Welcome to this week’s “5 Questions” interview! Last week I spoke with Bruce Van Horn, a social media superstar who is also a dad, author, coach, and motivational speaker. He shared some great insight into the importance of father’s in today’s culture, the importance of running to stay balanced, and how to be successful in social media. This week, continuing the trend of highlighting the fact that runners come from all walks of life, whether it be professional running, marketing, film or motivational speaking, I am speaking with breaking news reporter for USA Today, Natalie DiBlasio!
Natalie currently resides in Washington, D.C. where she covers a wide array of news stories for USA today. She is a long time runner, having completed five marathons, more than a dozen half marathons, and countless other races at other distances. Like me, she was born and raised in New Jersey, but then headed to the University of Vermont for her college career. When she is not writing for USA Today or out running, you can usually find her writing about running for her personal (and well designed) website www.runnersbreakfast.com. You can connect with Natalie on Twitter @ndiblasio where she has the coveted blue check mark or on Instagram @ndiblasio.
5 Questions with Natalie Diblasio
What was your path to becoming a journalist with USA Today?
When the grant-writing class I wanted to take was full at the University of Vermont, I decided to take a class called News Writing Across the Media. The plan was to drop it as soon as a spot in the grant class opened up, but that never happened. On the first day, the professor (who is now a great mentor of mine) told the class that if we got an article published in the student newspaper, The Vermont Cynic, we would get an extra point on our final grade. I decided to go for it, wrote my first story and haven’t stopped writing since.
It was actually a really cool story – it started off about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – that’s seasonal depression. I wanted to write about how prevalent it was on campus since Vermont can be pretty dark and cold for a few months. The story morphed into a piece on how the school had put special lights in the student center to help with SAD but didn’t warn anyone of the side effects. It’s not a good idea to hang under the lights for a long period of time – or without a prescription – and students were studying, napping and hanging for hours several times a week under the lights. The University said they’d put up signs warning of the dangers once my story ran. It showed me how much words on a paper can do. I loved it and didn’t go a week without a story (or three) in the paper until I became an editor.
I interned with the Burlington Free Press up in Vermont and then with USA TODAY. I had incredible mentors in both newsrooms who gave me their time, patience and irreplaceable knowledge. I am still learning from some of those same people who helped me in my internship. Every day I learn something new – part of it is the nature of the job, part of it is the incredible community at USA TODAY. It’s really a dream come true.
What has been the most rewarding part and/or experience of working in the journalism field and what has been your favorite piece to work on?
My favorite thing about my job is that I am constantly learning new things, reporting on different topics and managing new platforms. For example, in one week I wrote a story on how Ebola is impacting African tourism, I shot and edited a video about “rewilders” – those are people who quit their 9-5s and live off the land in the woods and I worked on a piece about what’s happening in Ferguson. Then this week I spent hours and hours in stores reporting on the people who were out shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The most rewarding part of my job is the fact that I always get to work on my writing and storytelling skills while learning about things I never thought of – sometimes I even feel like a mini expert. For example – how much do you know about the number of senior citizens in the Peace Corps? As of last week? I am practically fluent. Same goes for Capuchin monkeys as service animals, how the Postal Service is planning to handle holiday deliveries and exactly where police stand on pub crawls.
What advice do you have for those who are considering a career in journalism?
Read everything you can get your hands on. Take a journalist out for coffee and ask them for their story and their advice. Write – even if it’s your own blog. Just practice putting things into words. Be aware that everything you put online is there for everyone to see forever. If you want to be respected on any topic, you can’t have offensive nonsense swirling around. Someone will find it – probably someone important, and it will impact your credibility. Explore new social media tools. Did I mention read everything you can get your hands on?
You have been running since 2nd grade! What lessons have you learned to help keep you motivated throughout the years?
Do what you love. Running has always made me happy. Try putting me in a boot camp class and I’ll melt into a puddle of get-me-outta-here. I ran with my friends in 2nd grade – my parents never made practice seem like work, always fun. I had an incredible cross-country coach in high school who served just as much as a life coach as a running coach. I picked the most beautiful university – how could I not take runs through Burlington, Vermont? Then I found the world’s best running partner sitting right across from me at work. I’ve been set up for success. But my lessons?
- If you find the right running partner, you can chat nonstop for 20 miles or run in silence and it’s perfectly fine.
- You have to drink more than water if you’re trying to run a marathon.
- Toenails are overrated.
- There are friends out there who understand that you have to go to bed early every Friday night because you have to – I mean, want to – wake up and run 18 miles. Find those friends.
- Body glide – you gotta have it.
- Wear an extra hair tie on your wrist when you’re running a race – it’s an easy way to make a new friend.
- Run up hills.
- On those days you have to fight to get yourself out of bed and into your running shoes, remember that you’re just a few steps from remembering why you love it.
Of all the races you have run, what has been your favorite and/or most memorable race experience?
My most memorable moment was definitely finishing my first marathon. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done – I hit the wall at mile 19 and never really recovered. But I finished. During that last 10K I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the wonderful people in my life who got be where I am today. I realized my time goal didn’t matter at all and that I was proud of myself for just being out there. It was definitely the most emotional experience I’ve ever had. 26.2 miles of an emotional roller coaster.
Favorite race? The Vermont City KeyBank Marathon in Burlington, Vermont. Hands down – just the best. Beautiful course, fabulous support, best city in the world and I ran the whole thing with my running partner John. It was just the best. I think I smiled for at least 25 miles of it.
Across the board, who are some of your greatest inspirations?
Greatest overall? Easy – my parents. They are the most loving, brilliant and wacky people I’ve ever met. I want to be just like them when I grow up (maybe a little taller though, if I can swing it). They teach me – every day – that doing what I love is important, nothing is so serious you can’t joke about it, worst case scenario you can always buy a plane ticket home, you never regret being kind and always carry a snack.
Running inspiration? Scott Rigsby. Scott is the first double amputee using prosthetics to complete the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. But honestly, as unbelievably impressive as that is – that’s not why he is my role model. Scott is always smiling, always has a kind word to say – a lot of kind words actually and can make you feel like self-doubt and second guessing have no place in this lifetime. Once I complained that buying a bike was too expensive and he reminded me that I didn’t have to buy $60,000 legs on top of it all. It doesn’t matter if you have no legs or healthy legs – Scott can make you feel like you should be raising the bar and that you have everything you need inside yourself to achieve whatever you dream. He founded an organization (The Scott Rigsby Foundation) which raises money for wounded veterans to compete in races on their prosthetics. It’s an incredible group and I’ve never been more inspired than when I am running alongside them. Through the support of another incredible role model I met through the group, Laura Barnard, I decided to register for my first half Ironman this June. See ya at the finish line!