Interviewing people comes naturally to me and my newsroom coworkers.
We may employ different strategies at times, but it is mostly the art of conversation – nothing complicated about it. But if you don’t speak the same language this simple task, the basis for all we do, suddenly becomes amazingly difficult.
This was our quandary last month when seeking an interview with two-time PBR World Champion and Brazilian native Silvano Alves of Decatur.
He speaks Portuguese. We speak English.If you read the Oct. 31 Messenger, you know this story ends with a story – a front-page feature by reporter Erika Pedroza. What you don’t know is that it took 12 months of hand-wringing, plotting and a bit of luck to make it happen.
Alves took the U.S. bull riding circuit by storm in his first season, winning the 2010 PBR Rookie of the Year title. In 2011, he won the PBR World Title, and he became the first rider in history to snag the title in consecutive years after winning the 2012 series in October.
He’s earned more than $3.2 million since his U.S. debut, plus has endorsements from Stanley DeWalt, Wrangler and Brahma. He’s a world-class athlete.
After his first world title, we sought an interview but didn’t act fast enough. Alves, his wife Evelyn and small children Hanylie and Eduardo return to Brazil after the Finals every year, a fact we didn’t know until it was too late.
And it’s not like we could just call him on the phone.
While they were away, Erika and I devised a plan to land an interview upon his return. Coincidentally, my family had moved next door to them just before the 2011 world championships, so I was put on watch.
But things didn’t fall into place as we hoped. He returned and immediately began traveling for the 2012 season, and we still didn’t have a translator. The possibility of an interview seemed to be slipping away, and it was becoming irrelevant as the new season progressed.
At a certain point we decided all that was left to do was wait – again. If he made the finals in 2012, we would try one more time.
In the meantime, when we saw Alves and his family outside, we exchanged smiles and waves.
As the end of the 2012 season approached, Alves was ranked No. 1 and prepared to return to Las Vegas and defend his world title.
Just one week before the World Finals, we discovered a translator. Randy Warzecha, a Brazilian missionary associated with the Decatur Church of Christ, was in town for a short time. He and his wife, Angela, a native of Brazil, graciously agreed to accompany Erika and myself to the Alves home for a cold call.
The plan: knock on the door, ask for an interview, hope that he would agree.
What happened: we knocked on the door, no one answered, we left.
We did leave a copy of the Messenger with a note in Portuguese, explaining who we were, tucked inside a wreath hanging on their front door. I hoped he would contact us, but I knew it was a long shot.
We didn’t hear from Alves and by the end of the week, he had left for Las Vegas.
Although it was for a good cause, I was beginning to feel a bit like a stalker.
We watched the Finals on television and were excited to see all the Wise County riders. We were especially excited that Alves won again.
But I didn’t get my hopes up. I knew he would be returning to Brazil and the chances of finding a translator and getting it done before he left was not likely.
The day after the Finals, my husband was working in the garage when he came inside to tell me a group of people with cameras were next door. I marched over there and learned it was a Brazilian television crew awaiting Alves’ return home. Only two of the six spoke English, and they told me Alves and his family were expected any minute.
Sergio Horovitz, the CEO of the company, was excited to know that I had watched the PBR Finals and was aware of Alves’ accomplishments. I explained to him that I worked for the local paper and told him of our attempts to interview Alves. I explained that the language barrier was proving difficult to overcome.
I asked if he could perhaps mention the Messenger to Alves and our wish to interview him.
Horovitz said he could, but we’d have to move quick. The family was returning to Brazil the next day.
As Alves pulled up, I thanked them all and watched his triumphant return from a distance. My heart racing, I excitedly called Erika and Joe, putting them on standby for the next morning. Then I began tracking down our latest lead for a translator – a friend of a friend I’d never met.
It was truly an adrenaline rush. (OK. So I’m a journalism nerd.)
By the next morning, I had an email from Horovitz saying Alves was agreeable to an interview, but we should go early … and bring an apple pie. It would be a show of hospitality, he said.
We only had 30 minutes to find fresh apple pie and eventually had to settle for cupcakes and cookies. Erika, Joe and myself piled into a car and swung by National Roper Supply to pick up Corey Jones, our translator. “Hop in!” we called. I’m sure he was convinced he was being kidnapped by crazies, but he never broke a sweat.
Although it took four of us to get it done, we left with an interview and photos in hand. Alves was friendly, humble and gracious with his time.
What usually takes five minutes to set up took us about 12 months. But it was worth the wait, and I finally got to meet my neighbor.
My Portuguese still has a long way to go, however.
Silvano Alves won the PBR Brahma Super Bull Finals event title Sunday in Brazil. It’s the equivalent to the PBR Built Ford Tough Series World Championships in the U.S.