Life sometimes delivers important lessons at unexpected moments.
Mine came when I nearly fainted twice from heat and exhaustion while covering the swimming preliminaries on the first full day of the Rio Olympics.
It was a clear sign that the intense effort necessary to do this job the way I always have at a Summer Games would be too much for a body turning 70 years old next month.
Late nights (actually early mornings). Minimal sleep. Meals catch as catch can. (Often coming up empty handed.) Standing to wait for buses running on a once-an-hour schedule after midnight. It took me only a couple more days to realize I no longer had the stamina for such a daily routine, no matter that I am – when properly rested – still able to do long, hard rides on a road bike.
My problem is having just one journalistic speed: all-out. And despite my best intentions to put a governor on it, that didn’t work.
So my 18th Olympics is going to end after a week, at least as far as being a first-hand witness is concerned. When I get back to Chicago, I will watch the way nearly everyone else does, via television, something I have not done since 1984, when a career move meant I missed the Los Angeles Summer Games.
Maybe it’s fitting that the last Olympic event I saw here was Michael Phelps’ overwhelming win in the 200-meter individual medley. He has said this year and four years ago these were his last Olympics. I said the same thing in 2012 and again this week.
Now there is a feeling Phelps may change his mind, with an eye on Tokyo in 2020. Why not? He is still young (31) in the big picture and clearly at the top of his game.
Me? Much less likely, even though, at the risk of ego indulgence, I can say unabashedly my work remained at the same high standard I have demanded of myself in nearly a half-century as a journalist.
Having left the Chicago Tribune last fall, I jumped at a chance to cover this Olympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s web site, TeamUSA.org. That also provided me the chance to catch up with longtime colleagues from other news organizations around the world. Their camaraderie was always a primary reason why I loved the Olympics.
I cannot thank enough everyone on the USOC’s communications staff, especially Patrick Sandusky, Mark Jones and indefatigable web site editor Brandon Penny, for allowing me to be part of their team.
I leave Rio with a sense of relief and sadness. I leave having spent my final day watching Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps. There could be no better way to say goodbye.