At a recent family reunion I was asked what was the strangest day I ever had on the job. As a longtime newspaper editor, I have plenty of memories of strange stories. But the strangest day in which news coverage became news happened 10 years ago this month.
It started with a phone call I received on a Saturday morning.
Channeling an old Bob Newhart comedy routine, here is a rendition of my end of the phone conversation as heard by my wife across the breakfast table:
“Hello? ... Oh hi Ryan, what’s up? ...
“...You got struck by a javelin? ... Where?...
“... No, I know you are covering the state track meet. I meant where on your body? ...
“... Your knee? ... It’s still there? ...
“... Are you at the hospital? ...What do you mean they are waiting? ...
“... They are measuring it? ...
“...It’s a new state record! ...
“... Well, did you get a photo?”
OK, that last line I made up. He actually told me he took a photo.
Anyway, 10 years ago I was the editor of the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. That year we had a photographer intern named Ryan McGeeney working for us. He was an older intern starting a new career after serving in the Marines, which included a deployment to Afghanistan.
He was more rigid and disciplined than most of the carefree photographers I had worked with, being older and having a military background. But he also was tough as nails and not easily flustered.
Take the case in point.
That morning his assignment was to shoot the state high school championship track meet at Brigham Young University. If you have ever been to a multiteam track meet, it can look like organized chaos, with events occurring simultaneously all over the field and stadium.
In this particular incident, Ryan was shooting the shot put competition when he backed up onto the field where the javelin competition was occurring.
That is when one participant decided to put in the throw of a lifetime. Ryan was crouching on one knee shooting a photo when without notice, the javelin struck him in his other knee.
As luck would have it, the javelin pierced the fatty tissue of his knee, missing any bones, arteries, tendons and ligaments.
He was immediately attended to by personnel at the field and emergency responders were called. They decided not to move him, not knowing the extent of the injury. He had long cargo pants on at the time.
Ryan was calm during the whole event and told them he wasn’t feeling any pain. They may have thought he was in shock.
Paramedics cut off the pant leg around the javelin and that is when they saw how lucky he was. At this point, some track official decided to measure the throw and Ryan decided he’d better get a photo. He snapped a picture of his knee being tended to with the javelin projecting out both sides. He then decided someone up the chain of command at the newspaper needed to know about the situation, so he called me.
Before transporting Ryan to the hospital, the paramedics cut the javelin off on both sides of Ryan’s knee, leaving a small tube that was then surgically removed at the hospital.
They patched up the ex-Marine and he returned to duty to shoot the afternoon portion of the meet.
Of course, the big story now became Ryan himself.
We had a reporter interview Ryan and published a story the next day. The story and photo went viral.
The Associated Press picked up the photo and news organizations around the world picked up the story.
Ryan was interviewed by television stations and news outlets from all over, and even made an appearance on “Good Morning America.” It was the first time I had seen him in a suit.
For our news story, the reporter asked Ryan why he thought to take a photo in what was obviously a tense situation.
“If I didn’t, it would probably be my editor’s first question when I got back,” he said.
That quote became the most memorable part of the story.
A few weeks later we reunited the photographer and the javelin thrower for another story and photo op.
A couple of months later I got a letter from the prep athlete’s coach. It was a bill for the javelin.
Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.