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The Daily Bruin took a lost sports lover and made him whole -30-

Jack Nelson smiles for a portrait in front of Kerckhoff Hall. (Michael Gallagher/Assistant Photo editor)

By Jack Nelson

June 10, 2024 9:08 p.m.

Three screens stood arranged on my desk for the ultimate viewing experience. A MacBook, Chromebook and iPad Mini constituted the setup, with the latter two revived from retirement just for the occasion.

This was my master plan to cover my first game for the Daily Bruin, in all its makeshift glory.

It was the day of UCLA men’s tennis’ home opener, a match I had no hope of attending during an entirely virtual freshman year. Instead, I sat 2616 miles northeast of the Los Angeles Tennis Center, cozied up in my bedroom.

Driven by an onset of energy, I eagerly pulled up livestreams for each court on each of the devices. It was perfect at the start – all three doubles matches, right at my fingertips – but devolved into disaster with six matches occurring simultaneously during singles play.

My eyes darted back and forth from screen to screen, searching for a story. I took far too many notes and frantically devised my questions as the contest quickly wound to a close.

All my tennis knowledge seemed to escape me when I turned on my camera for Zoom interviews. Somehow, I managed to utter something of substance to get quotes for my wrap.

An unnerving mix of excitement and anxiety underlined this series of moments, all enhanced by isolation. The feeling became inescapable for many sports journalists during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the early going, I thought it would unravel me.

But my career was born from it.

Sports wrestled emotional control from me at a young age and maintained a chokehold well beyond my childhood.

I remember throwing a tantrum after losing a family wiffle ball game during my elementary school days. Smashing a racket during a high school tennis match hasn’t escaped my memory either.

I’ve long despised the “It’s just a game” notion and still do, even now upon my college graduation. Sports are beautifully human by nature yet primal in the thrills they offer. Not everyone understands, and it can’t really be explained.

What I can confidently say, however, is that winning is addictive. I would know – my Boston sports teams accumulated 12 championships by the time I was 18. Yes, it’s a spoiled upbringing, but I couldn’t help falling in love.

My passion for sports still burned when I came to UCLA, but for the first time in my life, it was complicated by the acceptance that my playing days were behind me. I needed a way to cope with that loss.

The Daily Bruin became the very sanctuary I sought and transformed into something even greater.

College is pitched to high schoolers everywhere as a definitive time to find yourself. Until late last year, that struggle for self-discovery might as well have been a mental warfare.

Perpetually in survival mode for my climate science classes, I spent countless nights staring at my dorm ceiling wondering why I couldn’t just figure out my life. I often lay there terrified of a fast-approaching future – a time when I’d need to know myself.

Imposter syndrome is real, and at UCLA, it’s torturous. Everybody around me was accomplishing wonders and destined for the stars while I remained lost. All I wanted was to realize my path forward.

People at multiple stages in my life told me to become a writer. For the longest time, I graciously laughed off their comments, refusing to embrace their encouragement. And I regularly denied my own inclination to write.

The truth is, I was scared to make that choice – scared to faithfully take a direction.

My time at The Bruin gave me the confidence to take the leap.

This newspaper offered a realm of opportunities for me to develop my greatest passion while exploring new creative territory. I always felt celebrated and, at the same time, challenged to become stronger. It is now the site of beloved memories that will remain close to my heart.

None of it would have been fathomable without the most wonderful people imaginable.

Thank you to Jon Christon and Olivia Simons, two terrific mentors who guided me in my earliest days. You both helped craft my voice and pushed me to be a true storyteller, and I couldn’t ask for a stronger foundation. Becoming the tennis editor was an honor because of the standard you set.

Thank you to Sam Settleman, Joseph Crosby, Lauryn Wang and Grace Whitaker – the editor team worthy of Hall of Fame induction. I forged my strongest friendships at the paper with each of you in a multitude of moments that I’ll cherish forever. Our year together was the ride of a lifetime, and you have all impacted me in ways I can’t quite describe.

Thank you to Gavin Carlson, as well as Benjamin and Matthew Royer, for a world of support and endless reasons to laugh. You each bring joy to my life that I value so dearly and were key components in making this job an absolute blast.

I entered the Daily Bruin with a search for answers. I leave knowing exactly who I am, and what I can be.

Few places carry such power.

Nelson was a Sports contributor 2020-2022, assistant Sports editor 2022-2023 and Sports senior staff 2023-2024.

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Jack Nelson | Sports senior staff
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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