"Never look back and regret that you didn't give it your all." ~Sarah Spain
If you’re looking for someone with extensive sports knowledge paired with a natural flair of comedy, look no further than Sarah Spain of ESPN. A graduate of one of the premier comedy institutions in the U.S, Spain has put that combination to work on shows like The Trifecta, His & Hers, Around the Horn, and on national ESPN Radio. Sarah recently took time from her busy schedule to chat with us. Here is Sarah Spain’s Y1 on 1:
What have sports taught you most along the way?
As a competitor, sports gave me incredible confidence--especially as a very tall, slightly awkward teenage girl--and taught me leadership, teamwork, grit, toughness and hard work.
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As a senior in high school, you were the MVP and captain of your track and field, field hockey and basketball teams. While there are many, can you share a few of your most memorable moments during that time, whether they be individual or team?
One of the highlights was hitting the state qualifying mark for all four of my events in track and field, earning Chicago Tribune Athlete of the Week honors. I also set a three-state Junior Olympic record in the javelin my very first time competing in the event!
Do you have a mentor that impacted you in sports and in media?
As an athlete, my idol and imaginary mentor was Michael Jordan, who inspired me at every turn and showed me an incredible example of hard work and competitive drive. In real life, my high school track coach, Steve Clegg, was a great teacher and mentor. On the media side I've benefited from the help of a ton of mentors, including Rick Jaffe, Steve Cochran, Jemele Hill, Rob King and Laura Gentile.
You were a Heptathlete at Cornell University, a rather grueling event to train for and compete in. Who or what steered you in that direction and what did you learn from being part of such an intense event that tested your endurance and strength?
The multis--pentathlon (indoor) and heptathlon (outdoor)--weren't high school events, but I was already competing in all the events individually in high school (plus triple jump and discus, as well). Coach Clegg recognized my versatility and recommended that I compete for a spot in the Junior Olympics. I qualified my junior and senior years and went on to continue as a multi in college. Multis sort of represent my life, in a way, as I've always loved to be involved with a whole handful of things, dabbling in music, comedy, sports, acting, etc.
Specializing is such a hot topic in youth sports. Would you advise youth athletes to play multiple sports or focus on one?
Oh I absolutely advise playing many sports. You're less likely to overtrain specific muscles, which can lead to injury. Plus, most kids aren't going to go pro, so playing many sports offers you the chance to create great memories with different teammates and coaches.
What specific advice do you have for youth athletes? What pitfalls should they look out for and be aware of?
My best advice is to work so hard that you never look back and regret that you didn't give it your all. Take every chance to practice, train and study your craft so no matter how big or small your successes, you know you did the absolute best you could. And have fun! Sports are meant to be fun.
You graduated from the Second City improv comedy conservatory in LA and now you are with ESPN doing great things on Around the Horn among other shows. Was being in sports media always your goal and focus?
I actually always dreamed of being on Saturday Night Live or in Broadway shows as a kid. I loved sports but I didn't see women in sports getting to be entertaining and funny, it was all serious anchor gigs or brief, bubbly sideline reporting jobs. After a few years pursuing comedy and acting in LA I took a TV hosting class and realized I wanted to give sports a shot, doing it my way, with a sense of humor and sass. Once I made the switch to sports everything started to fall into place.
Your video, #MoreThanMean, exploded in such a positive way and had such a great impact. What was your motivation behind it and how did it come about?
Brad Burke of Just Not Sports approached me about being a part of it and it seemed like a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on a serious issue. He really had the idea and executed it, I was just there to share my story. The response has been really powerful and I appreciated the opportunity to do a ton of media about it, further spreading the word about online harassment and hoping to work toward positive change.
You've sat down with some of the best in sports. Are there any that stand out as most memorable?
Too many! It's funny, at this point they all sort of blend together. My dream interview is still Michael Jordan -- waiting on that!
Is there anything on your journey that you would have changed or done differently?
No! Even though it took me a little while to figure out my path, all of my experiences helped make me a more well-rounded person who brings more than just sports knowledge and experiences to my job.
Outside of sports what are some of your other interests?
Music, travel, wine, food, books, theatre, dogs and dog rescue efforts.
Do you take part in any philanthropic endeavors or work with any charities that you would like to share with our readers?
I do a lot of charity work, but there are two that stand out. I started a charity (Hear The Cheers--http://www.chicagohearingsociety.org/hearthecheers) with a young girl that I mentor, helping raise money to help young athletes get hearing aids that aren't covered by insurance. I also help support Peace For Pits dog rescue (https://peaceforpits.org/).
Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahSpain