I’m not sure who was more nervous for my 1,000-yard freestyle at club swim nationals last month, me or my mom. The 40 laps marked my final distance race of nearly 18 years of competitive swimming and my last chance to score points for my team before I graduated. My mom was my volunteer timer and very worried that she would mess something up, even though I tried to tell her that she was just getting a backup time in case I didn’t hit the touchpad hard enough. I wanted her to enjoy being on deck instead of up in the stands.
But I understand because I worry just as much.
I had actively avoided covering a Duke basketball game since becoming an associate editor for the Chronicle. Midterms and club swim practices made for convenient excuses when my editors asked me if I wanted to sit courtside in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but I was honestly worried I knew too little about the sport. Between the halftime report, live-tweeting, video recap and sidebar story, I knew there would be at least one part of game coverage I would ruin.
But our sports editor Ryan Hoerger somehow convinced me I could not graduate without watching a game even closer to the court than the Cameron Crazies and sitting feet from head coach Mike Krzyzewski in the post-game press conference. So I agreed to cover the game against Florida State, and, yes, my attempts at writing the halftime report and tweeting were about as bad as I expected them to be.
After 20 minutes of play, I had written a few superficial observations and around 300 words that boiled down to little more analysis than “we’re winning.” But Ryan took my computer, quickly reworked my halftime blog post and pushed it out on social media—then gave me a high-five. At that point I knew that it didn’t really matter that I only knew enough about basketball to enjoy it as a fan. Ryan had given me the opportunity to take advantage of my Chronicle experience and enjoy making a memory few Duke students share before they graduate.
I had joined the Chronicle at the end of my freshman year to write about swimming and diving, but before I could cover the sport I knew plenty about, I was asked to be the beat writer for cross country in the fall of 2013. As the men’s team crossed the finish line to sweep the N.C. Central in the first race of the season, I could only come up with a few questions to ask the coach. But there was no point in worrying. Duke men’s head coach and director of track and field Norm Ogilvie told me everything I needed to know in his five-minute response to my first question. So began my three years of covering cross country and track and field and my biweekly conversations with Coach Ogilvie.
I have loved being able to follow the swimming and diving team as Dan Colella’s squad has grown and improved dramatically in my four years here. For the most part, I was in my element—the jargon is all second-nature and I knew what time times and scores were significant. But because of this, I always felt like there was more I could do to improve my coverage of the team so my stories would not all sound the same. That’s part of the reason I went to as many away meets as I could.
With no room on deck for media at the Nike Cup Invitational in November, I sat up in the stands of Koury Natatorium near the parents of the Duke swimmers, trying not to draw attention to myself. I did not make it very long before one of them asked me what I was doing so quietly with a laptop at a swim meet. By the end of three days in Chapel Hill, and later the two four-day ACC championships in Greensboro, a number of the parents recognize me as “that girl from the student newspaper who writes about our kids.” I wasn’t allowed to cheer, but they always let me sit with them and I didn’t have to worry about being out of place.
A fair share of my most anxious moments over the course of my Duke experience have come thanks to an assignment from the Chronicle, and in most cases, my fears were unfounded.
But now I’m back to worrying because in two weeks I’m going to give up so many pieces of how I define my Duke experience and myself. I may never race again, and I will certainly not have the opportunity to write about the success of these teams I have become so familiar with. I know it’s time to take advantage of the opportunities graduating from Duke will provide for me, but I’m not sure what my safety net, backup timer or editor will be.
But if I have learned anything from the Chronicle and Duke as a whole, it’s that the worry isn’t worth it unless I enjoy the experience. And I have one track meet left before I have to let go—Duke will be competing at the NCAA East regional championships in my hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., the weekend after commencement. I’ll be watching from the stands with the athletes’ parents one last time, but without the laptop and cheering as loudly as I please.
Ali Wells is a Trinity senior and sports associate editor for The Chronicle. She would like to thank the Dream Team and Ryan for bringing her out of her shell and her swamily for giving her a home at Duke.
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