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ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – April 20, 2018

It was the “trip of a lifetime” for ESPN feature producer Kristen Lappas last year when she and reporter Tom Rinaldi journeyed to Nepal to tell the story of Pratima Sherpa, a teenager who hopes to become her country’s first female professional golfer.

Beware of monkeys on Royal Nepal GC

One of the many monkeys on the Royal Nepal Golf Club course gets a close-up. (Kristen Lappas/ESPN)

When Kristen Lappas and Tom Rinaldi first arrived at the Royal Nepal Golf Course, they were in for a big surprise as they walked to the third hole to find the maintenance shed where Pratima Sherpa lives.

“There were hundreds of monkeys all over the golf course,” Lappas said. “And we saw that all the members were playing with old, worn-out golf balls, and we were wondering if they couldn’t afford shiny new balls.

“But we found out later that the monkeys mistake the new ones for eggs, and they’ll steal them from the course,” she said. “So they can’t play with new balls. When we heard this, Tom and I looked at each other and just laughed because this place was so, so different than what we’re used to.”

Pratima grew up in poverty and lives in a shed at the golf course where her father works. “A Mountain to Climb” will air as a 30-minute SC Featured special on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, with a shortened version in Sunday morning’s editions of SportsCenter.

Lappas said she first heard of Pratima’s story a year ago while searching for an idea.

“I stumbled across an article in the Himalayan Times in Nepal about a girl who lived in a maintenance shed in Kathmandu who was the country’s first-ever golf star,” she said. “And I read the article and thought this can’t be true. The dad creating her first golf club from whittling it out of a piece of wood that he cut down from a tree – it just sounded like it couldn’t be true.”

But Lappas found that it was indeed true. Oliver Horovitz, a former professional caddie, had written a piece on Pratima for Golf Digest and helped make a connection. Then, last June, Lappas and Rinaldi took the 20-hour flight to Nepal.

“It was so different from anything I’d ever experienced,” she said. “It’s a very, very unique place, and we found that it is among the friendliest and most welcoming cultures. Everybody was incredibly helpful.”

After Lappas returned from a second trip to Nepal, she and Victor Vitarelli, senior coordinating producer for ESPN Features, made the decision to turn the story into a half-hour documentary.

“A lot of the stories we tell are about things that have already happened, but in this case this was actually unfolding before our own eyes,” she said. “We never in a million years imagined it was going to become what it was.

“It was us embedding ourselves with this girl and experiencing her journey at a point where her life was changing significantly.”

An accompanying piece by Rinaldi will be on ESPN.com and the full film is also being shown this weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Journalism On Display