly sociable and outgoing guy. With that said, it was easy for me to talk to random people that I found myself surrounded with.

Italians, Irish, Greeks, Aussies, Germans, Brazilians and of course, Brits — I met a wide variety of people in London. Learning about our differences in cultures and how to say small phrases in my new friend’s native language are memories that I will never forget.

My Italian friend taught me that “fettuccine alfredo” does not exist in Italy; rather it is called something completely different.  My German friends answered my question that had long been on my mind: do Germans pronounce the social media site, tVeeter?  (They pronounced it tweeter, and had no idea what I was talking about when I said that they pronounce their W’s as V’s, such as bratVurst.)  My English friends taught me about “slimin’ a bird,” which you’ll have to go to England and figure out the meaning for yourself.

One of my favorite experiences (even though it lasted under a minute) was speaking French to the woman standing behind me in line at a haunted house that we went to. I jokingly asked her if she was scared, but she didn’t understand me. I asked her if she spoke English, and she muttered that she did not know what I was saying. I had heard her daughter speaking a few minutes prior and recognized the language since I have taken French classes throughout high school and a bit at university (that’s what the Brits call college!)  In French, I asked the woman again if she was scared and proceeded on with the conversation for about a minute or so.  I have always wanted to speak French with a native of the land, so for me that was an awesome experience.

I could go on for days about all of the international cultural details that I learned while in London, but that’s for another day.  In short, the Olympics were awesome, but it is the people that you meet that make the experience exceptional.

They’re just like you and me

Kevin Durant. 2012 Olympic games: 156 points scored.  19.5ppg.  My new buddy.

You read that right; the Durantula is one of my “boyz”.  So is Deron Williams. OK, maybe not entirely, but I did get to hangout with them along with the rest of the USA men’s basketball team when I was in London. On my birthday, Aug. 11, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to attend the men’s basketball practice and interview the players of my choice. I can’t really think of much better of a birthday present than that (sorry, Mom).

After checking in at the front desk of the University of East London, Scott Hutchinson, Jenna Stenger, Jake Corrigan and myself waited with a few members of the Associated Press for our escort to take us to the practice facility.  As our escort arrived to walk us across campus, she brought along Bill Plaschke, a well-known sports journalist. Instantly I knew that I was just a little lion cub entering into a jungle of big cats.

Anthony Davis works on his jump shot during practice. (Photo by Colin Brown)

We arrived at the practice center and sat outside the gymnasium in a lobby, sipping on complimentary OJ and watching some Olympic action on the flat screen mounted on the wall.  Looking around the room, some cuties from the Arizona State journalism program caught my eye.  But they’re not who had my attention.  Also waiting to speak with the ball players were David Aldridge and Gene Smith, two NBA personalities.

“Wow,” I thought to myself.  “I have the same amount of access as these top dogs right now, and I’m just a student journalist.”

The time finally arrived that the media could enter the gym. Granted it was 2:45 p.m., and we were supposed to go inside at 1:30 p.m., but I guess when you beat a team by 83 points you can pretty much do as you please.

(Side note: A lot of NBA action had gone down in the previous day and that was a blessing in disguise. Dwight Howard had been traded to the Lakers, so everyone and their brother wanted to interview Kobe. This gave us a lot of access to the other players.)

When you walk in the gym it is a surreal feeling. I’m not one to get star struck or anything of that nature, but when you realize that the best players in the world that you watch every night on Sportscenter are waiting for you to interview them, you get lost in a daze of sorts.  Anthony Davis was shooting three-pointers from the corner. LeBron James was stretching out.  Kevin Love, Deron Williams, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony were sitting in a row kickin’ back on their folding chairs.

Scripps London’s Jenna Stenger asks Brooklyn’s Deron Williams a few questions. (Photo by Colin Brown)

Once you get over the overwhelming feeling of who you’re in the gym with, it was easy to see that they are just regular guys.  I spent the majority of my time talking to Deron Williams because for some odd reason that I can’t figure out, none of the other members of the media were interviewing him. Deron Williams! Easily a top-five, if not top-three point guard in the league! He noticed our Ohio University polos and told us that he is from Parkersburg, which is an hour away from Athens across the Ohio River.  At the end of the day we had talked to Deron maybe four or five times. Like I said, he was wide open to talk. And by the fourth time he started heckling us about coming back to him, but it was all in good fun.

(Check out this video of Scott Hutchinson and I asking Deron to spell Krzyzewski! Brooklyn’s Deron Williams Attempts to Spell “Krzyzewski”)

As members of the media, including us, were surrounding Carmelo, Scott and I noticed that Kevin Durant was sitting alone twiddling his thumbs.  The scoring leader of the NBA without a single member of the media to talk to — again, I was shocked!  We decided that Kevin was the perfect person to ask our question. So Scott proceeded to something along the lines of: “Hi Kevin. When I’m shooting hoops in my driveway, I like to consider myself an elite player, so after shooting a jump shot I yell Kobe, or LeBron or Durant.  Whose name do you yell?”  Kevin leaned forward, cracking a smile and a laugh, and told us that he doesn’t do that anymore, but as a kid he would say, “Jordan!”  We told him that that is a pretty good name to pick.

Between asking players whose name they yell, or how to spell head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last name, my time at the men’s basketball practice was truly unforgettable.  Sure, I didn’t get to ask LeBron if he wants to come over and shoot hoops next time he’s in Cleveland, but I wouldn’t want to embarrass him in a game of H-O-R-S-E anyway.

A wild day at boxing

“Tickets, tickets selling tickets anybody want tickets?” Chris Longo yelled for what had to be the 20th time.

“How much?” said the petite Mongolian woman.

After much haggling, Chris had made us 270 pounds or approximately $424 each. We had plans of steak dinners, massages and souvenirs for our family, but before we had so much as taken a step, it was over before it began. Two undercover cops swarmed in on Chris and I, separated us and began interrogating us.

It appears as though there is a massive undercover police force that prevents the reselling of tickets, which was news to us.

The UK’s Freddie Evans gets ready for his Gold Medal match. (Photo by Chris Longo)

I was not cracking, however; channeling my favorite character from The Wire, Bodie, I deflected all the man’s questions. I never had the tickets nor the money, so the police officer had little evidence on me, and I made that clear to him and he understood as much. My main worry became how do I make sure Chris does not get arrested. Chris was being threatened with maximum penalties of six months in jail and a 50,000 pound fine.

I explained to my cop, who was actually quite friendly, that scalping tickets is legal in the U.S., which is a quasi-lie as it’s still illegal, the police just turn a blind eye. I told him we grew up in big cities where scalping tickets was a way of life, and we had no idea what we were doing is wrong and that he could confiscate our tickets but please not to arrest us. After a search of Chris’ bag the cops realized we were not scalpers who bought tickets in bulk to resell at a higher rate. The gracious cop, made a decision that was beyond fair. He gave the mongolians their  money back and gave us the option of giving them the tickets or going to the event ourselves.

After all that, we went and watched five boxing matches, including Anthony Joshua’s super heavyweight victory which was one of the top sporting events Chris and I have ever seen live.

Don’t get me wrong though, I would’ve traded it in a second for $424.

The weirdest sporting event I’ve ever attended

No, this is not about the race walk, sorry to get your hopes up. Instead, I attended a 9 a.m. beach volleyball session, and while it was incredibly fun, here is why it was the oddest sporting event I have ever been too.

This is not the end of a match, this is the end of every single point. These two hugged their way all the way to a Silver medal. (Photo by Danny Medlock)

The Location

Beach volleyball takes place at Horse Guards Parade with the palace directly in your eye sight if you are sitting on one side, and the massive British Parliament building in your view if you are on the other side. What other stadiums can claim those views? I’m used to sitting at Fenway Park and looking at the Citgo sign out in left field and the Prudential Tower in right. Palaces? Yeah, right.

The AtmosphereEverybody cheers for everybody. The Brazilians cheer for the Brazilians, but they also cheer for the Germans whom they are competing against. If your countrymen aren’t playing, like me on this day you just cheer for everyone like a 5th grade teacher going to check out the U10 soccer game.

Additionally, the games have a hype man. Literally, there is a British man in his early 20s who has a microphone the whole game and is just saying things to keep the fans into the game and entertained. He hosts contests for fans, like some sort of minor league baseball PR intern. While the experience is similar to a minor league baseball game, it also has the feel of an NBA game in say Cleveland, Detroit or Atlanta. Stadium music plays the whole game, but unlike in the NBA, it’s not annoying and makes it more enjoyable.

If the hype man is not enough, the dancers are enough to get you hyped. These women are gorgeous and they are dressed quite professionally, I would totally bring them home to mom.

Wait, there were male dancers too … news to me (Photo by Chris Longo)

The Game

Are you ready for a series of questions?

What sporting event have you been to where woman played first, and then you watched them make modifications (net is raised) to the playing surface so the men could play?

Have you ever been to a sporting event where the match was played in a bikini or at the very least barefoot?How about a sport where the winning team embraces each other 42 times (see picture above) in one match?

Been to an event at 9 o’clock in the morning? If yes, was everyone drinking regardless?

Lastly, despite the ludicrousness of this event, is it weird that I loved every second of it?



Goosebumps: Looking back at London

Scott Hutchinson and Jenna Stenger of the Scripps London team hear from USA basketball star LeBron James.

Having been back in the States for three days now, I’m finally getting a chance to sit down and reflect upon everything I experienced over the past three weeks.

While I had an incredible time in London, I think the reality of what my classmates and I really got to take part in is just now beginning to hit me.

Going in, I knew that covering the games would be a valuable opportunity, but if someone had told me four weeks ago today that I’d be sitting front row at Olympic Stadium as the U.S. women made 4×100 history, or interviewing LeBron James and Kevin Durant the day before they took home basketball gold, I wouldn’t have believed it.

In fact … it’s still hard to believe.

Looking back, this entire trip could be described of “goosebump” moments:

Standing just feet from NBA icons. Seeing the Olympic Torch in person. Hearing our National Anthem as wrestler Jacob Varner had a gold medal strewn over his neck.

Sure there were plenty of frustrations over the past three weeks, but as both a lifelong sports fan and —let’s face it— a bit of a journalism nerd, London was unforgettable.

Thanks for the memories

As I sit here in my flat at the University of Surrey, I’m struggling to wrap my head around the fact that today is really August 13.

For the past several months all I could think about was London: what I was going to pack, where I wanted to visit, and what types of stories I was hoping to pursue. Now, though, it’s over and in just two hours I’ll be turning in my key, hopping on a plane and flying out of the UK for what could very well be the last time.

Scott Hutchinson and Chris Longo take in track and field action at the Olympic Stadium.

Fortunately, I’ll have some incredible memories to take back with me.

We had our ups and downs out here in London, sure, but it’s the ups that I’m always going to remember:

Interviewing NBA superstars. “USA” chants at Olympic Stadium. Wetherspoon’s. Turning 15 strangers into 15 friends.

I could sit here all day and list the issues we encountered, the plans that could have run smoother and the mistakes we made along the way, but when I’m 90 years old reflecting on this trip, those things won’t even cross my mind.

Instead, I’ll be thinking about Trafalgar Square at the opening ceremonies, the late night train rides back to Guildford, and the awesome people I was lucky enough to enjoy this amazing experience with.

Thanks for the memories, everyone.

2010 to 2012 to 2016: The Olympics are contagious

Fans line the streets for the Marathon (Photo by Scripps London)

At the start of the games, Jacob Corrigan wrote a story about Olympic super-fan David Chin, who said: “This will not be someone’s first and only Olympics. They say you catch a bug. You have no choice but to come back.”

As the finals days of the Olympics winded down, I began to understand what Mr. Chin was saying. I can throw out a few sappy lines about having the time of my life in London, but instead I’ll give some concrete evidence. Everyday, whether it was at the venues, in the tubes or at Waterloo station, I found the red maple leaf. That’s right, the Canadians were one of the most visible fan bases at the games, even more so than American fans. Maybe the Americans are a little more discreet about showing their colors, but for Canada – a country who isn’t well known for their summer Olympic prowess – the turnout was unbelievable. I have to chalk it up to the Olympic fever spilling over from the successful 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

When I woke up in New York this morning, I had an Olympic hangover. I wished I could do it all over again. This time in my life, with an incredible group of people, in a city like London, truly once in a lifetime. As London 2012 passes the torch to Rio 2016, it’s tough to look forward because I have no idea where I’ll be at that point. If I get the chance, I’ll be there in Brazil cheering on the Americans, the Canadians, the host nation and all the athletes who sacrifice so much of their lives for one shot at glory.

With London still fresh in my mind, I think back to the Michael Phelps press conference I was lucky enough to get into. After Phelps took his final gold, he answered question after question about retiring, then left the future of U.S. swimming to his younger teammates. When the conference was over, Jake and I walked up to ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, one of my favorite sports personalities, to get his thoughts on the London games thus far.

“After 10 Olympics they all start to mesh together,” said Wilbon.

He asked us if we were enjoying our first Olympic experience, then posed for a picture.

“Your first Olympics will be my last.”

With a half smirk, he passed us the torch and walked off into the sunset. Or at least that’s how I’ll remember it.

Sending love from London one final time, Cheers

It’s hard for me to begin this post. There’s a lot I want to say that I know words won’t do justice. I’ll give it a try.

We’re done, goodbye, peace out or as the Brits would say, Cheers. It’s been absolutely unreal. I have really appreciated the hospitality from everyone here. They have been nothing but kind, approachable, and genuine, well, some of them anyway. There’s always that choice few that hate “you Americans” and can’t wait until you get out of their precious city. However, London really is precious, it has so much to offer to so many different cultures and backgrounds. I could most certinaly see myself here someday. Maybe. I hate that there are no free refills, and I’ve probably heard “mind the gap” enough to last a lifetime.

Scripps London group touring around the UK during the first week.

Our men’s and women’s basketball teams were tremendous these past weeks, both winning gold. Also, Coleman Scott, the wrestler I interviewed and did a story on, won bronze. I am so happy for our athletes, and I am so blessed I got to meet so many of them. It is something some journalists work their entire careers toward.I got to meet with THE Debbie Antonelli this week! Before USA played Australia on Thursday we met outside of North Greenwich Arena, and speaking with her was one of the highlights of my trip. She has worked very hard to be where she is today. She does it all, and with three boys! You go girl! It encouraged me to be my absolute best and as a women, never take no for an answer. I would love to have her job, so would many. Check out what we talked about and the story I did on her on our site.

(L to R): Kerry Crump, myself, Jenna Stenger, Katie Grady, Megan Hickcock

We even got to tour the USA House on Friday morning! It was very cool to be able to see where all the athletes chill. It was so beautiful inside. They have a free yogurt bar, waterproof televisions on Budweiser-themed decks, and unlimited Olympic apparel! An OU graduate student even gave us our tour.

Honestly, I can’t even believe I was here for all of this. It was like a dream. This trip really made me realize the struggles of a journalist. It also made me realize if I didn’t have those struggles, it wouldn’t make the job worth it.

USA Olympic Team

This is for me, this is what I want to spend my entire life doing. Whether I make one million dollars a year or can barely make an honest living, it doesn’t matter to me. The things that matter to me most are more than just money, more than just material things. Family is everything, people are everything, happiness that you can maintain is everything. Everyone is so blinded by so many flashy and extravagant things, they can’t see that anymore. I use to always wish I would win the lottery, or something. I pray to God that I never do (and I won’t because I don’t play and because I’m not lucky).

All of the USA athletes that have medalled

I just want to work hard, make enough, surround myself with great people, and possibly help someone or change their life with my work. That’s what I think a journalist does — they help people. I know it doesn’t always directly seem that way, but they do, they impact people’s lives. They can tell a story someone is too afraid to tell or can’t by themselves. They help get information to people that really need it.We’re more than just press, we’re story tellers. We are here to be strong for others that are weak. As I journalist, I promise to always do that and to be someone that someone else can count on for consistency and realness. I will always wake up and try to be the best person I can be. I know i’m not perfect nor will I ever be, but I promised myself to always make a conscious effort. London has really reiterated these feelings for me. After traveling to a different country it really made me appreciate the way I was raised and the outstanding family that I have. They are the reason I try to be the best I can possibly be, as a daughter, a student, and as a friend to others.

Last time the Olympics were in London

My family are the best people I know (I said best, not most normal or sane). In all seriousness though, they are great. They are the kind of people that would welcome you into their homes and make you feel special. They are the kind of people who would give you the last piece of pizza or the last dollar out of their wallet. They are the reason why I am who I am today and for that, I am forever grateful. I’m on the journey to chase my dreams because of them. My pap has always said, “hold on tight to your dreams,” and I promised him I always will. I even got my wallet stolen yesterday (don’t want to talk about it). Who wired me the money? My wonderful mim and pap. They are indescribable.

Just weeks ago this was me at opening ceremonies. Now it’s closing ceremonies and the Olympics are over. The love and passion that came out of people these past weeks has been amazing to see. The Games are more than just sports — they are a way people from different cultures come together.

Me at Opening Ceremonies

It’s beautiful to see, to say I was apart of it is something I will forever cherish.Thank you Ohio University and the E.W Scripps School of Journalism for making this possible and for making this girl’s dreams come true. Also, thanks to my family for paying for it … $$$

I hope those that have followed my blog have enjoyed reading it, somewhat. I appreciate all the support and kind words most have given me.I’m headed to the airport tomorrow morning, let’s all cross our fingers that I don’t miss my flight, again.

With all my love from London,

xoxo Mel


British Culture: a day at the London Zoo

Since this is technically a study abroad trip, although it has felt like a lot more than that some days, there has to be lessons learned. As a student journalist, I’ve learned that when you’re backed up against the wall you have to think outside the box. There are great sources everywhere –you just need to have a fall back plan when your first, second or third choices don’t work out.

When Scott and I had not one, but two major sources cancel on us last minute, we decided to do what was right and turn left into Regents Park and head towards the London Zoo for a crash course on British Zoo culture.

What did we get out of spending two hours at the zoo?

An epic video that will soon go viral…