Actually, I returned more than a month ago, but in usual fashion after I travel, am just now writing about it.
I have stories for WEEKS about Rio and all the amazing experiences I had and life lessons I learned. From working for the USOC during #Lochmess to giving myself a crash course in boxing 45 minutes before a bout to the tennis match from hell (don’t ask) to the unlimited Uncrustables in the office, it was definitely the opportunity of a lifetime.
I wish I could have brought my DSLR, but I didn’t want to risk it and wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to sightsee/have time to take pictures for fun. It turns out that I had a decent amount of free time so I was lucky enough to wander the Olympic Park quite a bit and attend a large variety of events, even if I didn’t cover them. I ended up covering fencing, diving, boxing, sailing, taekwondo and water polo in my tenure there. There were a few others on the docket but they didn’t do as well as expected so those stories never saw the light of day.
Without further ado, my “Best Of” picture list from Rio de Janeiro.
the Main Press Center
View from the MPC
looking down the main concourse of the Park
the Carioca Arenas (where I spent about 90% of my time when not at the MPC)
the swimming arena
Pre-Games swimming conference with Phelps
Remember the days when all we had to hate about Lochte was his hair? Those were nice
the fencing team❤
Favorite sport ever
Saw the Williams sisters play (and lose). Major bucket list item crossed off
Steele Johnson and David Boudia accepting silver for 10m synchro diving
Simone is life
Where’s Katie Ledecky
at the top of Corvocado
The best chocolate mousse I’ve ever had in my life. Nicole and I craved this pretty much on a daily basis.
USA! USA! USA!
Last day in the MPC
I’m going to add something before these pictures. We were warned before leaving that while our names were on the list for Opening Ceremony tickets, it was unlikely we’d get them from the USOC (as the IOC does have to share the wealth and interns are low on the priority list for allocated tickets). However, we’d have a chance to wait in line for any extra tickets once the NOCs had been given theirs. So we did. And lo and behold, we all got into the opening. Literal dream come true, especially as it was unexpected. We had amazing seats in the press tribune and it was well worth the hour and a half trip to Maracanã via public transport and the two-hour wait in line, and the two-hour trip back to the hotel. It was an explosion of colors and I loved every minute of it. The closing, while not as grand, was equally as heartfelt and joyful.
Got my Opening ticket!
During the Parade of Nations
At the end of the Parade of Nations
Closing (Simone with the American flag)
**Re the title: So in Portuguese, “rr” has an English “h” sound. So thus, this blog title is pronounced “Baja Blast,” like the mountain dew drink. While I don’t like Baja Blast, I thought the linguistic pun was hilarious. I’m sorry. Barra da Tijuca was the name of our hotel’s neighborhood.
As many of you probably already know from Facebook/Twitter (Where HAVEN’T I posted about this tbh), I am heading to Rio de Janeiro TOMORROW to cover the Olympics.
YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY.
I scored an internship with the U.S. Olympic Committee, along with three other students, to cover the 2016 Summer Games.
I’m excited, pumped, thrilled, ecstatic, joyful, where’s my thesaurus.
Covering the Olympics is my dream. It combines everything good and wonderful in this life: writing, sports, traveling, and a never-ending parade of cultures and languages.
I found out three days after graduation, after going through a multi-step application process in February/March. Best phone call of my life (shout-out to my entire family for not being home that day so I had to scream and scare my dog by myself. Dogs don’t know how to differentiate between, “OMG MY HUMAN IS IN TROUBLE I MUST BARK AND FIX IT BECAUSE #BARKING” and “OMG MY HUMAN IS EXCITED I MUST BE CALM AND LET HER HUG ME AND CRY AND NOT BARK BECAUSE BARKING IS BAD BAD DOG OMG KENNEL TIME”).
It was the latter kind this time around.
25 days of my life will revolve around sports and only sports pretty much 24/7. As in there are a few beach volleyball games scheduled for midnight local time so you think I’m kidding? I’m not.
Sports are the greatest. If my career lets me write features and profiles in any journalism specialty, I’ll be happy. If I get to do that within the sports world? I’ll be over the moon. In no other subset of society do you get such emotional extremes and such an intricate intersection of people from literally all walks of life. It’s fascinating to watch and it’s fascinating to write about and be in the middle of. Bonus of being a journalist not an athlete is that I don’t have the bruises and injuries to go with the thrilling parts.
I am going to try my best to update the blog with pictures and stories as I go but I suspect many of them will have to wait until I get home. But never fear! They will be coming at some point.
So three weeks ago the boy came to the good old U.S. of A.
I was super pumped, obviously, to see him, but also to show off my life. I don’t get a chance to play tour guide to Indy very often. I mean. I do city bus tours for work, but those still have a focus on IUPUI and the relationship between school/city. I don’t get to show the fun side of Indy or even introduce my culture to someone for the first time. Just imagine what would happen if I even mentioned a bar during a tour to 17-year olds. Chaos. Panic.
We started our trip in NYC, the Big Apple. Ale’s first text to me stateside was to tell me he arrived safely. The second was to tell me he had eaten the best burger of his entire life.
Welcome to America.
NYC was as overwhelming and awesome as ever. By the end of every trip there, when I start getting the hang of the metro and bumping into people without saying “sorry” every time, I start thinking that maybe I could be a New Yorker. I could totally do it. And then I remember that I’m a city girl but not a BIG city girl and would get eaten alive. Oh well.
After a few days, it was time for Indy.
I’d been warning him for months that as this represented his first trip to the states, and his first chance to meet any of my friends/family aside from my mom (who came to Spain last year), he was going to have to put up with a fair number of introductions. We aren’t sure when he’s coming back so this was my chance to have the people closest to me get to know the guy I’d been raving about for the last year and a half (HOLY CRAP IT’S BEEN A YEAR AND A HALF WHAT).
It’s a strange thing to view your hometown through the eyes of someone who never has. Even students who visit, just by their Americanness*, have a basic frame of reference. Ale had no basic image in his head to go off of because nothing in Europe is anything like the Midwest. The Midwest itself has its own culture within the larger US sphere.
It’s a doubly strange thing to see your hometown through eyes that haven’t been trying to escape it for a year. I’ve been planning my departure almost since the minute I came home July 31, 2015. So what an odd thing to have the boy I love, from the city I adore, come to this city I often feel like I can’t ditch fast enough.
And what an even stranger thing to have him love it here. Three visits to Longs Donuts (pretty sure he misses that basic yeast donut more than he misses me), multiple nights staying up late munching on popcorn and talking, fake Thanksgiving, a proper American rite of passage: a 4th of July celebration, and meeting countless people filled our days. We went laser tagging, target shooting (‘Murica), got deep dish pizza, and watched three seasons of Modern Family. All in the 14 days he was here.
It was a mind-bending experience. I’ve spent so much time this past year trying not to hate the hometown I once loved, the city I’ve lived in for the larger part of 22 years, the city that holds all my childhood memories, my milestones, my college years, my family.
But slowly and surely, as I loved on him for 14 days, so I got to rediscover and grudgingly learn to like (love is a strong word after all), my city again.
In the process, it made this the most agonizing goodbye yet.
While I obviously spent 7 months in Spain last year, coming home still almost like coming home from a drawn-out vacation. He and I said goodbye, with the plan to reunite at Christmas, but with both of us only tentatively expecting that two people with no long-distance experience would actually make it.
December really was like coming home from vacation. I spent a glorious two weeks in my favorite city on earth and then came home. Another goodbye, another set of planes, and boom. The next day I was back in class.
But this…This time, instead of the American going to Spain, the Spaniard came to the States. And he invaded (in the best of ways) my city, my culture, and my life instead of the other way around.
I accidentally drove to the apartment we were staying at twice this last week instead of my internship (which is a mile down the road). I went to Longs almost ordered half a dozen before I remembered that he wasn’t waiting for me to share them with and I really shouldn’t have 6 donuts on my own. I watched the one remaining episode of Modern Family season 4 that we didn’t quite finish and kept looking over, expecting him to sympathize with grumpy old Jay whenever I didn’t. I leave my car multiple times a day, preparing myself to tease him because he doesn’t slam his door hard enough, and then remember that mine was the only one being used now.
It’s much harder to ignore the traces of someone left behind than it is to be the one brushing off those pieces of yourself into someone else’s existence.
So we said goodbye at the airport until Christmas, I looked up plane tickets as therapy the minute I got home, and we started finding our way back to long distance normalcy.
And so another countdown begins. Or rather two. One to Christmas. One to next summer, when I move to Spain semi-permanently (permanently? Who knows).
But for now, it was another goodbye. Another year of this craziness. But one with a renewed appreciation for my hometown, for the people in my life, and my life itself.
Well, a little more than 72 hours ago I was handed a (fake) diploma and flipped my tassel from the right to the left, signifying that I had accomplished something rather grand and amazing: I graduated college.
I don’t have a really cool backstory. I’m not a single mom like our student commencement speaker on Sunday is. I didn’t face financial difficulties while in school like so many others of my generation. My path to graduation was relatively smooth, but I’m still overwhelmed that I actually made it through four years (has it really been four years) of this process.
My willingness to get things done went downhill exponentially since returning from Spain. I’d like to think it’s because I fully embraced the slower-paced, “no pasa nada” attitude. Really, it was just a typical case of senioritis. But I did get things done and while I’m waiting on final grades still, I’m 50% sure I did, in fact, pass all of them in the end (just kidding mom and dad I’m 100% sure).
This year, as I’ve noted a few times in this blog, on social media, and in person, has been one of conflicting emotions. Coming home for my senior year meant just that: coming home. It meant leaving a country and boy I grew to love to finish what I started in August 2012. But it also meant starting a year of being at the top of the food chain, of taking classes almost entirely within my fields, of seeing friends day in and day out, and of being 21 (hollering at you Kilroys). Senior year for me also meant a year of lasts: Last Regatta, last Honors mentoring meeting, last advising appointment, last finals week etc. It was a year of lasts before I fully expected to begin a life of firsts abroad once again. And in some cases, those events were indeed the last ones I will ever attend.
But life is funny and God has a great (adjective used loosely) way of laughing at humanity’s plans.
I’ve had a few months to prepare for this. The writing on the wall has been there for awhile as far as the most logistical course of action for my future and I officially accepted my place in the IUPUI Masters in Sports Journalism program in April….and deferred my teaching position in Madrid until 2017.
That decision was heart-wrenching. It was like a blown-up version of my decision senior year of high school to forgo my dream school and number one choice in favor of the one closer to home, offering me a full-ride.
Four years later, that decision turned out to be literally life-changing and I wouldn’t alter the past even if I could. I can only hope that in another four years, the bittersweet feelings of being in Indy for 15 more months also fade away and leave only the best of memories in their place.
And so, with my summer grad course beginning on Monday, I begin another year of lasts, this time for real. Last year of working for my office, last year of dance, last year of classes ever (After 16 years it will be about time). And the last time I will ever walk across a stage in a gown that makes me look fat (come on guys it’s been a few hundred years and graduation fashion hasn’t fixed this problem??) will occur on May 14, 2017 and by August 2017, I will be heading back to Spain, with a bachelor’s AND a master’s degree in tow.
I told my boyfriend once that the act of saying goodbye and leaving was worse than actually being gone. Saying farewell is a conscious decision to part ways. Even if you don’t have another viable option, there’s this overwhelming feeling of guilt along with the sadness and angst and worry wrapped up together in a nice little package from hell. Once you’re actually gone, it gets easier, though there are obviously still moments of incredible sadness that we aren’t together. But it’s not like I can just buy an international ticket on a whim.
I felt the same way about this decision to complete my masters while I have the funding to do so. Up until the moment when I sent the email accepting my masters placement and deferring my teaching position, I agonized. Was this really fair to Ale to make him do another year of long distance? Did I really want to put myself through another year of school when I was already struggling to finish the race strong with this first degree? Did I really want to be stuck in Indy when a lot of my friends were moving on after graduation?
And then I sent the emails and notified everyone. Effectively I “went through security” and I was at peace.
Logistically and financially, this is the best of all possible scenarios. It means that I go to Europe as fully-equipped academically as I possibly can be to find a job in my field after my teaching stint. It allows me to graduate with two degrees with a small fraction of the debt most people have when they leave school. It means I’ll be around for both my brothers’ graduations. And it ensures that once I move across the Atlantic, I can put down roots without feeling like I missed out on a great educational opportunity.
So here’s to one more year of feeling torn between two places, but on a good note, another year of memories with my best friends, in one of my favorite cities in the world, of amazing opportunities, of learning from the best faculty, and spending a lot of time with my family.