There are dense clumps of cobwebs stretched across my memory banks, particularly in the pre-2019 era, so I can’t recall the exact details of the day when I officially became a video reporter.
In my head, it went something like this:
“We’re shutting down phillyBurbs.com [where you’ve worked as an online content writer for the past four years]; either take this camcorder and go shoot high school sports stories [which you’ve never, ever, ever done before] for the newspaper’s revamped website, or…seeya!”
I took the camcorder. That was 2012, and, by my calculations, it marked Major Life Change #4 for a young print journalism major from suburban Chicago.
Today, I’m on the threshold of #8.
Does that mean I have only one life left? 🙀
If everything goes according to plan (🤞🏻🤞🏻) that’s all I will need to reach my ultimate goal.
Someone from another life sent me this picture several years ago, and in case you need help understanding why, I’ve drawn you a big red blob.
It’s very possible I’m the one who needs help.
I mean, I was the one who took the very flattering label of “Most Athletic” female — in a senior class of about 500 total kids — and internalized it to the point where it completely defined my identity. This process started long before the (Niles, IL) West Word staff assigned their 1996 Senior Superlatives; I was probably 8 years old (and going by Jenny Wielgus) when I smacked my first home run in coach-pitch softball, and, based on the reaction of the parents in the crowd, instantly decided that sports were MY THING. From that point on, I was convinced my purpose in life was to be a top athlete, and that my worth as a person was inextricably tied to my performance on the field/court.
To be “good” at all, I had to be better than everyone else. Not that those were my explicit thoughts…but sadly, looking back after a lifetime trapped in a “fixed mindset,” that’s really what my belief system came down to.
And then, I walked on to a Big Ten softball team, and WHAMMO!
Everything I loved most in the world was at that table: my hubby, the Cubbies (symbolically, at least), tequila…and freedom.
We were about to fly from snowy Philadelphia to sunny Phoenix for a weeklong Spring Training vacation in Mesa, and although we were sitting in a cramped corner of a nondescript airport bar, the promise of fulfilling a lifelong dream, plus the blissful buzz of those first few drinks, made that moment feel like paradise. ☀️🧢😎
Oh my God, those moments when you’re right smack dab in the sweet spot between reality and intoxication, when all seems right with the world and your place in it! I still grieve for those moments.
Sometimes, I wonder if I always will.
I was overcome with grief when the above picture popped up on my phone screen Saturday morning, as I sat in my therapist’s office waiting for my appointment to start. Facebook memories nearly always trigger an emotional reaction, and it makes sense, because pretty much anything I posted prior to my sobriety date — July 7, 2019, not even 2 years ago — involved alcohol. A.K.A., my ex-best friend.
Sunday was the first time in a long time that I sat down and intentionally watched sports. It was a “safe” endeavor, given my complete lack of skin in the Eagles-Washington game — which, come to think of it, lacked “skin” altogether, now that the home team has dropped its controversial nickname.
“Safe” is all I do these days, now that I’m sober.
Of course, the second that game was decided, the sports gods LOLed at my snugness (and smugness), and FOX switched to the final seconds of Bears-Lions. Detroit had the ball down 4, with favorable field position and plenty of time to snag the winning score. Then, before I could change the channel in a panic, they had it — no, they dropped it! — and Matthew Stafford was launching one more last-ditch pass…😱
This was precisely the type of emotionally-charged, unpredictable situation I have been strenuously trying to avoid for the past 14 1/2 months.
It’s almost — no, it’s exactly — like I don’t want to feel things I can no longer numb with a drink. 🤔
A parent sitting in the bleachers at a softball field in Wisconsin Dells during a girls 18U travel tournament in the summer of 1996 was so upset about an error that she felt compelled to yell at the pitcher who committed it.
Never mind that this field was basically 100 percent sand and you sank like a foot every time you took a step, and it was torture trying to play in that sh*t. The pitcher really could make no valid excuse for airmailing the ball. It was an easy play. A gimme. But she had a legit chink in her athletic armor that, as it turns out, she never really outgrew.
Hi, my name is Jen(ny), and I have the yips when it comes to throwing to first base.
Somehow I still made it on to a college team, though, where the issue wasn’t so much the old 1-3 putout (I learned to underhand those come-backers; ha-ha!) as it was the 43 feet I had to cover from mound to plate. Not only was pitching from that distance an adjustment, given that high school mounds in Illinois were 40 feet back then, but I was also a freshman walk-on facing seasoned Big Ten hitters, and sometimes (read: often), that skill disparity was brutally obvious.
Before my byline began appearing in the sports pages of the Daily Northwestern, as it would pretty regularly over the following three years, the only time I made the paper was after a particularly gruesome relief appearance in a particularly lopsided loss that the student beat writer was on hand to witness. His recap the next day included the line:
“…AND IN THE FIFTH, JENNI WIELGUS CAME ON AND COULDN’T STOP THE BLEEDING.”