Olympic Photographer's Goal: Make Her Son Proud

Grace Hollars with Cameras
Delta HS graduate Grace Hollars at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea


By Kaitlyn Overla
Eagle's Eye Online

Pregnant as a freshman in high school doesn’t leave much room for anything else.  It is a general belief that after getting pregnant young, life will take a drastic change. It did for Delta High School graduate Grace Hollars, however not in the way she imagined.

At first it was a struggle.

“That summer was the worst time of my life,” Hollars said. “I basically disappeared and refused to talk to anyone but my family and the baby’s dad at the time.”

She dropped out of school briefly and faced a choice: “I could raise my son or (I could) place him for adoption. It was up to me.”

She said she was not influenced by her family or the father of her child. They let her make the decision because it was her life.

“Though I wanted to be a mother, I knew the life I would give him was not the one he deserved,” she said. “He’s my flesh and blood and he deserved the world.”

She gave birth to her son and left him with “two of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”

Her son, now age six, has spent a year of his life in France and currently lives in Indianapolis. Hollars still gets to see him, most recently on March 15.

She shares her story because she knows she made a mistake when she was young. She wants nothing more than to make her baby boy proud.

She believed he deserved a mother better than her. That day she made a promise. She was going to “do something worth giving up her whole world for.” That is why she wakes up in the morning, pushes forward, and she works hard.. He deserved a mother worth bragging about.

“I am going to change the world. When I do, then maybe he’ll understand.”

Hollars hopes that one day when he looks at her life that he will be able to see why she gave him up.

She is keeping her promise. Overcoming a stressful past of teen pregnancy and temporary isolation,   Hollars flew farther than she could ever imagine.

Literally.

She flew more than 6,500 miles to Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Hollars is now a junior at Ball State University majoring in photojournalism. When journalism professor Ryan Sparrow had her to stay after class and asked if she wanted to go to the 2018 Winter Olympics she thought he was joking.

“It is not uncommon for him to mess with us,” Hollars said.

It turned out that Mr. Sparrow was serious. He directs a program called BSU at the Games, which enables BSU communications students to work at the Olympics.  The Olympic Committee emailed him asking if Ball State would like full press credentials for him and some of his students.

“(Grace) stood out to me as someone who has a lot of energy and confidence,” Mr. Sparrow said.

Mr. Sparrow went on to explain that he was only able to take five students: two writers, two videographers, and one photojournalist. He noted that he couldn't waste his picks on “maybe they’ll do good;” he had to be certain.

From knowing the work she did previously at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, it was an obvious choice for him to select Hollars.

She was honored to have the opportunity to represent Ball State Photojournalism at a professional and international level.

Leading up to the Olympics she felt an enormous amount of pressure. That didn’t stop her. She turned that pressure into drive.   “I remember sitting there before we landed and I promised myself, I was going to make my community proud.”

Preparations for going to South Korea were not extensive. They didn’t have to get shots or go through any extensive security screenings.

The main fear looming in her mind was the camera equipment. Canon allowed her to borrow $20,000 worth of equipment for the Games. She was worried she would forget something.

While traveling she stayed up for 48 hours to prevent herself from being on a weird time schedule. Along with this was the fear of getting sick while she was on the plane, so she got the “nasty” AirBorne tablet and took four of them before she boarded the plane.

Fourteen hours after boarding the plane, she landed in South Korea.  

She stayed at a hotel in the middle of nowhere, Gangneung. She described it as a ghost town. Being in another country things were different.

Korea was different from what she was used to. The culture was rich and around every corner.

The obstacle she struggled with most was transportation. After hailing a taxi, she said a cab driver freaked out on her because she went to put her belongings in his trunk and she found crates of live squid.   

The media busses in Korea were party buses equipped with loud music and crazy lights.

Her daily food options consisted of Snickers and a cup of noodles.

It was worth it because she had full press credentials, meaning she was right there in the front row. She was directly behind the glass for the hockey games and was on the halfpipe for men’s snowboarding. Working with a short timeline Hollars was still able to have fun and enjoy herself.

“One of my favorite parts about being at the Olympics was hanging out with people who have the same interest as you,” she said. “I mean you have your friends at home and you love them, but when you’re in a newsroom with other journalists, you’re with your people.

“We all laugh at the same things and we all are working toward the same goal. But we are also not afraid to go out and celebrate the day with putting chopsticks in between our teeth like a walrus.”

There was plenty of laughter and fun moments outside of the games. But, there were also points in time where the Olympics were all she could focus on. Shaun White Screams in Jay American Olympic snowboarder Shaun White screams in joy. (Photo by Grace Hollars)

Her most exciting moment involved American Shaun White, the winner of the gold medal on men’s halfpipe in snowboarding

“I had so many moments that I loved, like when Shaun White turned to my camera and screamed. I’ve never had this happen to me, but the world fell silent,” she said.

“I didn’t hear the crowd, I didn’t even hear him yell. I saw him turn to me and scream. I was at the right place at the right time. Even looking back at those photos knowing that I got that shot, brought me to tears. But my favorite moment was when Canon hung that photo on their wall. Truly, one of the proudest moments of my life.”

It is moments like this that remind her of why she chose photography as a profession.
“I really don’t do it for anything other than the impact my photographs have on people. I had no idea how much power my photographs can hold until I shot this photo of Shaun,” she said.  

“This completely changed the game for me. It’s one small step to a greater goal of mine … to change the world.” Snowboarder in action American Olympic snowboarder Shaun White in action. (Photo by Grace Hollars)

She didn’t get to converse with any of the athletes except for White because she had to remain behind her camera.

Even with meeting White and catching that picture her favorite part of the Games was getting to meet people from all around the world.

Hollars describes herself as a social butterfly. This was her opportunity to meet people; she was in her element.

She made friends everywhere, even standing and waiting for a bus. She met photographers from Czech Republic and Australia. Even some from the states like San Francisco, New York, and Washington.

It was a bittersweet moment when they were saying goodbye. They told her to give them a call if she was ever in their area.

She was in South Korea for 10 days during which she took approximately 15,000 photos.

The Olympics has been done for more than a month, and she still cannot find the words to describe her experiences.

“When I came home and I saw my dad, I broke into tears. I just felt like I had this shine to my smile and a spring to my step.

“I worked really hard all of my life to feel this way, and it honestly feels surreal. I came home as the 2017  College Photographer of the Year, and I just checked off my second Olympics.

“I made my dad proud. So incredibly proud and that is all I could’ve asked for.”  

Hollars only has one year of schooling left. In May she will begin an internship for the Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch newspaper.

Her goal is Getty Images right after college. Getty Images is a stock supplier of photos and film/video for businesses and consumers. Even if that doesn’t pan out she’ll be just fine.

“I’m an old soul with a Gypsy heart. I’ll go wherever the wind takes me.”