If you’re a college football fan, than you’ve surely seen Jen Lada on the set of College GameDay every fall. Since 2016, she’s been part of the award-winning ESPN staple as a features reporter.
Additionally, Lada serves as a host on College Football Live and has also made recent appearances on Outside the Lines, The Paul Finebaum Show, and other ESPN programs. She’s also the co-host of a new podcast, “Athletes Doing Good.”
Translation: she’s pretty busy, and pretty versatile and valuable.
Away from the camera, Lada is a devoted mother of three and a die-hard Chicago sports fan–though the latter sometimes gets awkward considering her husband, Dario Melendez, is a broadcaster for FOX Sports Wisconsin.
In our latest “21 Questions” feature, we spoke with Jen Lada about life during quarantine, working on College GameDay, building a treehouse, “The Last Dance” and much, much more. Get ready to learn more about her than you ever expected.
Let’s get started…
1. The obvious question: how have you and your family been handling this quarantine?
JL: The last four months have tested everyone in some manner. It’s affected people’s routines & stability. I’m not going to sit here and act like I’ve got it all figured out. Some days I can handle the uncertainty and developments (and chaos from having three kids and two dogs in the house) and some days it gets to me. I try to be proactive about my mental and physical health. That means eating well, being active, exercising my brain, socializing (via FaceTime) with girlfriends etc. It has also required adjusting my expectations of what I might get accomplished on any given day. I read a great quote recently that said “We’ve always been so pressured to Do, Do, Do. But we are not Human Doings; we are Human Beings.” The idea was to be better at just being and okay being still. I like that especially right now.
2. Obviously every week on GameDay is unique, but what host sites or experiences stand out to you from being on the road?
JL: I’m a sucker for the big game environment. The energy in New Orleans leading up to the 2020 National Championship game in January was incredible. And any time the show makes its debut on a campus, it feels like every person within a hundred mile radius has made their way to our set. It’s a fantastic show to be a part of because everyone is so talented and pushes the envelope on what’s possible while also staying true to what makes the show popular and successful.
3. Who is/are the person/people at ESPN that inspire or motivate you by seeing how they work or approach their craft?
JL: Scott Van Pelt is the “Gold Standard” for broadcasting at our network. He’s incredibly talented, hard-working, kind, modest and relatable. I find myself subconsciously studying his content because it checks so many boxes while also looking effortless.
4. Okay, as a Bulls fanatic, tell us what it was like watching “The Last Dance.”
JL: Well first, doesn’t it feel like The Last Dance aired years ago?? I didn’t think I could appreciate the project more than while we were watching it but I actually think I appreciate it even more in its absence. Without live sports, it was the destination television we all needed. As someone who consumed and enjoyed all those championships as they happened, the show was this incredible time machine. Every Sunday night, I’d play “Sirius” on my phone and dance like a fool in the living room as the episode was starting. I felt like a 10 year old kid again. It was fun showing the moments to my kids and reliving the memories with everyone else on social media. It felt like we were all watching a big game together again. And in this time of social distancing and uncertainty about the future, it was familiar and comforting.
5. How hard was it to balance work with being pregnant and being a mom?
JL: I feel like I’ve been pregnant for the last four years. I got pregnant in early 2016 but lost that baby in June at 20 weeks. It was devastating. So many couples suffer through their miscarriages in silence but we wanted to be open about it to help normalize the topic. I got pregnant again in September and had another miscarriage in December. It was a rough year but five months later I got pregnant with our first daughter (I also have an eleven year old son) and she was born in February of 2018. About a year later, I was pregnant with our second daughter and she arrived in November. I had some serious complications this last time that required hospitalizations and bed rest and ended up delivering her early. But she is perfect. It all works out the way it’s supposed to. The hardest thing about being pregnant – for me – is trying to function at a high level on significantly less sleep. And having to go to the bathroom ALL THE TIME.
6. Is there an app that you hate but you use anyway?
JL: Is there any answer besides Twitter.com? It’s kind of a necessary evil because so much news and information is disseminated there but the risk-reward ratio is unbelievably tilted. It’s fun to keep track of the content that my colleagues are working on and there are occasionally fun and inspiring threads. But interaction is becoming increasingly hostile. It’s just not a nuanced-enough platform for productive dialogue. And it still seems like it could be electronically-monitored and regulated more effectively.
7. What was your go-to order at the ice cream truck as a kid?
JL: Ice cream sandwich. Simple. Classic. Delicious.
8. Recently, you contributed to an end of decade feature with Richard Deitsch at The Athletic where you addressed yourself from 10 years ago. If you had to address a young journalist now, knowing everything you know and have experienced, what advice would you give them?
JL: Take risks. Be fearless. Admit you don’t know stuff. Athletes are just people. Don’t be a dick.
9. I noticed on social media you posted about a new treehouse in your backyard? Did you and your kids build it? Whose idea was it?
JL: I had a tree fort when I was a kid. Actually it was more of a tree platform – a single piece of plywood propped up on a couple of 2x4s. I’d grab scrap lumber from our garage whenever my Dad completed a home renovation and try to add makeshift walls and a roof but it was never anything fancy. So yeah, I’ve always wanted to give a my kids a legit treehouse and the quarantine seemed as good a time as any to get it done. My Dad got my husband and me started with the platform and then we just sort of figured it out from there. YouTube is a pretty great resource and once you figure out the power tools, you’re on your way! The treehouse is pretty deluxe: windows, a tin roof, an outdoor rug and some patio pillows for comfort. I’ve definitely snuck up there a few times to enjoy the quiet.
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From the Treehouse! It’s good!!!! 😜 The American Cornhole League (ACL) Pro Invitational Qualifiers is on ESPN right now! • @johnsonville and the ACL are launching a trick shot challenge to raise money for the V Foundation’s Robin Roberts Thrivership Fund. • Every trick shot posted raises money for the @thevfoundation. I nominate fellow Wisconsin residents @oliviaharlandekker @samdek7 @thatsamazing @bucksbango @giannis_an34 to post your best trick shots with bags, balls, coins, whatever! EVERY POST COUNTS! Use the tag: #trickshotsforgood
10. Do you prefer reading on a tablet/iPad or real book?
JL: I prefer a real book. Or magazine. I’m unpacking my office from our recent move and finding so many old sports books I’ve collected over the years. It’s been a fun quarantine exercise. Most recently, I’m on an Audible kick. It’s so convenient to pop on a book while running or cleaning or hanging out with the kids.
11. What is your favorite movie that is set in Chicago?
JL: So many choices but it’s gotta be “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (which our eleven year old now loves.) It was especially cool walking past a lot of the places where the scenes took place when I lived in the city. But here’s a fun fact: “Groundhog Day” (which I honestly feel like we’ve been living for the last few months) was filmed in the same northern Illinois town (Woodstock) as my high school. So it’s always cool to flip it on and see the town square that we’d run through everyday for Cross Country practice.
12. You’re a mother. What’s your least favorite children’s song?
JL: Let’s be honest: They’re all pretty terrible. Hot Crossed Buns. London Bridge is Falling Down. Humpty Dumpty. Ring around the Rosy?! Brutal. And our two year old daughter knows them all. But the worst is probably Rockabye Baby. Have you listened to the lyrics lately? It’s macabre! You wanna pinpoint your child’s first traumatic experience, it’s being terrified that you’re going to hang their cradle from a fragile tree branch and crrrrrack.
13. What do you think is the most underrated Midwestern city or town and why?
JL: Milwaukee. And I’m not just saying that because we recently moved back here (I went to Marquette University and worked in local sports here for seven years.) Under ordinary circumstances, the city is one summer festival after another (Fiesta, Festa, German Fest, Polish Fest, Festival of the Arts) highlighted by Summerfest – a ten day music event along the lakefront and the Wisconsin State Fair. Social distancing has obviously canceled all of those gatherings this year but there’s always something exciting going on.
14. Being such a die-hard Cubs fan and your husband covering the Brewers. How did you handle the one-game playoff in 2018?
JL: Not well, guys. Not well at all.
15. Do you have any phobias?
JL: I am incredibly claustrophobic. My dad used to trap me under the comforter when I was a kid. He thought it was hilarious but I would scream and scream. Talk about traumatizing. To this day, I’m not great in crowded elevators, the back of airplanes or tiny cruise cabins.
16. There’s a cookie, a brownie and piece of carrot cake in front of you. Which are you eating?
JL: What kind of cookie? Like a Chocolate Chunk cookie? Otherwise the brownie. No wait, the cake. I mean the brownie.
17. As an endurance athlete who has completed multiple marathons and triathlons, what sticks out to you as the toughest event you competed in and why?
JL: The swim portion of any triathlon has always been hardest for me. I’m terrible at sighting so I rarely swim a straight line and end up in the water much much longer than I’d like. In 2017, I ran the Chicago Marathon when I was 20 weeks pregnant. I had to go much slower than normal and that was pretty tough. But running the New York City marathon just nine months after having my first daughter was the hardest because I just asked too much from my body. My endurance wasn’t where it needs to be which made for a very agonizing 26.2 miles.
18. Is “The Bean” nearly as big of a deal to native Chicagoans as it is to tourists?
JL: I love that it’s one of Chicago’s must-visit attractions. But once you’ve seen it (and palmed it for the gram) you’ve seen it.
19. Can you tell us a little bit about your new podcast “Athletes Doing Good”? How did the idea come about and what are you aiming to accomplish with the project?
JL: Being back in Milwaukee means reconnecting with people who have been huge supporters of my career for years. Chellee Siewert is this badass and brilliant boss who runs Capture Marketing – a company that handles a lot of big time athlete’s events and projects. She approached me about helping her tell these athletes’ stories. There aren’t a lot of platforms talking specifically about the good and charitable work that pros are doing in between their full-time jobs. And for most, their causes are labors of love – passion projects born from their own experiences, adversities and priorities. We’ve talked to Russell Wilson, Dr. Jen Welter, Solomon Thomas, Brian Anderson and we’ve got a long list of people on board. We’re just getting started and we’re learning what works as we go but most importantly, we’re providing a space where athletes can talk about the positive stuff they’re doing and hopefully encourage others to give back to their respective communities too.
20. What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
JL: Oh man, this is like choosing your favorite child! I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of great shows. Garth Brooks residency in Las Vegas was a stripped-down, intimate concert where he performed songs that influenced his career. That was pretty incredible. Sometimes the location takes the concert up a notch – I’ve seen Billy Joel at The Garden, U2 at Soldier Field, Kenny Chesney at Lambeau. Beyoncé and JayZ at Citi Field. I guess the best concert I’ve been to is probably Lady Gaga at Wrigley Field. I went with my sisters and we sat third row on the field. She’s an amazing talent and it was an electric show.
21. Reality TV show that you can’t get enough of?
JL: We’re a gameshow household. Mostly trivia. Jeopardy. Millionaire. Mental Samurai. We’ll throw in a Titan Games or Ninja Warrior occasionally. Our son is really into Holey Moley. The best gameshow on tv right now is The Wall. It’s compelling and dramatic. I actually hate it when the contestants walk away with nothing. I take it hard.
You can read more of our interviews with sports media stars here.