On August 26th I started what would become one of the most life changing experiences in my young life. I began an internship with the Columbia Football team. I would be taking photos at practices and games, designing graphics and help post on social media. I was down to help with anything else that the team needed. My favorite thing is to help others and know I'm making an impact in some way. I was so excited to be apart of a team again. I had just finished an internship at Notre Dame and I loved every second of it, but I missed being a part of a team, so I was amped for the opportunity to be close to a group of athletes again. That being said, I truly did not expect what would happen in a short 3 months. I know life changing is dramatic but once you read this, I think you'll understand and agree. Before I get there, we have to start on why August 26th is a crucial part to this story.
August 26th would have been me and my now ex girlfriend's six month anniversary. I understand six months may not seem like that long of a relationship, but when it's first love, it is a big deal. First love equals first heartbreak, so I was in a bad, sad place. That meant August 26th was a significant date that I knew was going to hit me really hard. Thankfully, the staff at Columbia were able to make it happen so I could be there that day for their training camp practice. I was distracted the entire day and did not think about my heartbreak or hurt (as much) because I had a camera in my hands. It was the start of something amazing.
My breakup occurred about a week before I began this internship and I promise this was meant to be. Now, instead of being home all the time, I had an office and group of people to see every day. More importantly I got to have a camera in my hands which is when I am my happiest. Doing something you love and being around people is a huge part of the cure for heartbreak.
I was reminded that I had so much to be happy about and even if I was so destroyed at the moment, I still had a lot of good going on in my life. Life was looking up and even when I did have bad days, these guys put a smile on my face. I don't think they even realized that they were lifting me up when I was at my saddest.
Right from the start, these football players were a very important part of my life. Sure, in the beginning I was just some girl with a camera at practice and they were just a group of players that kept my mind off the pain of a broken heart. However, they became so much more than that every single practice and interaction. They have become some of my favorite people ever. I have taken photos of hundreds of athletes over the past eight years and each athlete/team is different. This group was special.
When it comes to emotions, I am pretty much an open book. I'm smiling 99.9% of the time, so if I don't have a smile, that means something is wrong (or maybe i’m just focused..) Basically it is easy to see when i’m not happy.. During the beginning of the heartbreak I wasn't smiling or laughing as much as I normally had been. That being said, I wanted to hide my all that sadness when I was at work. To be honest, it got hard to not smile and i believe they all agree that I smile pretty big when I am with them.
Once they saw me every day and realized I was good at what I did and would post photos of them on social media they started to pose for me and even look for the camera during practice. They just got more comfortable with me, and me with them. That comfort level only really took one week to achieve. A week of my smile becoming bigger and more genuine.
That feeling of being wanted and loved felt so good and I realized, oh yeah, I'm still amazing and I'm good at what I do. I needed that reassurance and they were giving it to me every time they posted a photo I took or gave me a sweet reaction to what I thought was just another average photo. These guys weren't used to having a photographer at every single practice so they ate it up and were so appreciative. They didn't take advantage of me and my camera, they realized how lucky they were and made sure I felt that appreciated at practice every single day.
So, Columbia Football players, now you are beginning to understand why I always say you mean so much to me and why I love being at practice just as much as games. There was much more to it than just loving being able to capture an amazing group of football players. You were all apart of the process of me starting to love myself again when I thought no one could.
Before I go on to explain specific instances that stuck with me and show exactly why you all are amazing, I want to say that I also did a lot on my own to get over the heartbreak. I finally put myself first or started to. I did things I loved and I did everything I could that would put me in a positive mindset. However, I really truly believe none of that would have had as much of an impact if I wasn't around the team 5 out of the 7 days in a week. Thank you for being you. Now read on to see which moments stuck out to me from my time with them so far.
The first moment that stands out was during a practice near the end of the season. At this point the guys were very comfortable with me and would get so excited when I was there (even though I was there every single day..), but now they were looking for me even more during practice.. I would like to think I am pretty good at being subtle about who I am shooting and when, even though sometimes that is nearly impossible. I never want to distract any of the guys while they should be focusing on practice. All I want to do is capture every moment possible for this team. A few times throughout the year I had guys find my camera and would pose for it or just smirk. One of the most memorable ones is when I was just shooting the defense that were standing on the opposite sideline. I move my camera and realize Dante Landofilo found my camera and was smiling towards me and then gave me a thumbs up. It is one of my favorite photos of that kind and he loves it so much he used it as his profile photo on instagram.
That is also one of my favorite things to see, when the guys use my photos as their profile photos on any social media platform. It feels like such an honor. There are so many photos the guys could choose and they decide mine is their favorite that they want to showcase or everyone to see every single day on their profiles. I'll never get sick of seeing my photos used, it's always a pleasant surprise.
Now, the guys posting on social media happened many times and every time I was still just as excited and grateful as I was the first time. However, this specific situation was rare it still puts a huge grin on my face to this day. I was shooting the receivers (I was around them a lot..) and Mikey Roussos made a fantastic grab during a drill. I look down to my camera and just smirk, cause I could not have captured it any better than I did. I was stoked I got it, but the best part of this story is when Tre Gabriel saw me smiling at my camera and said, "Did you get it?" and I just smiled and said "Of course I did!"
Those moments. That is what I would cherish and would remind me how lucky I was. I loved what I did but these guys, they loved me. They loved my photography, but they also loved me as a person and I never felt taken advantage of. They talked to me in a respectful way and it was a great feeling. That moment, he wouldn't have given me crap if I hadn’t get the shot, we would've just joked since we both respect each other. These football players are great men who were raised the right way and the way they treated me showed that. Now, take a look at the catch I was referencing:
That moment also just shows how comfortable I was with these guys. I never say comments like that. I was just gaining so much confidence and comfort around them that I knew I could say things like that and they knew I wasn’t just teasing and they also knew I was good and did get most of the shots. They have also seen me get so bummed at myself when I didn't get a shot. They understood it all and saw my passion and dedication to what I did. They loved it. I think it was something they loved to see. It might have even something that was contagious and something that I brought to the group.
Which sounds crazy to me, the fact I could impact a group of football players. However, I had a convo with Captain Landon Baty one day and he actually mentioned that my being around the guys was a bigger deal than I had even realized. My energy had changed their vibe and I made an impact. That blows my mind. I was just a photographer doing her job every day. How can I have much more impact than that? Well according to him I did. Thank you Baty for telling me that. You also made an impact. All of you.
One of my favorite every day moment is when the guys would be walking to practice and pose or just walk by "casually" and then say something to one of their teammates or even to me about how they hope that gets posted. I later found out that they all look forward to when I post the photos after practice and hope they will be chosen. I was mind blown by this. I mean I have a few hundred followers and I didn't think anything of me posting photos of them. But to them, it meant something and that meant something to me. That's why I try my best to post everyone best I can, whether that is on my own account or the Columbia Football account. Every single one of those players work hard every day and starters and non starters should get love, they work just as hard and I know how much it means for them to see themselves posted.
A cool moment the team had this year was when they had their walkthrough at MetLife Stadium. I was getting every shot possible so that these players could remember this forever. I noticed a player taking a photo of the MetLife sign, so I walked behind him and started taking photo of him taking a photo. However, he stopped too quickly and I didn't get any. Good thing the guys in front of him who saw me were laughing and joking how I was doing this but Murphy noticed, went back up for me and let me take the photo. Which he did not have to do. That's how these guys were, just kind guys and I didn't even have to ask!
The part that happened next is what makes him and these guys so special. He was taking pictures of the MetLife sign and stadium and out of no where he turns the camera so it's pointing at us. It caught me off guard and just made me smile so big. I took some shots of it, and it is one of my favorite photos to this day.
I have two more moments that need to be mentioned (and tons more that I have to save or else this would go on forever). The first one occurred after what felt like a lifetime apart from them, I got to take some shots of them in the weight room and during skill work. Their excitement when they saw me is why I could not wait to be back in the same room as them. "You're back!", "EDL!", giving me fist pumps, hugs and just making me feel loved. My smile might say it all but honestly it also doesn't say enough. They just make me so happy and they make me forget everything else going on in my life. This same situation also happened one day before practice after I didn't come to ONE practice and here's a photo of the two players who said "you're back!" and when I said, I was only gone one day, they said "i know but we felt that." How could I ever put into words how much those small moments mean to me? One day and they missed me.
I have to end with the best of the best. This day and practice tops all the rest for so many reasons. First off, it was snowing like no other and the photos I got during the 20 minutes the guys were out there are still some of my best to this day. Months later and I still get compliments on them from kids, parents and friends. That was special but what was truly amazing was what the team did for me. As coach finished talking to them, he pointed to Kyle Castner, a senior captain and asked if he was going to do it now or later and I was confused as to what he was talking about. Then Kyle walked to the golf cart and came back with flowers and a helmet signed by the entire team.
They were for me. I was speechless.
Seriously, just writing this I still become teary eyed and emotional. I could not believe a group of men thought so much of me and wanted to show how much I meant to them that they signed a helmet for me. I've been a part of a lot of teams and I can say this tops the list of the most amazing things a team has done for me. My job is pretty selfless and I like it that way because I love to help, but to get recognized and thanked also means the world to me. The way this group of football players thanked me will stay with me forever. Being appreciated goes a long way and these guys continued to show their appreciation every day. This was the cherry on top.
When Kyle handed me the helmet and flowers while he thanked me for all I did for them during the season, I couldn't control my emotions and just cried. All that came to the mind was the prior three months and how sad I had been except for when I was with this group. THAT was why I cried. They meant so much to me and my happiness and in that moment they were demonstrating just how much I meant to them. Thank you. Thank you for doing something that will stay in my heart forever.
Now you understand. Now you get why I looked forward to every practice, every game, would post how much you guys mean to me. Now you understand why you rarely see me without a smile when I'm at games, practices, lifts and why I will run to get any and every shot I possible. It's not just because that's what I love to do and am passionate about what I do (that's part of the reason) but it's because you guys rejuvenated me and I never want to miss a moment! I hope it all makes sense now. You mean a lot more to me than just a group of football players. You were instrumental to helping me become who I am today, which is the best version of me ever.
I finished writing this almost a month ago and honestly I have more stories I could continue to share about these players, but it gets boring after a while because it has just become the norm with me and these players. They are just a good group of players who took me in as one of their own (smart players being nice to the photographer so they could get good photos). I’ll be forever grateful to each and every one of you. Even if you just said hi to me and we haven’t talked, you made an impact and helped me get where I am as a person today.
Thank you, EDL loves you all