When I was 17, I boarded a flight on my own for the first time and went to work as an intern at CNN International in Atlanta, Georgia.
For a quiet teenager from the Northwest of England, it was an opportunity of a lifetime for me to combine two of my greatest passions, media and sports.
Upon landing, my heart was full and my eyes were wide. Immediately, professionals working daily on sports smiled at my youthful enthusiasm for every sport we covered. I was so keen and tried to show it with my work rate and knowledge.
When it was time for me to leave, I packed my bags and flew home with experiences that would stay with me forever. I had no idea if I would ever work in the media, let alone sports television, but when I landed along with my Steve Smith Atlanta Hawks merchandise and dreams of another Atlanta Braves World Series title (still desperately waiting) was an item that weighed only on my mind and not on a baggage scale.
"When you work on sports every day, you inevitably lose the passion for them. You'll never love them as much as you did before it was really work."
That message from a notable presenter stuck with me. It was not said with a negative tone and was no reflection on him, but I told myself on that trip that I didn't want that to happen to me if I was ever blessed enough to work in the industry.
I've found myself thinking about that a lot lately. After all, it has been a time for all of us to slow down and reflect. As I write this, I truly hope everyone taking the time to read it is in a healthy place physically and mentally as we all, as teammates in life, battle to defeat this pandemic. Collectively, we know nothing in sports is as important as the fight that is taking place right now and that gives me peace and faith that we can come together for one common goal. This world divides so many, but belief in each other is incredibly powerful and in uncertain times this is where I find hope.
This heavyweight fight is everywhere right now, on every channel, all the time, as sports rightfully take a seat in the back knowing it cannot be seen in these moments. Common sense has prevailed and for some time sports have disappeared, but this doesn't mean we cannot miss them – and oh, I miss them. It's been over two decades since that trip to Atlanta and it has been quite a remarkable, unpredictable ride for me professionally that has brought me to the great country of Canada and in front of the camera for TSN.
Today, I can no longer name you the starting five for the Atlanta Hawks, but I can tell you that I am still truly, madly, and deeply in love with sports. I didn't need time away from it to know this. Yet, here we are, sitting anxiously, taking care of the world and each other as a priority while wondering when it is all going to come back.
The Wednesday after Major League Baseball's All-Star Game was hard enough, but now every day feels like that. One of the many reasons why I love the baseball season so much was that tomorrow my team was playing again. They were in my living room, no matter how they played yesterday. Today was not going to be the same and tomorrow was always another day. Suddenly in these trying times, tomorrow isn't a sign of promise and optimism, replaced instead by the dreaded inevitable scenario that it will likely be the same as today and yesterday.
This is what I miss the most. Movies and television programs can fill a small void, but they don't replace the greatest gift sports can give me – and that's magnificent, unscripted drama and the emotions it takes us through while doing it.
As a fan, I've been fortunate to watch so many great sporting moments in person and although those moments remain reference points in my mind, it is how they made me feel in my heart that makes them truly stick with me for good or bad.
You see, it doesn't matter which one I pick to share with you because every one of them has a story of how I felt before, during, and at the end of it.
Aged seven, standing on the last corner amongst thousands of British racing fans cheering our hero, Nigel Mansell, home for his first-ever Formula One Grand Prix win at the European Grand Prix. This taught me patience and belief as I watched his great rivals, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet, collide in front of me, battling for the win, allowing our Nigel to roar by. I cried when it was over and have been chasing race cars all over the world ever since.
Aged nine, my first trip to Villa Park, Birmingham, England. Coming back to my roots to be around family and people who loved something as much as I did, taught me how jubilation can consume you when your team scores a goal – and how incredible it feels to be surrounded by thousands of strangers who feel something as strong as you do. I left thousands of those people behind, but that feeling never left me and carried me many miles to games that have brought a couple of cups and a lot of broken dreams.
Annual trips to the Isle of Man TT road races where you can stand in a front garden and watch motorcyclists show remarkable bravery at incredible speeds on open roads in pursuit of success. Many of you likely have never heard of this, but if you look it up on YouTube, you'll hardly believe your eyes. I saw it all with my own. As a young man, I'd speak with these modern-day gladiators one day and then there would be days when they were gone the next. Suddenly, the fun-loving champion, who was on the same ferry as us playing games, was no longer with us, yet year after year, the allure of the event was almost as strong as the bravery and fortitude the riders showed fans like me.
Being in the stands at the 1999 Cricket World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa, arguably one of the greatest games ever played, where everything I love about sport was on display. An enormous prize for the winner, shifts in momentum, a game taken over by one of the greatest to play the game and a climax no one could ever have written.
Seeing the best performers in the world on the biggest stage of their sport has taken me to Detroit, Michigan, to see one of the greatest Red Wings teams ever in 2002 where I was a child again standing in awe of true greatness throughout the team. To the old Yankee Stadium to watch Vladimir Guerrero, then with the Angels, put on a show in batting practice I have never forgotten. To a British Open to see Tiger Woods. To Germany to sit amongst the Argentina fans and watch a young Lionel Messi play in a World Cup and score his first-ever goal and one of the greatest team goals we have ever seen finished off by Esteban Cambiasso. To Barcelona to see my favourite, Xavi Hernandez, run a game from midfield like no one else before him and to Indianapolis, Indiana, to watch 33 drivers attempt to be the one whose life changes forever on a Sunday in late May where a family friend, Dan Wheldon, won the Indy 500 twice before losing his life in a later race. Incredible highs and incredible lows that never leave me.
It has also brought me to a professional life covering soccer for TSN where I try to do my little bit to carve out those stories and get viewers closer to the players that bring emotions to Canadians, many who are falling for this sport every year. Not that I needed it, but years spent covering hard news stories as a newspaper journalist further enhanced my appreciation for those covering things that truly matter while further strengthening my desire to cover things that matter most amongst those that don't really matter. Everyday I go to work knowing sports are a release from the challenges everyday life can bring people.
Except now, they are gone. Every day that goes by without them reminds me more and more that it is not simply the games we miss or the time it fills when they are played. The biggest void is the feeling that they leave us with. It is a time in our lives where we are told to be guided by logic and rationality, yet while doing so, I think we are allowed to yearn for it to all return and with it, allow other emotions to flourish again.
Until then, take care of each other.