By Nathan Sites
Grace Hollars was getting prepared for her trip to Beijing, China for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which start this Friday, Feb. 4. But just four weeks before she was to head off, she had to make a hard decision and go against her dreams of going to another Olympics. She decided it was time for a break.
Hollars, an Indianapolis Star photographer, graduated from Delta High School in 2015. She became a photographer while in high school and continued her passion at Ball State University, which is where she first got her opportunity to go to the Olympics. Now as a professional photographer, she likes to photograph major events, especially the Olympics.
Grace had taken photos of every Olympics starting in 2016, which were the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. She went on to photograph the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, and her latest one was in the 2020-2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
Yet this year, Hollars has decided to bypass the 2022 Winter Olympics and focus more on her mental health. This is one of the only times in her hectic career when she has been able to take a break and focus on her health.
One of the other times she was finally able to take a break is when she got Covid-19 back on Jan. 4.
“I think getting Covid was a blessing in disguise,” Grace says. “It forced me to slow down and put my health first.”
When she had Covid, she didn’t think of it as “a week of discomfort,” instead she thought of it as a luxury. Other than fighting the headaches and the sinuses, she was able to rest.
Although sad about dropping out of the Olympics, she is a little happy at the same time.
The most stressful event for her to photograph is a summer sport, and it is swimming. Swimming is the most stressful because of its popularity.
“It is difficult because it’s a long day,” she says. “You are up at 4 a.m. after going to bed at 1 a.m. because the previous event you cover is not finished until midnight.”
The swimming event has three sessions in one day. In the morning there are the swimming finals, in the afternoon there is diving, and the final session is in the evening, which is the diving semifinals.
“You have to be at the venue extremely early to grab the best photo spots or you will have to fight with other photographers for a good photo position,” she says.
Grace has gone up to five hours at a time without eating or using the restroom just to snag a good photo. Swimming is a very quick sport, with the athletes going under the water constantly, and the poses on diving could be gone in a split second.
In addition to the Olympics giving her stress, other issues have been breaking out all over Indy during the past two years, with both the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests.
“The death of George Floyd sparked nationwide civil rights movements,” Grace says. “Out of the 14 days straight of large protests in Indy, I was there for 12 of them (taking photos for the Indy Star).”
She followed the protests through and was in the middle of everything, from the throwing of rocks and looting of stores to the police chasing the protesters.
“I’m fearless on the sidelines (of a sports event), but that night I had a lot to be fearful of,” Grace says.
During that time she says the city was almost lawless. This was the beginning of her anxiety because of the large crowds and the guns. It only got worse from there.
Grace got assigned to the Marion County Fair a few weeks later. She was ready to take pictures of kids petting the animals and enjoying their elephant ears. When she arrived, though, most people weren’t wearing a mask. It was only the first few months into the pandemic, and she was uncomfortable walking through the large crowds of people, who were eager to get on the next ride or order some fair food.
Later, as she started to leave, she got stuck in a crowd of people. Wondering what all the fuss was about, she explored on. She found some kids fighting, but before she knew it, one of them had pulled out a gun. Chaos was about to unfold.
“Someone fired off a gun right in front of me,” Grace says.
The crowd that was gathered around her had turned into a stampede, and people were doing anything in their power to leave unharmed. Pushes turned into shoves, but Grace didn’t run. She stayed back and helped.
“I remember picking up strangers’ kids and moving them out of the way,” Grace says. “People were being knocked over and trampled.”
The fair was evacuated and only one person was injured: a 17-year-old boy. He was hospitalized, but he survived. When things finally calmed down, Grace had to call her editors in tears. This was a major news event, and Grace was the only journalist from the Indy Star on scene. She had to collect herself and get back to work.
“The most stressful thing about this is being in an unsafe space,” Grace says. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
No one can be fully prepared for how your body reacts to these types of situations. She says you go into a fight or flight mode, a decision must be made, and you have to adapt to the situation, no matter how bad it gets.
Grace says she does plan on returning for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Paris, France. But in the meantime she says she plans to get some professional help for her stress and anxiety.
“I have no shame in saying I’m not doing okay. Honestly, who is really doing okay during this pandemic?” she says. “… I deserve to feel happy in this wonderful life I get to live.”