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Sports enthusiasts tuning into ESPN’s SportsCenter this week will start seeing a new face on the show, belonging to a familiar friend from our area.

Lindsay Czarniak, who for the past six years has served as co-sports anchor with Dan Hellie at WRC-TV (NBC4), will be debuting behind the anchor desk at what is considered the pinnacle of the sports broadcasting world.

“I’m really looking forward to the challenge,” said the 33-year-old Czarniak. “There is so much to learn. I think the creativity that they use and the magnitude of everything they do is going to be really brand new to me. It’s a huge big machine and I am excited about meeting the people I have watched for a long time and see how I fit in to this mix.”

Growing up in Northern Virginia, Czarniak developed an interest in sports and journalism by watching her father, local sports newspaper journalist Chet Czarniak, but didn’t think that she would follow in his footsteps.

“It was definitely something I was aware of and I loved the aspect of finding out things before anyone else did,” she said. “It was interesting and mysterious to me, but I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to pursue.”

A 1996 Centerville High School graduate, Czarniak was involved in theatre, student government and sports while there, and looks back at her years at the school fondly.

“I’m still really great friends with a tight-knit group of about 10 ‘Wildcats’ and I think we were really fortunate being at this school,” she said. “The culture they created was special and I have great memories.”

Czarniak next headed to James Madison University, and during her senior year had a television practicum and realized that news reporting was the avenue she wanted to follow.

Her first job was for CNN, and then she began reporting on sports for a station in Miami. It was there that legendary sports reporter George Michael first saw her and decided to make her an offer to join the “George Michael Sports Machine” team.

“I was waiting at an airport for Carlos Delgado, who had just signed with the Marlins and George called me and left a message on my phone,” Czarniak recalled. “I had never met George and I thought he was just calling to get some video of Carlos.”

She soon learned the real reason of the call and she was flabbergasted. Czarniak turned down the job at first, but eventually realized that it was an opportunity she had to grab.

“It was really great. He was exactly what I thought—a terrific mentor and I learned a hell of a lot from him,” she said. “There were times that weren’t pretty, because he wasn’t afraid to tell you what you did wrong, but I think that was really important.”

Eventually she found herself working with Michael at NBC4 and developed a huge following at the station.

Over the years, Czarniak’s covered Super Bowls, the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, and she’s also reported on NASCAR for TNT.

“I really believe one of my strengths and one of the things I enjoy the most is having the rapport with the people I am creating stories about,” she said. “That’s something that is really satisfying to me. I’m sort of like a credential for our audience who don’t have the access to these players or coaches, and I think if you can get them comfortable talking about something and develop a trust, that’s everything.”

Locally, she has covered all of the Washington D.C.-based teams, and is known for her bond with the players and coaches.

When Redskins star Sean Taylor was murdered in 2007, Czarniak felt as if she needed to be the one to tell the story, and was the first reporter in the locker room to talk to his teammates about the tragic event.

“I’m moving out of my condo today and I remember sitting here when I first got the call about Sean being dead and I expressed my interest in being there and they let me do it, and it’s one of the things I will remember most,” she said. “I’ve been a part of such huge life-changing stuff here. Stuff I will never forget.”

As she prepares for her first week on the new job, the 33-year-old Czarniak hopes to bring a lot of what she brought to NBC4 to the ESPN desk.

“I hope that I am able to be myself and the same person I was here, but on a bigger level and adjust and grow,” she said. “I feel strongly that there are enough special experiences I have had being in this market that if you keep doing good work and telling stories that are meaningful, you can go as far as you want. I hope to do that kind of work here at ESPN but on a broader scale.”