Public speaking is just not my thing.
I get panicky, my palms start to sweat, my heart feels as though it's beating out of my chest and my blush starts somewhere below my neck and quickly creeps up my face to the roots of my hair.
It's not pretty. I envy people who can command a room. I, to my eternal dismay, am not one of them.
And so, you can imagine my immediate elation quickly turning to abject horror when my name was called at the Jack Webster awards on Thursday night and I had to walk through a room of 1,000 people, get up on stage and accept my award.
My worst nightmare and my secret dream all rolled into one — happiness and terror combined.
I don't remember much of anything about it, just the Pique table jumping up and cheering and my editor Clare Ogilvie answering my plea of "What do I do now?" with a very matter of fact: "Go up and get your award."
I know I managed a few garbled words of thanks but it wasn't until I was scrubbing my kitchen floors the morning after the awards, Cinderella back to reality, that I finally found the words.
Here's what I meant to say.
I was assigned the health care centre story last winter very late in the week. Clare had set up the assignment with Vancouver Coastal Health. It was to be a "day in the life" piece on the Whistler centre. The original reporter couldn't make it and I volunteered if a replacement couldn't be found. It was, to be perfectly honest, the last thing I wanted to do.
And so it was that I found myself spending the Sunday of U.S. President's Day weekend at the centre, shadowing the doctors and nurses, talking to patients to get a sense of what goes on at the height of ski season on a cold February day.
A few hours into my assignment my "day in the life of the centre" story was looking a little...boring. I had no major drama. No life and death scenario. No helivacs, screaming sirens, no all night tales from the backcountry. What I had was broken wrists, torn ACL's, aching knees.
I texted Clare. "I don't have much of a story here." The panic of holding up a cover feature with broken wrists was evident. Clare told me to keep at it, the day was still young, something would happen. And if it didn't? Well, we can't make the news up, she said, we just go with what we have.
A few hours later, a few more stories of woe on the mountain, I was feeling a little glum. This is not how I saw the day unfolding. And then... an epiphany. The story was staring me straight in the face. All those patients telling me about their broken bones, torn ligaments, all the doctors and nurses talking about the "Whistler way" of doing things. There was the story. Whistler's centre is a study in orthopedic excellence.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Sea to Sky corridor was facing the very real possibility of losing one of its two orthopedic surgeons. Budget constraints. Shortly after the feature ran, the lobbying efforts began in earnest — the mayor, Whistler Blackcomb, the doctors.
I continued to follow the story writing updates for the Pique regularly. Then a few months later VCH decided to not only continue to fund the position, but also to enhance orthopedic care in the community.
That's the series of stories that won the award.
The story behind the story is of course the people who made it happen.
The patients who spoke to me through gritted teeth. The doctors and nurses who candidly answered my questions and put up with a reporter waiting in the wings all day.
The photographer Bonny Makarewicz who didn't just take the pictures but talked to people too, coaxed stories out of them, helped me find "the scoop." Could you ask for more in a photographer?
And Clare who set up the story in the first place, finally got us into the health care centre to tell the real story. For the past decade she has been my mentor, changing the course of my professional career. And that has made all the difference.
And Bob Banett, I know how proud you are. To have the Pique recognized at the Jack Webster awards is a testament to the 20 years you've put into our paper.
I was thinking of Bob's wife Kathy, who passed away in 2008, too... and I know how happy she would have been.