The end of June always means two things for me: my birthday (June 26) and the USA Track and Field (USATF) Championships.
My first track and field event was my last warm-up before the Olympics in Beijing - the 2008 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
Before leaving, Bill gave me several (repetitive) run-downs of what to expect in Eugene - who I would meet, where we would eat, everything Nike, and who the track stars were that we would photograph.
I learned about Tom Boyd and Chris Pietch, fellow photographers and friends; Cheryl Treworgy, a former world record holder in the women’s marathon turned professional photographer, and the mother of the fastest of the USA’s female distant runners; Beppe and Gianni’s and Oregon Electric Station, two restaurants we frequented; the full history of Oregon track and Hayward Field, and a long list of the track athletes we would watch compete.
By the time I arrived in Eugene I knew all the history and who the players were. All I had to do was take pictures and prove - one more time - that I could make the remotes work and work well.
I was more than a little nervous before we took off to Eugene. I knew it was my last chance to hone my skills before the Olympics and I wanted to do a good job.
Once we got to Eugene, my anxiety began to melt away. All the people I had heard about were incredibly kind, the track was beautiful and the weather was perfect.
There are few environments I have been in more lovely than Oregon in late June. Nights are crisp and a little chilly, but the days are sunny and warm - perfect weather to be in for consecutive 10 hour days.
On top of that Bill right away gave me a lot of freedom to create. There are always multiple events going on during track and field competitions. There are heats on the track while a final in javelin is happening in the field and long jump is starting up along the edges. One person can’t cover everything. It was the first event where I got to really make images, and I found - to my surprise - that I wasn’t bad at it.
The first night on the track was the first time I remember taking a picture and thinking, “that’s pretty good.” It was the women’s 10,000m final under the lights of Hayward Field.
As the event wore on, my confidence grew. I wired remotes without help and without trouble, I took pictures that I actually liked and had an all-around successful event.
There is one image in particular I remember making. It’s of AG Krueger, a hammer thrower, and it was during one of the first days in Eugene.
The sun was setting, and Bill was busy with finals on the track. He called me over to where he was sitting in front of the finish line and handed me a Nikon D3 with a 14-24mm on a plate with a PocketWizard in the hot shoe.
“The hammer final is about to start,” he told me. “You need to go to the cage, set this up and fire it. I don’t have time.”
I remember walking to the hammer cage as the Oregon sun flooded the stadium with orange light. My hands were shaking just slightly as I set the camera inside the mesh protection and tried my best to line it up and focus it. I had never been solely responsible for the success of an image before, and I was nervous.
That night after we downloaded all of our images from the day, Bill sat down to edit the takes down before sending them to Sports Illustrated. I wasn't sure what he'd think of my hammer picture. The light made it so I had to silhouette the athletes, and - since I was still new at making images - I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.
When he opened the folder with my images in it he quickly exclaimed, “Nice job, Laura Heald!”
It was the moment I knew I was ready for Beijing.