The What-If Game: Tory Zawacki Never Looks Back, But Uses Past Experiences in New Work at ESPN
Added by Rory McQueen on August 27, 2013.
There are many different ways to get to Flushing for the US OPEN, such as buses, the 7 subway line, and even the dreadful torture known as the Long Island Rail Road. Driving is even worse and hunting for a good parking space is almost as hard as returning Novak’s serve, but not many people have taken the trip that Tory Zawacki did to reach Arthur Ashe stadium.
The first time she made the trip, she couldn’t fully digest the moment. Most teenagers from Jersey can’t fully swallow and absorb the feelings they have playing in the US OPEN JR doubles final. They tend to get caught up in the moment, and only years later can they truly process the experience.
Life would be great if we could freeze-frame moments and DVR them for our memory. For Tory, her match in the finals and the first time she played on Wimbledon’s famed grass courts, would have top seeding in her most memorable moment’s DVR list.
The days of visiting Arthur Ashe as purely a fan are but a memory for her; now she views it as a place of work, with a mixture of excitement and the knowledge that she has a job to do. It is a job that entails research, graphic making, and watching others play the sport she once so dominated.
For others, this might be a daily battle, seeing others do something you once did at an exceptional level, and when I say exceptional level, I mean go 58 and 0 during her high school career. For Tory though, being a professional tennis player isn’t the goal, being the female Mike Tirico is.
“The man, he is just the perfect example of what type of career I can see myself having. How he can do football one night and tennis the next,” Tory stated.
She views Tirico as an example, not because she craves to be in front of the camera; somehow I think a tall blonde girl who knows a ton about sports could have found her way easily on camera if she wanted to. No, she envies the professionalism Mike brings to various sports, treating the coverage of the US OPEN the same way he will cover a Monday Night Football game.
Tennis for Tory isn’t the end of her story, but truly the start. To hear her talk about her Carolina Panthers with the same enthusiasm she has when discussing how the men’s bracket will break down shows she is not a one trick pony. The good news is Tory knows her sports, the bad news is she is a Panther fan so she should have a few dozen years of misery in her future.
There is a game people like to play, the what if game. “What if I did this? What if I played harder here?” Tory, who battled injuries during her college career at Duke, never plays the what if game, she looks at her years at Duke with only smiles. After all, not many people get the best seat in the house inside Cameron Indoor to watch Duke play North Carolina. Not many women have favorite moments in life that revolve around being inside a packed arena, with no air conditioning, dripping with sweat, but then again not many people get the chance to sit near Dickie V and talk to Coach K. (I didn’t ask, but how long does it take to know Coach K before you can call him Mike?)
Her life has been littered with strong role models and influences, from her first tennis instructor, her dad, and Coach K at Duke; she has learned from all those around her.
Being an intern on a Joe Scarborough show at MSNBC doesn’t seem like a normal stop on the ex-athlete sports path, but for Tory, it was here that she had her moment of clarity and knew she wanted a career in broadcasting. She was an intern on Joe’s show, and interns all work long hours for no pay and tons of blame with none of the credit. Most interns are known for being faceless, nameless workers, but Joe treated Tory and all the interns better than most bosses treat their assistants. Joe treated them as friends, knowing who they rooted for in sports, knowing birthdays, and in Tory’s case, knowing someone who had the potential to be something special.
Tory thinks Serena is almost unbeatable, maybe Azarenka can put the game together to beat her, but she sees Serena as the easy favorite. On the men’s side, she thinks if Nadal is fully recovered from his injuries he can battle anyone, yet she still leans in the Novak direction. She hopes Sloan Stephens puts together a good enough game to battle Serena and she can’t help but respect the professionalism Roger Federer brings to his life.
None of this would matter if Tory didn’t pass her test. Ah the test, which consisted of 25 questions she was asked when she applied for her first job at ESPN. Twenty five questions ranging from topics like “Who was Bret Farve’s back up in Green Bay?” (She knew it was Rogers, and this was when Bret was in Green Bay, so bonus points for knowing Rogers). She knew the name of the stadium the Kansas City Chiefs played in, which, unless you are from KC or a degenerate gambler like myself, you should have no knowledge of what Arrowhead stadium is.
She got twenty three right, INDY car racing and some arcane rules about golf foiled her perfect score, but between her test and background ESPN hired her as a PA. Over the past five years, she had worked her way up from Production Assistant to AP, and soon following her hero Tirico, she will become part of ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew. Obviously, they decided not to let her cover Indy racing, but for someone with a US History and English double major from Duke, she has gone far in the sports world.
“Mary Joe Fernandez is amazing; she knows what strokes players are going to hit before they do,” Tory said, describing what her pre-work routines are. Sitting in a room with greats like Evert, McEnroe and Mary Joe could make anyone tongue tied, but Tory has absorbed it all. She’s taken in the quiet dignity of Chrisy, the passion of John, and the knowledge and professionalism of Mary Joe. It has to be hard sitting in a room filled with legends of a sport you once showed so much potential in, a sport where you could almost see yourself on that mountaintop, but Tory never looks back.
Like all athletes, she misses the rush that comes from playing a one on one sport. The surging adrenaline before each match, the euphoric high you get with each win, but working with greats like Evert, Mary Joe and Tirico, covering live events comes close to replacing that rush. There are two weeks of rushes in store for Tory, plus a season of NFL games. Somehow, I think she has a ton of DVR moments in her memory left to record.