There are certain stories that are hard to cover. The death of a student athlete in a tragic airplane accident is one of those times. Nate Fleming, 19, walked on the Oklahoma State basketball team with the dream of becoming the starting point guard on a Big 12 Championship team. Coaches and players looked to him for leadership and energy. Fans chanted his name when he took the court in the final minutes of blown-out games. His family cherished him. His father loved him. When Nate and nine others died in a plane crash returning from an away game, grief descended over Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma State basketball team. However, it was Nate who they grieved for the most. The fans had lost a fan favorite, the basketball team had lost “Little Nate,” and the Flemings had lost their son and brother. One person had impacted so many lives. Tom Friend felt his story would touch more.
To tell Nate’s story, Tom Friend embeded himself with the Flemings. He built a strong relationship with the family through talking about Nate. He listened to Zane, Nate’s father, talk of the baby who would come to his bed in the middle of the night. He listened to Ann, Nate’s mother, tell of late night conversations with her son. These are stories many parents can relate to. Through long conversations with the family, Friend learned of Zane’s numerous “love letters” to his son. Friend weaved these letters into the story, which expressed the love of a father for his son. The integration of these letters into the story humanized the piece and made it relatable to fathers and sons everywhere.
Apart from the relatability of the Nate’s story, what makes this story a good one is how it is written. Friend lets the story tell itself. He combines in-depth interviews with family and coaches with the father’s letters to build a moving story about a rising student athlete taken before his time. His extensive research is apparent in the details of the story. What impresses me the most is strength of the reporter in taking on this assignment and not allowing his emotions to impact his writing. As aforementioned, Friend allows the family to convey the lose of the Nate Fleming. He doesn’t allow his own emotions to shine through in his writing. Reporting on death is hard. Friend had to get close to the Flemings and listen to them talk of their son to write the story. During which time, anyone would be hard pressed not to develop emotions themselves. Whether or not Friend had emotions when he wrote the story, he did not let them come through in his writing, which requires nothing less than extraordinary discipline and strength.
Two tan ears just peak above the sun-dried grass. Below those ears, two golden eyes scan the savannah looking for a flash of black and white against the arid landscape. In one sudden and complete gesture, the ears twitch, the eyes shine, and the lioness bursts from her vantage point to terrorize a herd of grazing zebra.
It’s all over within 15 seconds. The zebra herd is scattered in all directions, but the lioness is empty-handed. Lions are only successful hunters 60 percent of the time. However, whoever has the opportunity to see a lioness hunt in her natural environment is successful 100 percent of the time with returning home with a cool story to tell.
I saw the lioness and many other zoo animals when I went on safari in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania this summer. The 14-hour safari was one of the highlights of my three-week study abroad trip to the East African country. I had many other adventures and misadventures on the beaches of Zanzibar, the shores of Lake Victoria, and the open-air markets of Mwanza. My 1,300 photos from the trip are a testament not only to my journalistic flair but also my incredible experience and my eagerness to share it with friends and family.
Before the trip, my go-to interesting facts were that I am related to Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the Confederacy, and my family owns several small-town newspapers in Kentucky. Now, I can say that I have been in three oceans, walked on four continents, and watched a lion (albeit unsuccessfully) hunt in the Serengeti, the most famous African game reserve. I can also talk about my renewed desire to become a doctor after visiting rural clinics, hospitals, and a mobile HIV/AIDS clinic, where I saw a woman test positive for HIV. My Catholic Faith was enriched through visiting Catholic churches and ministries as part of my Theology class, which along with Psychology made for six credit hours of class in Africa.
More than anything else, this experience whet my appetite for writing. Daily journal entries helped me to process and reflect upon my busy days. I reflected a lot upon the people I met. They reminded me of the importance of relationships in our lives. While I am a journalism and biology double major, a Decurion, and a member of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, I am also a friend, a brother, and a son. My classroom is not just Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, but it’s the greater world. I am not just a native of Phoenix, Arizona, but I’m a member of a global community. As I continue my time as a journalism and biology double-major at Creighton and hopefully go off to medical school, I will always carry on this relational sense of self. Just as a lion’s relationship to a zebra is important, I’m learning the importance of my relationships with others.