All posts by Ashley Conti

Capturing sports isn't just about the peak action shot, it's about capturing who these people are and how hard they worked to get where they are. This is what this blog will help show. Not only will I showcase hardworking athletes and coaches, but it will also be a place to show some of the more unique sports that are featured in Maine.

Sometimes you have to dive right in for the shot


Sometimes you have to come prepared to properly cover an assignment. This past week was a good example of just that.

I was given the assignment to cover paddleboard yoga in Southwest Harbor. I’ve never shot paddleboarding yoga but knew that to get the most interesting shots I would have to be close to the action. To get close to the action, I would have to be in the water.

So I grabbed my wetsuit and my underwater bag for my 5D Mark III and headed to Echo Lake to try to make some interestingly beautiful photos.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been in the water covering something. The reason I bought my Ewa-Marine underwater bag in the first place was to get shots of my friends wakeboarding while I sat in a tube in front of them.

The underwater bag makes it pretty difficult to change camera settings, and lens settings, once the camera is in the bag. You have to have a generalized idea of what your exposure will be before throwing the camera in. In these situations, I like to use a larger depth of field to help make sure things are in focus.

Besides settings being difficult to change, it’s pretty hard to look through the viewfinder while your camera is halfway submerged in water. What I like to do is try to use Liveview to better compose my shot instead of nearly drowning.

I was surprised how easy it was to shoot video while in the water. I was worried it would distort the moving images too much, but to my surprise, they stayed sharp.

Whenever you can get closer to the action, do it. Most of the time it makes for better photos, because you get to work on layering and filling the frame more. Had I of stayed on land, I would have been very limited with what I could have shot (see the second photo in the gallery) and the tranquility of the sport might have been lost.


Conquering the New England Tough Mudder

This past weekend two of my running buddies and I packed up our running gear and headed off to West Dover, Vermont to tackle the New England Tough Mudder, a 10-mile obstacle course race.

The three of us had all completed a Tough Mudder before, so we had a general idea of what was to come.

Mud, hills, obstacles, more hills, mud and even electric shock.

Yes electric shock. Live wires hang over a muddy pit and shock contestants as they make their way to the finish. Four days later, I still have a welt on my abs from the experience.

It took us about three hours to complete the course with around 20 obstacles to tackle. Not too bad.

This was my first Tough Mudder of the season, and gave me a good idea of what I need to work on to be successful during the World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour race in Las Vegas in November.

It was rewarding to see that my training was paying off. I never felt tired or strained at any time during the event. One event closer to my goal of 30 miles at “World’s”.

Glenburn couple cheers on Kenduskeag racers

GLENBURN, Maine —  For the last 15 years, Bob and Nancy Noyes have been lifting the spirits of many canoe and kayakers just before they hit Six Mile Falls during the annual Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.

With various cavalry charge songs coming from Bob’s bugle, and Nancy filling in with the “Charge!” it’s hard to not be in high spirits when passing in front of their waterfront property.

“It’s a long haul from Kenduskeag down to here. They’re pretty tired by the time they get here,” explained Bob. “I’ve been playing [the bugle] since I was a little feller.”

As droves of boats passed in front of the property, some racers yelled out requests.

“Play Taps!” yelled one.

“Play Bugle Boy!” yelled another.

“They seem to enjoy it. The one’s that aren’t real serious about it ask for it. It’s something they expect every year,” said Bob.

As the last few racers made their way past the Noyes’, Bob played his bugle one last time for the racers. As the cheers from the racers died down, one gentleman made sure the Noyes’ knew how much they meant to him.

“You guys inspire me every year,” the racer yelled as he headed down the stream.

Photographing while on skates

Sometimes you have to gear up to get a photo.

That’s what I did to cover the announcement of Great Skates Entertainment Center closing in a year. For the first time in about ten or so years I put on roller skates.

I was a little nervous at first, since falling would undoubtedly result in broken gear. But after awhile I found my groove and became confident I wouldn’t fall.

My main concern was running people over. I have no idea how to stop besides letting friction take over. So I had to carefully time my speed to be able to get close to skaters without getting too close. This also makes it super hard to capture moments that were stationary while moving.

But I made it work the best I could. The video came out pretty cool being able to follow skaters as they made their way around the rink, something I wouldn’t have been able to do without skates on.

Taking chances and risks is part of this job, this time it paid off. Besides, I got paid to go roller skating for 20 minutes.

Teams compete in Zimmerman Memorial Fitness Challenge in Orono

ORONO, Maine — Just after noon on Saturday more than 40 teams of four set out to compete in a test that would push them physically and mentally.

The fifth annual 1st Lt. James R. Zimmerman Memorial Fitness Challenge at the University of Maine campus in Orono had teams competing through a six-plus mile course of Marine Corps-like tasks.

Teams first faced a 3-mile team pack run where a weighted pack was passed around throughout the team around 12 laps of the university mall. After completing the run, teams made their way behind the baseball field to complete a variety of combat fitness movements including buddy carries, bear crawls and crab walks. Then it was off into the woods for a 3-mile run with five fitness stations ranging from burpees to team pushups. Once out of the woods, the teams’ upper bodies were tested with pullups, situps, pushups and dips. Once over 700 movements were made, teams made their way back toward the start to crawl through a mud pit toward the finish.

The Zimmerman Memorial Fitness Challenge was established in 2011 to honor and remember 1st Lt. James R. Zimmerman who was killed by small arms fire while leading his Marines in Afghanistan in 2010. Zimmerman, a Houlton native, graduated from UMaine’s Navy ROTC in 2008 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Pushing past your comfort: Running “Bridge the Gap”

Text by Ashley L. Conti
Photos by Nick Sambides, Rachelle Bourgoin and Matthew Moore

Last Sunday morning I woke up a little nervous.


Because in a few hours I was going to be running a 10-mile race. The Bridge the Gap race had runners travel over the Penobscot Narrows Bridge where they encountered an endless supply of hills while traveling around  Verona Island.

I have always been an athletic person. I played soccer my entire life and even played DIII collegiate soccer at Rochester Institute of Technology, but running was never my thing. If you would have asked me a year ago to run a mile, I would have done it but would have felt horrible after. Ten miles never seemed like a distance I would ever be able to run.

But something changed. One day I decided I wanted to get back into soccer shape, so I started running.  A few miles here and there slowly turned into 12 miles a week, which turned into hitting 90 miles last month.

My body started craving longer and longer distances, so I gave in. Two mile runs turned into four miles, four miles turned into six miles, six miles turned into doing 13 miles on my day off because I could.

So Sunday I wasn’t nervous about not finishing, I was nervous about how far I could push myself. How long I could hold my pace. How long I could ignore that little voice in my head telling me to stop.

The weather was perfect, finally a spring day.

At 10 a.m. the race started and a wave of runners started across the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. My running partner and I took off. We were holding about a 7:30/mile pace. Perfect.

At mile five something went wrong.  My running partner was having issues with his leg, it was cramping bad. Not wanting to leave him, I walked with him for about three quarters of a mile. My legs started to get tight from slowing down. I told my partner I was sorry, but I had to go.

I’m competitive and I tried my best to pass all the people who had passed us while we had slowed down. I got my pace back up to just under 8 minutes a mile. But the slow down/walk to speed up weakened my legs and I had to knock my pace to 8:30/mile.

Miles seven through nine were a blur, up and down more hills. So many hills, they seemed endless. My main focus was keeping my legs from stopping. My lungs felt terrific, my legs were feeling heavy. I kept pushing.

With half a mile left, I kicked it up. I felt tired, but not exhausted. I wanted to finish strong.

As I came over the final hill the finish line finally came into sight. I stepped it up again.

About 100 feet from the finish I looked to the sidelines at the spectators cheering everyone on and noticed someone taking photos of me. Why would anyone be taking photos of me?

As I ran closer the person looked more familiar. Then she removed her sunglasses and I was shocked. My friend, whom I hadn’t seen in months while she backpacked through Asia, was standing there. I didn’t even know she was back in the States. I ran over and gave her the biggest hug ever. In shock I sprinted across the finish line, 1:28:10.

Not the best time in the world, not the worst either. But I’m proud of myself.

I ignored my body telling me to stop, that it was too hard, and pushed myself. One step closer to achieving the real reason for running, hitting 30-miles at the World’s Toughest Mudder.

Hikers carry weight of fallen soldiers in tribute climb


PISCATAQUIS COUNTY, Maine — As the snow slowly fell on Borestone Mountain last Saturday, 12 individuals ages 11 to 45 checked their gear in the parking lot before heading off to snowshoe hike up the East Peak summit.

But unlike most hikers, these 12 added something special to their packs.

Each hiker carefully placed a stone engraved with a name or initials with a date into their packs. The stones, all unique in size and shape, were carefully chosen by the families of Maine fallen hero as part of The Summit Project.

David J. Cote, an active-duty Marine Corps officer and native of Bangor, founded the living memorial in 2013 over Memorial Day weekend as an unique way to carry on the memories of Maine’s fallen heroes from September 11, 2001 on.

As the hikers approached an icy incline, many started doubting their ability to get to the top. But encouraging words from Chad Januskiewicz, the program lead on this hike, and Ted Coffin, TSP support, kept the hikers moving.

“It’s meant to be a challenge,” Januskiewicz said. “ It’s meant to be something that you learn something from.”

With the summit in sight, the group worked together to make sure they reached their goal. At the top of the East Peak summit, with stones in hand, the group circled up. Each told the story of their fallen solider, some explaining why they picked the stone they did.

Michaela Hill, 16, became very emotional while telling the story of Joshua M. Bernard, the memorial stone she carried. Bernard, a Marine, was killed Aug. 2014 at the age of 21 while supporting combat operations in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Hill explained that she had asked Januskiewicz to pick her stone for her, but in the end felt as if the stone might have picked her. Bernard’s sister had picked out the stone from a place where they had played when younger and it made Hill think of her relationship with her brother, Cole, who recently enlisted into the Marines.

“When I first did this, i just thought it was a really cool way to do something for Memorial Day weekend, support the troops and remember what they did,” said Januskiewicz. “After the hike a family member pulled me aside and told me how much important it was to them, for their healing process. In Maine we care about each other, and that just kind of comes through.”

On assignment: 72 hours covering the Can-Am sled dog race|

FORT KENT, Maine — The 2015 250-mile Can-Am Crown International dog sled race started Feb. 28 in Fort Kent. Seventeen mushers from around the United States and Canada set off with 12 dog teams on a grueling trail over frozen rivers, among tight trees and over hilly landscapes.

When I was told I was heading to The County to cover the race, I immediately asked my co-worker Gabor Degre what to expect and the best way to cover an event this large.

He gave me a few tips. Dress warm, bring extra batteries, follow or drive with someone on the logger roads to each checkpoint, and prepare not to sleep.

I laughed at that last bit of advice at first. But he was dead serious. He explained I would have a blast, but I would not be sleeping.

I decided to follow one musher throughout the race and to make sure to get the first three mushers coming into each checkpoint. The musher I picked was 30-year-old Ashley Patterson of Shirley, Maine. Three other Maine mushers were competing, but Patterson had the best odds of finishing, as she had finished four other times.

On Thursday afternoon, I packed all the warm gear I owned, my camera gear and chargers, energy bars and my insulated water bottle and headed to Aroostook County.

On Friday were veterinarian checks, where I met with the oldest and youngest mushers competing in the shorter races that weekend. I was able to get a better feel of what I was dealing with and make plans to drive to each checkpoint with a race volunteer.

But before that, I was able to take a three-dog sled team around the property of Bangor Daily News reporter Julia Bayly. It was an experience I will never forget.

I woke up at 8 a.m. Saturday, dressed in all my warm layers, packed my ruck and headed to Main Street in Fort Kent to watch the 30-mile and 60-mile races take off.

I met up with Patterson while she was getting her dogs ready for the start of her race. I did a quick interview with her and then let her go back to putting booties on her 12 dogs. At 10:30 a.m., Patterson was off into the woods of Maine on her way to the first checkpoint in Portage Lake and I was headed back to the finish line to file photos and meet with Mike Daigle, who would be taking me around for the weekend.

Like everyone else helping with the races, Daigle volunteers his time as checkpoint coordinator for the weekend. When he’s not carting me through the backwoods of the Can-Am, he’s a Maine forest ranger. He is a super nice guy, and I knew from the start he was going to make this trip fun.

Around 2:30 p.m. we loaded our gear into the back of his pickup truck and started the 45-minute drive to Portage Lake.

It was amazing how dedicated and friendly the volunteers were at all the checkpoints. The minute we got there they set up a table for me to edit and asked if I needed anything else.

Around 4 p.m., I was introduced to a gentleman who would be snowmobiling me across Portage Lake to catch the first few mushers coming into the checkpoint. This was my first time riding on a snowmobile, let alone riding on one backward and hanging off the side to get the shots I needed (the second photo in my photo gallery is from this postion), but I had a blast.

As night fell, Patterson made her way across the lake and to the checkpoint. I followed her into the dog- and musher-only area and started taking photos of her caring for her dogs.

This is when I encountered the first of many obstacles: the lack of light. I had to rely on the headlamps from the mushers and the headlamp I wore to illuminate the photos. But to me, it worked even better than if flash was used. The headlights help give sharp contrasts to the photos and portrayed the mood of what these mushers were going through better.

After the mushers left Portage Lake, around 10 p.m., Daigle and I packed up and started the two-hour trip into the deep woods of Maine. On our way I saw my first two moose running next to the truck.

The next three checkpoints are kind of a blur. Shooting. Editing. Waiting. Driving. Shooting. Editing. Waiting. Driving.

I did manage to get an hour nap at the second checkpoint but other than that I was awake, just like the mushers. The lack of sleep was another challenge I had to overcome.

In this job you are put in situations where you might be awake for long periods of time, but I have never been up for more than 72 hours with only an hour of sleep. My mind started playing tricks on me, the way I was seeing colors was getting odd.

But like any athlete, you train your body to go into an almost autopilot mode when pushed to its limits. Your muscle memory takes over and you no longer have to think about what you are doing.

This is what happened to me. My instincts took over, regardless of my inability to make coherent sentences.

Around midnight Monday I was dropped back off at the ski lodge in Fort Kent to wait for the first finishers to cross. At 2 a.m., Martin Massicotte crossed the line first. Six hours later, Patterson enthusiastically finished, coming in fourth and the first woman to cross the line.

I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep, or if it was because I had just watched animals and humans with incredible endurance complete a huge accomplishment, but I teared up while Patterson hugged her dogs and family.

These are the assignments I live for, where I not only learn something new but can discover something about myself in the process.


Covering the 2015 Eastern Maine basketball tournament

To say I shot a lot of basketball last week would be an understatement. In a week and a half span, I shot around 17 games and averaged about 600 images a game.

That’s a lot of basketball. That’s a lot of repetition.

In situations like this it becomes very important to keep pushing yourself to find interesting moments and to keep trying to cover the event in a different way.

Like I said in the The Frame post on the Hermon basketball coach, sometimes the best images don’t come from game action but rather what’s happening off the court.

While game action is important, I don’t necessarily think it is the most important thing at a game. Crowds, coaches, players on the benches usually tell the story better than the person going up for the layup.

High school sports, especially tournament play, are full of emotions. This could be someone’s last game that they ever play. Dejection is just as important as jubilation.

Watching for and knowing where those especially emotional people are is helpful when something big happens.

When I cover basketball I shoot with three bodies, one with a 24-70mm, one with a 70-200mm and the third with a 300mm.  This allows me to see the game in a multitude of ways and allows me to almost be in two places at once.

Though I do move around a good deal while shooting too. From court side, to to top of the arena and everywhere in between. I’m always searching for an interesting angle. It not only keeps me interested but it keeps the photos interesting too.

For the finals on Saturday I mounted a remote camera over one of the nets, similar to the one I did for state cheerleading,  to give a different perspective to viewers after a week of seeing similar images. They turned out better than expected and gave a totally different view on the typical shooting shot that I had seen thousands of times that week.

Large tournaments like this are not only physically but mentally daunting, as is doing anything over and over again in a short period of time. I’m glad the bulk of the tournament is over. I walked away with some interesting photos that I’m pretty proud of.

The Frame: Off-beat sports moments

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BAGNOR, MAINE — 02/13/2015 – Hermon assistant coach Megan McCrum (right) yells instructions to her team during their Eastern Maine Basketball tournament quarterfinal basketball game against Medomak Friday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Part of my job is scouting a room and finding the most expressive person in it. This doesn’t just apply to feature assignments, or spot new, but also sports.

Sometimes you can’t just rely on the action of the game to tell the story. Looking to the benches and the stands gives a different perspective of the game, and helps tell the story even better than the action.

Hermon was up during this point in the game (they ended up winning), but the coaches were still adamant on making sure they won.

I had seen the Hermon assistant coach, Megan McCrum, become very expressive before during that game and knew I wanted to capture her being so.

So, I pointed my camera at her and waited.

Sure enough something happened (I think Hermon fouled Medomak) and she started giving instructions to her team. I started shooting. I fired off 10 or so frames but didn’t really know I had what I had until I started editing.

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Her expression was perfect.

This job is part preparation and part luck. Knowing your surroundings and putting yourself into a position where things are going to happen is key. It doesn’t always work out as planned, but it’s worth it when you are able to walk away with photos like this.