I'll be the first to admit it: I'm a byline junkie.
As an aspiring creative writer years ago, seeing my name in print (in campus and community newspapers) was what ultimately teased me over to the "dark side", from the high, lonely peaks of capital-L Literature to the muck-raking, deadline-thick valleys of lower-j journalism. It's a fast and dirty fix. Hammer off a 800-word news article or a 2,500-word magazine piece. Wait a couple weeks or months. And—budda-bing, budda-bang!—there it is: your work and (better still) your name in print.
I still don't get tired of it. And now, as a magazine writer, there is a special thrill on those rare occasions when a feature story I've written gets prominently displayed on the publication's cover. Such was the case recently, as I was wandering through Ottawa International Airport, and I stepped past the magazine stand and saw Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield staring back at me.
It was the cover of the new issue of explore magazine. And it was my long feature profile of Simon that had made the cover (which was news to me). I was lucky enough to get to spend several mornings and afternoons hanging out with Whitfield and members of Canada's high-performance triathlon team as they geared up for the Beijing Olympics, and then interview a number of triathlon experts and past coaches who understand what makes Canada's top triathlete (and former gold-medal winner) tick. I was also lucky enough that my editor at explore gave me plenty of room (5,500 words, in fact) to dig into Whitfield's background, training regimen, and prospects for the 2008 Olympics.
Can he retake gold in Beijing in three days? Hard to call. There are about a dozen elite male triathletes who could podium: Tim Don of the U.K., Andy Potts of the U.S., Greg Bennett of Australia, several Kiwis and Germans and Russians... and of course Javier Gomez, the Spanish wunderkind who has been tearing up the sport for the last two years. He's anyone's top pick for gold.
But I'll definitely be watching and cheering Simon on (as well as Canada's Paul Tichelaar and Colin Jenkins). Researching the story only deepened my respect for the sacrifices and physical punishment that our amateur athletes endure. Sure, it was my story on the cover of the magazine. But it's Simon's amazing accomplishments and athletic efforts—past, present, and future—that make the story worth reading.