Student Profiles

Reporting Live from Sochi: A UConn Journalism Student’s Experience

By Olivia Balsinger 

To say that recent UConn journalism graduate Gabrielle Levesque has had some cool experiences would be quite the understatement. Her experience, in fact, has been Olympian.

While much of the world watched figure skating, curling, and even snowmobiling in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games from the comfort of their living rooms, Levesque was reporting on the Games live from Sochi, Russia, for NBC.

Gaby, as she likes to be called, heard about the Today Show Olympic Internship through a previous internship she had at the Weekend Today show. In the summer of 2013, Levesque worked for Weekend Today and knew right away she wanted to work with the same people again. But this time she wasn’t working in a glitzy New York City office – she found herself in the middle of one of the most controversial hot spots in the world.

“I initially heard about the Today Show Olympic internship through my previous internship at the Weekend Today show,” explained Levesque. “This summer I was an intern for that program and it was fantastic so I knew I would love to work with the same people at the Olympics.”

While the experience would be a lifelong dream for any young aspiring journalist, Levesque was not sure at first that she wanted to pursue a career in journalism.

“It really has only been a few years now that I’ve known that I want to be a journalist,” she said.” But since about the age of ten I’ve known for an absolute fact that my passion lies in telling stories.”

An avid reader, Levesque knew as a child that she wanted to tell stories that would draw readers in.

“Being a journalist has allowed me to do that in what I have started to make as my career, and I hope to continue telling stories that inspire people in the future.”

Levesque’s love of storytelling was put to the test when she boarded the plane to Sochi. The moment suddenly became real as she was overcome by nerves, excitement, and “a sense of confusion as to how I could be embarking on such an amazing journey in a place that the media pegged to be terrifying.”

She headed to Sochi amidst fears of terrorism and warnings from Russian security that suicide bombers might seek to disrupt the Olympics.

“I was expecting to go to a foreign place across the world just to be on lock down and in hiding,” explained Levesque. “It was a nerve racking few days. I must admit that I may have let the negativity in the media get the better of me at some points before the trip, but it really was all for nothing because Sochi was such an amazing and beautiful place.”

Though she admits that not all of the buildings in Sochi were finished, Leveque was angered that the media did not accurately portray the true nature of Sochi.

“The hype about [Sochi] was so offensive and off the mark,” she said. “Sometimes I would Skype with friends at home and they were like ‘Oh wow, did you hear about this or see that?’ and I would just laugh because none of it was true!”

The Olympic village was something she could not have even imagined. She had the opportunity to stand beneath the massive Olympic torch, symbol of global unity. To her right was the Black Sea. To her left, the sweeping mountains behind Sochi.

“The Olympic Park was absolutely beautiful, especially at night because every building had an intricate lighting display that would enhance the already astounding nature of the village,” recalled Levesque. “It was truly surreal.”

Between soaking in all of the culture and beauty of Sochi, Levesque spent her days making sure that both athletes and other Today Show guests made their hit times for live filming. She met many of the athletes, including ice skaters, lugers and snowboarders

“I would walk them from our Green Room to the set which was about a ten minute walk so I would always get to talk to them right before they went on air,” Levesque said.

Levesque was also able to use reporting skills learned at UConn to produce a wide variety of stories, from the architecture and culture of Sochi to the emotional tales of individual athletes competing in the Games. One of her favorite reporting tasks was working alongside a producer to interview former American Olympic gold medalist figure skater Scott Hamilton about the skating events that were taking place that night.

She also got to work with Meredith Vieira, co-host of The Today Show. “It was amazing to be able to talk to and connect with such an inspiring woman, someone who I have looked up to for such a long time now,” said Levesque.

She also saw an unexpected dark side of Sochi – the suffering of hundreds of stray dogs. Perhaps inspired by her Husky heritage at UConn, she adopted one abandoned pup to bring home with her to America.

After graduating from UConn this spring, Levesque aspires to produce national broadcast news.

“I’m not sure if I’ve even admitted it to myself, but I think that one of my career goals is to one day be a reporter for a nightly news show,” Levesque said. “ I want to be someone who travels around the world chasing stories about inspiring individuals and places.”

She won’t have to travel far this time. At the end of the summer, Levesque begins work as an NBC page. The prestigious one-year position will allow her to work on different shows, gaining valuable experience and, she hopes, connections to further her aspirations.

To UConn students, she leaves this advice:

“Fight for your dreams and never think that anything is to far for you to reach. Nothing is too crazy to believe in, if you want it fight for it. Being a journalist is all about chasing something you have faith in finding.”

You’ll find more photographs and stories about Gaby’s Sochi adventure at Gaby’s online journal