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Rocky Hulne: A fish out of water still has to swim

I can still feel the thud.

I was sitting at the media table at Mayo Civic Center before the big Section 1A title game showdown between Hayfield and Blooming Prairie when the Vikings threw an errant pass in warm ups that landed right on my face.

The kid who threw the pass immediately apologized, but I tried to play it cool, although my face felt numb and my head was slightly ringing. I didn’t have any physical ailments from that thud, but it left me with a feeling that things were going to change soon.

The game finished without incident as BP won the section title, but the very next morning all Minnesota State High School League sports were called off and our world was turned upside down.

The COVID-19 pandemic has induced fear, denial, frustration and just plain old boredom in all of us at one time or another. It is something nobody will ever forget.

It has certainly put me through on the job escapades that have forced me to become a more versatile newsman. While I can’t wait to get back to focusing on sports coverage, the pandemic has put me in some interesting situations.

Real life lumberjack

It didn’t take long for me to begin pursuing creative features and one of my first stops was the front yard Oliver Andersen, who is now on the Minnesota State University-Mankato football team. Andersen would have normally been throwing shot put and discus, but instead he was working on his strength by lifting 200-pound logs to stay sharp.

Andersen summoned the idea when his family was cutting down the tree and he used it to keep himself together in a time when everything was beginning to unravel.

Masking the community

By the time we reached April, it was becoming apparent that the pandemic wasn’t going away and the prospect of spring sports began to vanish.

One the more unique positions I was put in was to do a story on Rose Le, the owner of Rose’s Nails, who had been organizing a team effort to make and distribute masks.

After a brief phone conversation, I set up an interview to meet Rose at her home in Austin and I must say I was a little overwhelmed. She began bringing out her family members and small children were soon running around. There was a slight language barrier with some of the family members. I am only smart enough to have learned one language, while Rose and her family members have roots in Vietnam.

After a brief moment of panic, I was able to find my footing, set up the photo and conduct the interview in Rose’s front yard. Rose was incredibly kind and understanding of my awkwardness and she even gave me masks for me and my family. I still wear the mask she gave me today.

Polka paradise

Once we got to June, there were slight rumblings of summer baseball and summer softball getting started, but I was still mostly cemented in the news beat.

We were all getting used to drive-up events and parking lot performances, but I was a little out of my element when I was assigned to cover Kent Larson playing the accordion in the parking lot of the Cedars of Austin.

I looked on as Larson jammed out a playlist that you may have seen on the Lawrence Welk Show in the 1950s and 1960s and I looked up to see residents of the Cedars enjoying the show.

The gift of music was a meaningful one for those residents who have not been able to get a lot of face-to-face during the pandemic and Larson was more than happy to cheer them up.

A sign of light

I’ve never entered Mayo Clinic Health System-Austin for a story before this year, so it felt a little weird when I was given the task of reporting on the first ever COVID-19 vaccine administered in Austin.

It was quiet and subtle, but a big moment that I hope sends us on the way back to normal. There were a lot of smiles in the hallway from the staff at Mayo and optimism was running high.

Optimism is something we’ve all been looking for during these dark days and it may finally be on the way.

With the vaccine being released to the public, there is hope that our world could be changing drastically for the better in the not too distant future.

Let’s hope those changes aren’t preceded by another thud to my face on the sidelines.