By Janika Bates, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Editor’s note: While our former intern Janika Bates is in Rio, she will keep our readers updated — not just on the games themselves, but the whole experience. Look for her updates on TSDMemphis.com, the Digital Daily and in our print edition. And if wi-fi in Rio is good, you might even see her broadcasting live at www.facebook.com/TSDMemphis. As they might say in Brazil . . . bon viagem, Janika! Safe travels!

Transferring to the University of Memphis in January 2014 was one of the best decisions I have made. I have been blessed with wonderful opportunities — internships with The New Tri-State Defender in Memphis; another with Entertainment Tonight in Los Angeles.

But my biggest adventure so far starts this weekend. In April 2016, I found out I was one of 14 U of M journalism students chosen to cover the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, which start next week!

Other than me, four of the 14 student journalists, are African American. And like me, Sydney Neely, Rebecca Butcher, Catrell Maclin and Omer Yusuf are all excited about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Another group of students from The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill will join us in Rio — the only two universities chosen for this assignment.

Playing basketball throughout his life, Catrell Maclin — son of the late Corey Maclin, longtime sports anchor at Fox 13 — had dreams of going to the NBA. However those dreams faded once he lost his passion to play the sport and, in turn, grew a passion for learning how to report on the sidelines.

“God has given me an opportunity like none ever before,” Maclin said. “To be one of 30-plus students who get to work and make contact with the best talent in the media realm, get hands-on experience and build my resume has literally floored me.

“When I walk across the stage in May of 2017 and talk to the first TV station interested in hiring me,” Maclin continued, “their first question will probably be, ‘Tell me about your experience in Brazil working for the Olympic committee.’”

Having a knack for entertaining and telling stories, Rebecca Butcher had dreams of becoming an actress before she finally settled on journalism. She feels it gives her a “wider, more direct impact” on telling the everyday person’s story.

“What I’m looking forward to most about the Olympics is witnessing people from all cultures share a spirit of unity at the games,” Butcher said. “Sure, everyone is rooting for their country or their favorite athlete, but I think it will bring a sense of global community like it does every four years. I’m excited to not only witness it, but to report on it.”

Roxane Coche, assistant professor in the U of M’s Department of Journalism and Strategic Media, will be supervising the program from July 29 to Aug. 22. We will begin work Aug. 1 and will receive three hours of academic credit. The 2016 Summer Olympics open Aug. 5.

Coche, who received her doctorate at UNC, is one of the driving forces behind this amazing opportunity. She sent about two dozen emails seeking credentials and, to this day, she’s not even sure which email got through to the right person with Rio’s Olympic Organizing Committee to set this adventure into motion.

However, students would need to come up with money to go — about $3,000 per student. In the spring, our team began raising funds including a crowdfunding effort at the U of M website that raised more than $3,000 for the effort.

And despite fears of a Zika virus outbreak in Central America, our determination to experience this opportunity hasn’t changed.

Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. It can be transmitted through mosquito bites, through sex, and possibly a blood transfusion. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus, causing a birth defect called microcephaly, which causes a baby to be born with a smaller head.

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eye). Though it is something we will keep a close eye on, the virus is not something we fear.

I can’t wait to share my experiences with you — right here via the TSD!