Posts tagged "Josh Blessing"

A second chance at Olympic gold: the Errol Spence Jr. story

By Josh Blessing  and Alex Kartman |  BSU at the Games

His journey began inside a run-down boxing gym in southern Dallas.

Now the No. 1 U.S. welterweight boxer, Errol Spence Jr. finds himself fighting for a medal in the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Olympic Games Tuesday night.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience representing your country,” Spence Jr. said. “Making your country at the top, being No. 1 again…that’s a big honor.”

Spence Jr., who opened the Games with a 16-10 victory, advanced to Tuesday’s quarterfinals after his 13-11 loss versus India’s Krishan Vikas in the round of 16 was overturned. The decision came nearly four hours after the match.

“I am obviously thrilled that the competition jury overturned my decision and I can continue chasing the gold medal I came here to win,” Spence Jr. said. “I am going to make the most of this second chance that I’ve been given. I can’t wait to get back in that ring on Tuesday.”

The International Amateur Boxing Association unanimously overturned the decision upon reviewing video of the fight after USA Boxing filed a protest. The AIBA ruled the referee should have awarded Spence Jr. four more points, making the score 15-13.

The decision allows Spence Jr. to continue chasing his gold medal dream just like his idol growing up: former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who won gold at the 1988 Soul Olympics.

“Muhammad Ali was an influence for me and I’m glad, happy and overjoyed that somebody else has gained influence from my boxing,” Lewis said. “I wish him the best and I hope he does well.”

The quarterfinal match versus Russia’s Andrey Zamkovoy is set to start at 5 P.M. EST.

Check out our full photo gallery on Errol Spence, Jr.

Josh Blessing is a junior telecommunications major and Alex Kartman is a graduate student studying digital storytelling at Ball State University. They both cover sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Josh, Alex and the BSU team at @JoshJBlessing@ajkartman@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

Fighting for gold: The Rau’Shee Warren story

By Josh Blessing and Alex Kartman  |  BSU at the Games

“Boxing saved my life.”

Those words, spoken by Rau’Shee Warren echo the harsh past he left behind when he started boxing for Team USA.

Now competing in his third Olympic Games, Warren fights for a chance to bring gold back to his hometown of Cincinnati, where crime devastated the streets he grew up on.

Also check out our full photo gallery on Rau’Shee.

Josh Blessing is a junior telecommunications major and Alex Kartman is a graduate student studying digital storytelling at Ball State University. They both cover sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Josh, Alex and the BSU team at @JoshJBlessing, @ajkartman@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

Daily Video: Eric Shanteau swims for a cause

Four years ago Eric Shanteau experienced the Olympic Games unlike any athlete before; he swam with cancer. Four years later he competes again in London, but no longer swims for himself. He organizes a LIVESTRONG event, Swim For Your Life, every year to help those living with cancer. Now cancer free Shanteau swims for a cause.

Eric Shanteau – Swim For Your Life

Cancer survivor swims for a cure

By Josh Blessing  |  BSU at the Games

Standing on the blocks at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, seconds before one of the most important swims of his career, breaststroker Eric Shanteau was not just physically competing against those swimmers to his left and right.

Like most world-class athletes, he tried to put himself in the moment of his race. The chance to realize a dream and qualify for the Olympic Games was on the line.

But as much as he tried to clear his head and focus on the task at hand, he faced even more challenging competition outside the pool.

The day life changed

Shanteau will never forget June 19, 2008. It’s the day doctors told him he had testicular cancer. He was 24 years old, and the timing was made more terrible by the Olympic pressure he already faced.

He was in the middle of vigorous training for the Beijing Olympics, and the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials were just a week away.

“It was devastating to say the least,” Shanteau said. “You get hit with all these emotions all at once. I think the biggest thing is the loss of control. All of a sudden, the control is ripped out of your hands and replaced with a doctor who is essentially giving you a battle plan to save your life.”

Shanteau was forced to make a decision—postpone treatment and risk his cancer advancing or miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Beijing to start his treatment.

He consulted with his doctors, family and coaches, and “they gave me the go-ahead to compete at the Olympics,” Shanteau said. “It was an experience of a lifetime. It’s something I worked my entire life to do, and stepping foot on that deck for the first time in Beijing—I’ll definitely never forget that.”

While undergoing weekly tests to make sure his cancer remained stable, Shanteau swam a personal best in the 200-meter breaststroke but missed the finals by 0.13 of a second. Then he traveled back to the U.S. and underwent surgery to remove the cancer at the end of August.

He was declared cancer-free six days later, but the mental challenges never evaporated.
Brian Balmes, a six-time cancer survivor and Shanteau’s good friend who has competed in 12 marathons, seven half Ironmans and one full Ironman, knows the toll cancer can take on someone over the years.

“One of the things you have to get through when you have cancer is living with the fear of it coming back,” Balmes said. “As a human we have to find things to do to help you deal with that mentally.”

Shanteau visited his doctor every two months for routine check ups. An elite athlete who dominated competition in the pool now hoped to hear everything was fine.

“Coping with everything I had been through was a struggle,” Shanteau said. “After everything finally calmed down and I realized what I actually had been through, I was worried about a recurrence—where it would come back, when, or even if it would come back. These thoughts are always going through your mind.”

Now four years later, the cancer has not returned.

Swimming from an early age

There was little question Shanteau, a native of Lilburn, Ga., would be back in the pool as quickly as possible. Swimming has been part of his life since childhood.

He broke onto the national scene at 16 when he competed at the 2000 Olympic Trials. Upon graduating from Parkview High School two years later, Shanteau became the first male in the history of the USA Swimming Scholastic All-American Program to graduate with a 4.0 grade-point average and win a national title.

His swimming prowess continued at Auburn University where he was undefeated in team competitions. Swimming for the Tigers, Shanteau was an 11-time NCAA All-American and helped his team compile 32 dual meet victories, four SEC titles and four NCAA titles.

Shanteau quickly put himself in the international swimming spotlight. At the 2005 World University Games, he won gold in both the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley, making him the first American to sweep both events.

Cancer didn’t slow his trajectory.

“I got back into the water and back in to shape,” Shanteau said. “I started swimming faster than I ever had before, pretty quickly. That’s really what led me to want to come back to the sport of swimming after 2008. I realized I hadn’t reached my potential quite yet.”

At the World Championships in 2009, Shanteau set American records in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. He also broke the world record and became a world champion as part of the 4×100 medley relay, joining teammates Aaron Peirsol, Michael Phelps and David Walters.

“The success in 2009 was a really big catalyst to helping me continue on for another four years and go for another Olympic Games,” Shanteau said.

Swim for your life

Although his success in the pool is undeniable, his story goes much further. It’s what Shanteau has done outside of the pool that is changing lives.

After becoming cancer free, he began getting involved with the LIVESTRONG Foundation. He then was able to meet Lance Armstrong and attend his first LIVESTRONG Challenge.

“The LIVESTRONG Foundation has grown to multiple cities, and that got me thinking,” Shanteau said. “I want to do this for the swimming community.”

Two years later, Shanteau started his own cancer awareness event called Swim for Your Life. The open-water event is held at Lake Lanier near Atlanta, Ga.

Now in its third year, it has continued to grow. All funds raised from the full day of open-water swimming races and clinics go to the Patient Navigation Center and other programs that LIVESTRONG offers.

“I try to and run it like a LIVESTRONG Challenge, just in the water.” Shanteau said. “The goal is to continue to grow it. As long as there’s a fight against cancer, it’s something I want to be involved with.”

Shanteau, who qualified for the London Games in the 100-meter breaststroke and relays, is hoping his exposure in London will help attendance numbers for Swim for Your Life once the event kicks off September 22.

“Year three is huge,” Shanteau said. “People only get to see the Olympics once every four years, and that’s when swimming is most popular. We’ll really get a feel for how much we can grow from this year. This is the year where we can expand and adjust more than we did last year.”

Balmes, a member of the organizing committee for the event, agrees with Shanteau.

“Participation last year was enormous, and I think we can double that this year—especially when he does so well over in (London),” he said with a smile, “which we all are hoping and praying for. It can be spectacular.”

Shanteau said one of the more specific messages behind Swim for Your Life is how it relates to men and testicular cancer. He said there are treatments that work, but it’s up to people to take action at the first signs of the disease.

“My message is that it’s OK to get help and it’s OK to acknowledge you have a problem,” he said. “Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be embarrassed. Straight, open talk about cancer is the biggest weapon we have against this disease.”

When Shanteau steps on the blocks in London, his incredible four-year journey likely will be identified as one of the great stories of this year’s Games.

“The mission of this has been to always give back,” Shanteau said. “I was given so much help and so much support from people I had never even met before. That was part of the reason why I started this, in some small way, to give back to people who I don’t know who will go through this or have a loved one go through this.

“There is life after cancer.”

Josh Blessing is a junior telecommunications major at Ball State University covering sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Josh and the BSU team at@JoshJBlessing@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.

The power of passion

I’ve attended and watched many sporting events in my lifetime, but there have been very few occasions where I was nervous. For example, when my Packers stomped the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, I was nervous the entire game. Or when the Cubs won the… yeah, never mind. But for the first time in my life, I was nervous watching U.S. Olympic Diving. Why? Because I made a friend.

By now, most of you know I’ve spent my entire life growing up on a dairy farm, and believe it or not we did have a television, so I was able to watch the Olympics growing up. I remember watching Shawn Johnson and Nastia Luikin win in Beijing back in 2008. But as I watched Diver Thomas Finchum try to make his comeback during the prelims for the U.S. Diving Trials last week, it was different. I knew him. I knew his story. I had told it. I knew what he had been through to make it back to the diving trials and I knew how much it meant to him to make it to London. It wasn’t just him though; it was all of the divers competing for their spot in London. I had interviewed them as well. I knew all of their stories.

As I watched the diving trials at 1 a.m. with my two farm dogs, Barney and Duke, that’s when I realized that this trip to London isn’t about our group; it’s about them.  They’re the ones making the sacrifices, and we’re telling their stories. As much as I wanted Finchum to qualify for the Olympics so I could do another story on him for BSU at the Games, I wanted him to qualify for himself more.  My stomach turned every time he did another dive. My mom even asked why I kept screaming from the living room at 1:30 a.m. and my answer came easy—each story I do on these amazing athletes gives me an insight into how passionate they are. They get little recognition, but they don’t let it faze them. They want London more than anything.

Finchum didn’t qualify for London, finishing third place in the finals. The top two travel to the games. I know he was heart-broken, and so was I. When you spend months getting to know these athletes, their success means so much more. And when they come up just short, it hurts the same. Since the trials, Finchum has announced his retirement from the sport of diving. He’ll never get his chance to go back to the Olympics, and yet his spirit never wavered. He said on Twitter, “Today has been filled with so many emotions… one chapter of my life is almost over, but there’s so much more to come with @Northern_Nights.” He’s right.

A wise man once told me it’s about building relationships and getting to know the people whose story you’re telling. For years Thomas Finchum was an amazing Olympic diver. Not enough people know that he’s a lead singer of an up-in-coming country band called Northern Nights. I just hope the story I did on Thomas and Northern Nights has made some kind of impact, because I know it’s impacted me. I’ve invested so much into the 2012 Olympic Games, and because of that I’ll never look at them the same. My friends will be out there representing the United States of America in London, and I’ll be cheering as loud as I possibly can for them to fulfill their dreams. 

Josh Blessing | Sports Reporter

@JoshJBlessing

Thoughts from a plane over Dallas

So I waited to write this blog on the flight home for two reasons: 1) because these past six days for me have been so fast-paced I haven’t had time and 2) I honestly didn’t know what I would say, so I figured I’d use it as reflection. I’ll do my best to keep you guys entertained.

I first wanted to give a shout out to Pat, C.T., Brandon, Ryan, Emily (Thompson) and Emily (Barker) for somehow figuring out a way to make this flight in the first place with minutes to spare … Don’t ask.

I remember walking to class months ago when Ryan came up to me about the idea of traveling to London for the Olympic Games. If I said I wasn’t skeptical at first, well, I’d be lying. But after these past few days working alongside some of the top journalists in the country and speaking with some of the best athletes in the world, it’s safe to say I made the right decision to jump on board.

Being the only college students at the 2012 Team USA Media Summit, I assumed we wouldn’t get a fair chance. I assumed we would be shoved to the side and given limited access. Not the case—not even close. We had just as much of an opportunity to speak with the big athletes as anyone else, and we took full advantage of that.

As I registered, the lady behind the desk goes, “Oh, Ball State? We’ve heard about you guys.” We were respected. People knew who we were and we’d just arrived.

Perhaps the defining moment for all of us was the opening reception. There we were,  a bunch of college kids (plus C.T. and Ryan) sitting at a table as America’s top athletes strolled on by. Having athletes come up to me and say they loved my USA Diving piece on Thomas Finchum … nothing can beat that. Nothing.

Interviewing one of the world’s top boxers, Errol Spence, Jr., in the middle of a boxing ring in downtown Dallas, are you  kidding me? I’m just a college kid, I shouldn’t have these opportunities— but for whatever reason, I do. And amidst it all I never once took it for granted.  I’ll admit I may or may not have gotten flustered when Olympic Beijing gold medalist Nastia Luikin stepped into the room. That’s because, well … no comment.

I could go on forever. I could sit here 30,000 feet up and ramble on about this trip and go through every connection I made or every amazing athlete I came across, but I won’t because I don’t know how long blogs typically go and I feel like I’m near that limit.

BSU at the Games has a chance to do something special here. We have the chance to build our résumés and gain experience in ways other college students will only dream of. This is our chance to stand out from the rest of the  universities and show them what we do in sports media and journalism at Ball State.  Let’s embrace this opportunity and hold onto it. I know I am. See you guys in London.

2014 Russian Winter Games … Any takers? I’m down.

Josh Blessing  |  Sports Reporter

@joshjblessing

USA Diving’s Thomas Finchum performs on many stages

By Josh Blessing | BSU at the Games

US Diving's Thomas Finchum

USA Diving's Thomas Finchum | Photo by: Tyler Varnau

VIDEO:  The Thomas Finchum Story

On any given afternoon, you can find Thomas Finchum standing 33 feet above a diving well. He has about two seconds to perform a perfect routine, recalling the hours of practice that have guided him to this point.

The scene happens over and over.  It has to for one of the world’s elite divers.

However, the Olympic diving stage isn’t the only stage for Finchum.  There’s another platform where he performs, but one not everyone sees—yet.

While many people spend their whole lives searching for something to strive above and beyond in, Finchum has managed to exceed in another area along with diving—his music.

“I was always singing in choir,” Finchum said while his band, Northern Nights, set up for a concert just over his shoulder. “It was always so different being in a choir. You never have the chance to stand out.

“You’re always in a big group so it was never intimidating or nerve-racking at all. Doing this, being out front and center—it’s totally different.”

The nonstop lifestyle of training for the London 2012 Olympic Games takes its toll not only physically but also mentally.

The demanding hours to be an elite athlete can be pressing, but Finchum’s dream of becoming a country music star keep him moving forward.

“He’s extremely dedicated,” said Chelsea Kogg, Finchum’s cousin and band manager.  “A lot of people get envious because he’s so good at a lot of things. People overlook everything he gives up to be good at two things in such a huge way.”

The fast-paced lifestyle the Olympian lives is evident in his musical journey too.

During summer 2011, Finchum and friends Brock Bell, Drew Beechler and Nathan Ayer formed Northern Nights. Less than six months later—Dec. 1, 2011—he celebrated his birthday by receiving a unique present.

The band’s debut single, “Baby I’m Gone,” was released on iTunes for the whole world to hear. Northern Nights officially began its music career.

“That was a pretty cool present,” Finchum said. “It was crazy. Our song was up on iTunes. The whole world could pretty much hear it.  It was that point where, well, I can’t really turn back now.”

Finchum knows there is no limit for what Northern Nights can become.  The single downloads and live performances added to his schedule weekly prove it.

“We want to do as much as we can in music,” Finchum said. “It’s a crazy industry. It’s a lot of rejection and a lot of hard times. I’m used to working hard—and I’m used to having big dreams.”

 

 

Josh Blessing is a junior telecommunications major at Ball State University covering sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Josh and the BSU team at @JoshJBlessing@bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.