UM students cover 2011 Special Olympics

Megan Garner films along side Team Ecuador in Athens. Courtesy Kathyrn Nicole Rende

As summer unwinds and comes to an end, students reminisce about the relaxing three months in which they were able to take a breather, catch some rays and doze off until the late afternoon.  But for multimedia graduate student Megan Garner, her summer was filled with a stressful work load and excitement, as she was one of the seven multimedia students from the University of Miami that was commissioned by the Special Olympics to photograph and document the event in Athens, Greece.

“It was a little bit daunting,” said Garner. “I was just very excited to have that opportunity.”

As a part of Professor Richard Beckman’s multimedia graduate class, the seven students had to film, shoot and edit the opening ceremonies, athletic events and closing ceremonies of the Special Olympics.  The event started June 25 and lasted through July 4.  Professor Beckman’s collaboration with the Special Olympics had been around since the 1980s, when he was working at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and brought over the idea when he began working at UM.

However, before the students filmed the event, they went through immense preparations and made sure every detail was taken care of.   The graduate students were required to fly out during the spring semester and film the teams competing, as well as previews for athletes and the different organizations that sponsored the athletes.  While some of the students went to local destinations in Arizona, the rest of the students were sent across the globe, including Ecuador, Haiti, South Korea and Namibia.  Garner traveled to Ecuador and Haiti to document both of their soccer teams.  The soccer team in Haiti especially affected Garner.

“That was a pretty powerful story because it was such a small team,” said Garner. “They had never ridden on an airplane, and all of the team members had lost someone from the earthquake.  You could see their excitement.”

Other students, such as multimedia grad student Kathryn Rende, had the opportunity to shoot athletes state side.  Rende went to Tucson, Ariz., to film athlete Itzel Apodaca and document the Young Athletes, an organization that raised money for Apodaca to go to the Special Olympics.

“It was such a great program,” said Rende. “It was a community outreach that helped her achieve her dream to go to the Special Olympics.”

As for Aposdaca, Rende still holds a special place for her.

“Itzel’s family was so sweet,” she said. “I still keep in touch with them to this day”.

In the summer, the students flew out to Greece to film the events.  Working with the students were three alumni and five coaches from UM, as well as a team of seven from Hong Kong.   The team would start the day at 8 a.m. at meetings with their respective coaches with which pieces they needed to cover.  Each day they would travel to different venues to shoot for eight to 10 hours.  At the end of the long, grueling days, the students would meet with their coaches to edit the short reels.  Nancy Donaldson, a producer at the New York Times, was one of the coaches that traveled with Beckman to work with the UM students.

“Working with the UM students was great,” she said. “They were very self-motivated and a talented group of students.”

For Garner, her favorite moment came at the closing ceremonies.

“I was allowed to go backstage in this historic room where they had all the medals displayed,” said Garner. “It was a very surreal and touching moment for me. These kids let me into their lives and that was great.”

Rende also looks back positively on the experience.

“All of our coaches were from major news organizations, and you learn so much,” said Rende. “You actually get to work with these journalists and photographers, and they’re good at what they do.   It improves your mental game. It’s always going to be hard as part of a news team.  But always remember your focus, and it’ll make you a better journalist.”