Leila Rahimi ('02) had lofty dreams as a Denton teenager — literally.
"I remember being in high school, seeing the press box at Pennington Field in Bedford and thinking it would be cool to call a game there one day," Rahimi says. "And I remember looking up at the press box at Texas Stadium and thinking how fun it would be to be there someday."
Rahimi saw both dreams become reality before she graduated from UNT, working a Denton Ryan High School state football championship game in the early 2000s. Ever the pragmatist, she notes her goals have always been realistic, even though sometimes seemingly unattainable to her in the moment. That is why rinkside at the Winter Olympics never featured in any of her adolescent dreams.
All the same, there she was in PyeongChang, South Korea — warmly dressed and snugly ensconced between the Canadian and Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR) benches — as the rinkside reporter on NBC Sports' national broadcast of the women's hockey semifinal game.
NHL on NBC is one of the network's marquee national broadcasts, littered with famous faces and voices of the game. The NBC Olympics hockey stage isn't just big, it's iconic; and in February, in a production facility more than halfway around the world from her small Texas hometown, that stage belonged to Rahimi.
"I was like, WOW, I'm getting the national broadcast, A-list team treatment for NBC at the Olympics. I can tell you about calling a Denton High School football game for UNT for college credit back in 2001 when I was happy if a press box had heat. And now here I am being told, 'If there's any video you want to talk about in this semifinal game on the world stage with the best of the best of the business in hockey, please tell us,' and I had to struggle to not shed a tear for fear of ruining my makeup during the semifinal," says Rahimi. "That's when I had my Olympic moment."
With world leaders attending games, elite athletes mesmerizing audiences and an entire world tuned in, Rahimi recognized the gravity of the moment and had more than earned her microphone in nearly two decades perfecting her craft in an industry that still features far too few females. A seasoned sports journalist, Rahimi earned her stripes in Sherman, Austin, Houston, San Diego and Philadelphia before landing her current gig in the nation's third-largest media market, Chicago.
"I think it's a working mindset that I developed partially in college," says Rahimi. "I was fortunate enough as a freshman to intern at 570 KLIF in Dallas thanks to UNT. Journalism faculty Keith Shelton and Mark Dempsey recognized my gumption enough to let me have credit for an internship, and so I was able to begin my trade at 18 in a No. 5 market in the country amongst professionals. I think it's that attitude and culture that I learned very young, thanks to interning so young, that has helped me move forward."
More than a decade later and still a bit jetlagged from her Olympics trip, Rahimi talks about how special it was to see the U.S. Women's Hockey team win gold in South Korea after such an emotional loss four years ago in Sochi.
"It's always rewarding when you see a team you know worked so hard get to a goal, and they achieve it," she says.