I doubt that there’s such thing as the perfect job. Even those of us who love ours occasionally have to perform tasks that we’d rather not, to put it plainly.
Here at the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger, there aren’t that many plush assignments for the types of writers who thrive on big-name celebrities and big games that end on deadline. The things that matter to people in Prince William County — high school sports, youth athletics and community events — have to matter to the writers that work here.
But sometimes though, some of the assignments we’re given feel almost like punishments. Writers tend to love great stories, and quite frankly, the things that matter to readers aren’t always that interesting.
But for me this summer, the old adage “everyone’s got a story” is turning regular assignments into great ones. Personally, one of my favorite parts of working for a newspaper is meeting people I’d otherwise never speak to. Because of the nature of Prince William County, with its size and diversity, working here means I’ll never run out of interesting stories to hear.
Sometimes though, we can only tell so much of a great story in the newspaper. There are times when space limits what we say. Sometimes we hear something interesting that doesn’t fit into what we’re writing. Journalistically, it’s usually not a good idea to empty your notebook, so to speak, just for the sake of doing it. But today, I’d like to share a few pieces of wisdom that brightened my life over the past month or so. Hopefully they’ll do the same for yours.
I was talking last week to Bob Studholme, the president of Woodbridge Little League, for a community sports question-and-answer piece. Bob, who like myself is a talkative guy, was going back through memories of hunting, fishing and enjoying the outdoors. I know it’s strange to think “Northern Virginia” and “outdoors” in the same sentence, but Bob was recalling childhood adventures near Chain Bridge, and at a place called Fletcher’s Boat House, both of which still exist today.
It reminded me that, even in a sprawling metropolis and its suburbs, there are still pockets of beauty that we can miss if we move too fast. Think of any of many monuments and free museums in Washington, D.C. Think of local parks, like the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, or Pohick Bay, Mason Neck or Prince William Forest Park closer to home. Take a drive out past Haymarket, to Catharpin, Nokesville or destinations in Fauquier or Loudoun. Those might take 45 minutes to reach from Woodbridge, but it’ll be worth it to gaze at the homes, the views and the history out that way. I’m a city guy until I die, but I try to never be too cool to recognize the beauty around me.
In working on a boxing project that ran in Sunday’s paper, which included interviews with two pro boxers and two trainers from Woodbridge, I learned more than I could put in any set of articles.
Jose Luis Almanzar told me of his youth in the Dominican Republic, growing up so poor he says he didn’t always have clothes to wear when he went out to play. But he didn’t overstate or glorify a hard upbringing the way some people do when they feel they’ve made it. If anything, it was insight into why he wants so badly to provide a good life for his own children.
Willie Taylor, a former boxer, was candid about the mistakes he made during his pro boxing career. But he appeared to genuinely relish the opportunity to give his insight to children now that he teaches in an Arlington gym.
Another trainer, Top Hohney, said that his tour in Vietnam decades ago was “another life.” He spent 30 years in the Marines. Yet he seemed so honest in his desire to continue helping others when he has already done so much.
All three of these guys reminded me to cherish the opportunities I get to enjoy life, and to not bow out when times are rough. All of these guys have been selfless when they could easily be selfish.
Recently, I’ve also been inspired by the willingness of other athletes to go out on a limb, to sacrifice for a goal and follow dreams.
Working here also puts you in the middle of so many sad moments, which can serve as reminders of why we should cherish life.
These are only the freshest moments in my mind. This is the gift my job gives me every day, to be able to meet, interact and absorb the wisdom of the people of Prince William County and surrounding area’s sports world.
I hope you all find such silver linings in your arduous workdays.
Keith McMillan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (703) 878-8086.