Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Alum skating fast on Capitals beat

By Alaa Abdeldaiem

In her wildest dreams, Isabelle Kurshudyan never imagined covering hockey.

She grew up in the South, had never seen a hockey game and says she could not even remember seeing ice, let alone an entire rink. But here the 2013 SJI graduate is, covering the Washington Capitals for the Washington Post.

Khurshudyan has now covered the Washington Capitals full-time for three years. She’s learned to love the sport and embraces the assignment with confidence and authority––all after never picturing herself in this role in the first place.

“I never thought this would happen,” Khurshudyan said. “I totally thought I was going to have to do high school sports at a small daily and work my way up, and that’s what I was prepared to do and would have been happy to do had that been my path.”

When the Washington Post hired her out of an internship in 2014, it was clear Khurshudyan would be taking a different direction. She first covered high school and college sports but just one year into her Post tenure she moved to the Capitals beat.

Khurshudyan didn’t let her lack of hockey knowledge hold her back.

“I knew my strengths were storytelling, asking questions and being curious, so I relied on those,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to break down the X’s and O’s of a power play, but I had a natural curiosity, so I could explore things others who are very familiar with the game didn’t think to ask about. And at the end of the day, that’s what readers want to see.”

Curiosity wasn’t her only strength, however. A native speaker of Russian, Khurshudyan has often used the language to connect and gain credibility with players.

Her language ability also helped earn her an assignment in Russia in January. For a month, Khurshudyan worked for the Post’s Moscow bureau, covering everything from election protests to World Cup preparations to domestic violence legislation and the state of the #MeToo movement in Russia.

Despite a number of scheduling, interviewing and translation challenges, Khurshudyan says she could not have asked for a better experience. It was difficult yet rewarding, as well as eye-opening and inspiring.

And like most experiences leading up to that point, it was something Khurshudyan could have never anticipated.

“It was unreal,” she said of the assignment. “It taught me how to be a multi-faceted human being, to tell stories around a bigger picture and find the intersection between sports, politics, race and social issues. These things are relevant, even in sports, and we need to embrace those stories because those are some of the most meaningful things that happen.”

As Kurshudyan knows, you have to be ready for those meaningful things even when they are unexpected.
“I didn’t know this was how my career would shape up, but when I got hired at the Washington Post, I thought, ‘If this is the first and only place I work, that would be awesome,’” she said. “I’m going to continue to live in this moment and do meaningful reporting and make an impact. And when the next thing comes, I’ll be ready.”

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