I interviewed a pro triathlete today for my next Lava Magazine column. No, I'm not saying who. What strikes me about my relatively short time in the world of triathlon is how accessible, humble and gracious professionals are in this sport. I used to cover high school and college sports for a local newspaper as well as my college daily (Arizona Daily Wildcat). The athletes were coddled and spoiled, treating us press-types as the scum of the earth. Even when I was in college and interviewing my peers. There were exceptions to my experience as a sports reporter (Phoenix Suns forward and Duke University graduate Grant Hill being most notable), but by and large, interviewing athletes ranked right up there with voluntary abuse.
Yes, I said voluntary abuse -- I went there. I would know about it too, as one college basketball player tried choking me once after practice. (A story for another day.)
Anyway, my point is I feel like I'm on the ground floor of a sport that ought to explode onto the mainstream scene at any point. The sport is growing exponentially. People are taking notice. But right now we're in the golden period where pros still appreciate any exposure they can get. They seem to answer their own emails, tweet their own messages, return phone calls when you try to reach them, and even say thank you once an article has been published. When I was a kid and thinking about being a sports columnist, these were the kinds of athletes I had always hoped I'd be able to interview. Young, hungry, gracious.
I'd like to see triathlon gain the mainstream exposure it deserves. It's a healthy lifestyle that often employs a charitable angle at races. And it's something one can do for many, many years. Yet, I realize what a good thing we have going now. I don't want to hold the sport back, but I will remember these days fondly. When I can talk with champions without layers of middlemen. When we can exchange restaurant recommendations via gmail. When we can talk about friends in common without a PR person motioning me to hurry the conversation along.
I wonder how long we'll have left to enjoy these graceful champions before the next reality TV series, action figure lineup or cheesy movie with d-level celebrities dilutes the magic we have now.
Until then, I'll enjoy it while it lasts.
147 days and counting.