Story behind the story: There’s no prying yourself away from veterans’ compelling narratives
September 1, 2013
Steamboat Springs — I wish he hadn't picked up the phone.
If Chris Chatwin simply hadn't answered when I called him late in the reporting process for Sunday's story focused on Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports and veteran sports camps, I wouldn't have known his story, and if I didn't know his story, I wouldn't feel horrible about giving it so little play in the newspaper.
The way it worked out, Chris got 300 words.
It should have been 600. It could have been 1,200, but my main story was written, wrapped tightly around the story of Denver veteran Aaron Bugg. The narrative was good, and I knew heaping soldiers into that main story, no matter how compelling their tales, would only dilute it.
So I profiled him in a 300-word sidebar.
In many ways, my phone call with Chris is a perfect example of what it's like to spend time with veterans at the STARS camps.
Somehow, covering STARS camps always is a last-minute decision for me, in part because they always come when there are about 25 projects I need to be working on. This summer's camp, featured in the story, was no different as it came in the middle of bike races, big and small, the triathlon and the start of high school sports.
Every time, I talk myself into spending a little bit of time at the camp, and every time, those plans go out the window as soon as I begin my first interview. When you sit down to talk with these veterans, there's no prying yourself away.
I didn't serve. I like to think I know something about the military because I grew up an airplane and history buff, but when I hear the stories of life on the front lines, I realize how far I am from beginning to understand what our soldiers go through.
I sat for more than 30 minutes talking to Aaron about what his life is like, from the bombing to the operations. How do you get up from that conversation?
You don't. I tried. I got in the car and drove to the edge of the parking lot, then doubled back. I missed the first half of the season's final Town Challenge race, but it was well worth it as I soaked up more details and got to know my sources better.
I met Chris that day, but we didn't have time to talk about his story. I got his number, though, and when I was looking to add a little something extra to the Sunday package, I called.
I made the same mistake I'd made with the whole camp. I thought I could squeeze him into 150 words. More than 30 minutes later, we were still talking.
He told me how terrifying it is to have a flashback. He explained how crippling it is when even a conversation can leave him pausing to catch his breath. And, as every veteran I've ever interviewed at a STARS camp has done, he told me how important such events are to his life.
His story is better than 300 words. All the stories of these veterans are, but I had to stop somewhere.
Steamboat Springs does not, however.
There are a lot of great causes to help support in Steamboat. STARS — its veterans programs and its programs for children and adults with disabilities — is absolutely one of those great causes.
If you are ever wondering why, tag along at a camp with the soldiers and sit down and talk with them.
I'd recommend you clear your schedule first.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com