Every opportunity you don't take.
It is 11:18pm MST, and I have been up since 3:00am EST, rapidly approaching 24 hrs without sleep. I need to be awake in approximately 5 hrs. And you know what? I wouldn't change a god damn thing.
Let's rewind, about six years ago, nearly to the day. I am on my way out to the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado. Why? Because I saw a photo on a CD sleeve. Not even kidding. See, I had a problem. I had an affinity for adventure photography and action sports, but I grew up in Ohio. Not to take away from the Die Hard group of Ohians who pursue such adventures, but the place wasn't exactly built for scenic vistas. I needed a way to build a portfolio and after seeing a photo on the inside of a CD sleeve, I figured a multi-sport event in Colorado would be a great start. Little did I know.....
What the Teva Mountain Games gave me then (now the GoPro Mountain Games) was a level playing field. Because the action sports community is not nearly as into regulation as say, the olympics or the NFL, I, as a freelancing kid from Ohio, had nearly as much opportunity to create images as anyone else who was there. It was the perfect opportunity to truly put myself to the test and see what I could do.
The Mountain Games are a truly unique competition in that professionals and amateurs have the opportunity to compete side by side. With the exception of a few safety related qualifiers for white water and climbing, you have the ability to run, bike, or kayak right alongside some of the world’s top athletes. What better way to push yourself?
So there I was, $700 in the hole, in this beautiful town with the world of action sports finally open in front of me. It’s funny to think about now. At 20 years old, I wasn’t even able to get into most of the restaurants after 9 pm. I had to get escorted to the bar in Vendetta’s so I could order a slice for dinner after a long day of shooting.
People often ask me how I ended up working on the official photo team. Truth be told, I kind of love that because it is a great reminder for me not only of how far I’ve come, but it also reminds me of how many people out there would love to do what I get to do everyday. I think about it often - it’s a great motivator.
So how did I do it? I saw an opportunity and I took it like it was already my job. See, I had already spoken to the marketing director several times before the event. At one point, he had mentioned that their limited team can’t be everywhere at once, and though he wasn’t in a position to bring an extra guy onto the team, he would love to see any photos I might have in case something was missed. If you are an aspiring photographer, spoiler alert: I’m about to give you a straight up play on how to eye for someone’s job...
I spent the first day finding my way around, but I also was looking for who was around. Who were the faces I saw bouncing from event to event, likely on the official photo team. Where did they go? Where did they shoot from? My reaction: Go the opposite way.
If I saw the official photographer leaving kayaking to head somewhere else, I would keep shooting the kayaking a little longer. If I didn’t see anyone shooting rafting at that moment, I shot rafting. I found myself hiking higher up the mountain than I saw their photo team go. Sometimes I found myself shooting things that I wouldn’t normally be into, strictly because I didn’t see them there. At the end of the 2012 Mountain Games, I not only had my portfolio, I had something to offer a potential client.
After the event we reconnected and sure enough, I had a few shots they needed. There was some back and forth between us for two years. Some things changed, GoPro took over. It just wasn’t the right time for them to bring in the new guy. But I was persistent. Someone once said that “maybes” are just “babies” waiting to grow up into “yes”. Too true. In 2014, I got the email that I had not just been waiting for, but had been working for since 2012. I would be joining the official Mountain Games photo team.
Fast forward to present and this doesn’t seem too out of place for the Mountain Games at all. Over the years, I have watched people push their way from 30th to 15th. Just this past weekend, I saw Colorado locals competing against Olympians. I saw some of my favorite white water athletes take their strength to the hills for running and climbing events. The GoPro Mountain Games are the perfect stage for athletes, artists, and even photographers to push things to the next level.
So if you feel that burning inside you that there could be more, the question is far beyond whether or not it’s possible. The question is: will you take the opportunity?
I hope to see you at the GoPro Mountain Games in 2019!