The One Shot Foundation salutes Stephanie Kuzydym for receiving the Jon Fleischaker Freedom of Information on her award-winning series.
June 24, 2024

From dream to database: Stephanie Kuzydym's path to APSE investigative award

Josh Crawford

“Every storm runs out of rain.” 

Those words reverberated in the air of yet another dreary and overcast Upstate New York afternoon. Stephanie Kuzydym used that phrase to describe her darkest days and most challenging times in creating “Safer Sidelines” for the Louisville-Courier Journal, the 2023 APSE Investigative Category award winner. 

Kuzydym, a 2012 Indiana alumna, knew and pursued her dream of sports journalism from a young age, growing up on the Michigan-Indiana border and one day dreaming of working in Wrigleyville. After graduation, her career faced intense disruption, leading to eleven relocations in twelve years, including two separate lost roles in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey. 

Yet, amidst the chaos, her resolve remained unshaken. 

“The world will tell you who you are before you tell the world,” she told me in describing this time in her life. 

Kuzydym craved the field, the grit, and the stories waiting to be unearthed, and she knew she was a gifted storyteller.  Growing tired of the day-to-day beat reporting grind and her constant encountering “coach speak,” she shifted her focus towards long-term investigative work. 

Enter “Safer Sidelines”. 

She said she never imagined it getting as big as it did, but Kuzydym’s investigative work transcended mere reporting. Her work included a first-of-its-kind searchable database of U.S. athlete deaths dating back 100 years. The statistics within the database were chilling: sudden deaths, unprepared schools, and grieving families. She didn’t just compile data; she wrote narratives of lives lost, dreams shattered, and futures stolen. 

February 1st, 2022, was the date she said she reached her breaking point. During a meditation session, she was told to “take a rock, put all her problems on the rock, and put the rock down and leave all her problems with it.” In her recollection, she became emotional describing the incessant nature in which the victims’ names rang out to her in her head. 

Kuzydym feels a bit of emotional conflict in winning awards for Safer Sidelines -- Happiness and pride abound in the awareness she raised for health and safety in youth sports. Still, with the families she’s spent time with and stories she’s told with peoples’ darkest days being open for public consumption, there’s no sense of that ultimate redemption for them. It’s a feeling that, despite her success, leaves her unsettled.

Josh Crawford will intern at the Commercial Appeal in Memphis this summer.

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