I cannot separate sports and tragedy.

From Atlanta to Columbine to the World Trade Center to Aurora to Las Vegas, sports is inextricably linked – at least for me – to some of the most horrific acts of terror and violence in modern American history.

I was in Orlando, the first stop on a trip to Atlanta, on July 27, 1996 when a pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park, killing one person directly, one indirectly and injuring 111. It was the day after my birthday and the only thing I cared about at the time was riding Space Mountain one more time before we departed for Atlanta to see Team USA Baseball take on Japan and Cuba in the Olympic Games.

The coach who was chaperoning me and some of my closest baseball friends on the trip of a lifetime never told us until some years later that the numerous times our MARTA trains were delayed or that venues were slow permitting entry was because more threats had been made. He later revealed that the fear he carried with him as he led a group of teenagers through the Games in Atlanta produced some of the scariest moments of his life.

I was too young, or perhaps too naive at the time, to fully understand the gravity of the situation. I look back now with wiser eyes and see that in a time when sports was my sole focus, tragedy was still well within my field of view.

As a senior at Wheat Ridge High School the morning of April 20, 1999, I had two things on my mind: Landing a baseball scholarship that would allow me to continue to play the game I loved at the next level, and qualifying for the second consecutive year for the National Speech and Debate Tournament.

Both of those things were put on indefinite pause as news broke of what was transpiring at Columbine High School that day.

In the cafeteria at Columbine, the same place I had spent dozens of hours hunkered down during speech tournaments passing the time between competition rounds, students were hunkered down for a wholly different reason. Instead of fearing whether they were advancing to the next round, they were fearing whether they would live to see another day. One of those competitors I’d spent time with and even competed against would not. Rachel Scott may be a name on the list of the deceased to some, but to me she will always be the soft-spoken, compassionate girl who competed in Interpretation of Poetry.

As a result of the merciless violence perpetrated that day, the remainder of the Jeffco spring sports calendar was canceled. Any chance to prove myself in the final weeks of the season to college scouts was effectively wiped out – a matter of little consequence at that point in time.

My team would eventually take the field again that season. We traveled to Chatfield High School, Columbine’s longtime rival, and participated with several other schools in a memorial tournament to honor the victims (and give the Jeffco teams a chance to tune up ahead of the state tournament, which had not been cancelled). My team presented the Columbine baseball team with a bat signed by every member of our team, offering our condolences and wishing them strength. We played baseball, but no one was thinking about baseball.

Sports and tragedy were intertwined during those very difficult days, no matter how I tried to separate them.

Fast forward 29 months and I was a junior at Pace University in New York City. We were less than one week into fall classes and as a resident advisor I had under my charge a group of 40-plus freshman, many of whom were calling the Big Apple home for the first time in their lives.

I initially discounted the wail of sirens filling the Lower Manhattan air on Sept. 11, 2001 as “being back in the City.” I myself had only returned a few weeks prior from summer break in Colorado. The resident advisor training I’d undergone in the days leading up to the start of the semester had not prepared me for how to handle an act of terrorism enacted just five blocks away from our dormitory.

As we watched in disbelief and horror from our floor’s lounge window the smoke plumes rising and the bodies falling from the north and south towers, sports was the last thing on my mind. But as the south tower collapsed, the first thing that came to my mind was: Get them to the gym.

The gymnasium at Pace University’s downtown campus was located below ground, the deepest (and safest) part of the building accessible to the student body and the public. I cleared the dormitory floor, accounting for anyone and everyone who hadn’t yet left the building and helped usher them to the gym where we would wait hours for news.

I knew the gymnasium well even prior to that day. Not only was I a resident advisor for housing and residential life, I also worked in athletics. Some of my duties were less glamorous than others – wiping down free-weight stations and cleaning up locker rooms. Some produced unbridled excitement and helped lead to my current career in sports media – operating the scoreboard and keeping the game books for the Setters basketball team.

I sat on the floor, in virtually the same place where the previous semester I’d recorded points, assists and turnovers, wondering what kind of world I’d eventually be walking out into. Or if I ever would walk out, for that matter. I tried to occupy my mind with funny anecdotes that had occurred in that gym – like the bronze plaque that hung on the wall commemorating Pace’s first championship basketball team, then known as the “Keglers”; or the time my intramural squad had lost to a team with a player who had spent a little too much time at the keg earlier that evening.

That gym, and sports by extension, was both literally and figuratively my safe haven in a time of great tragedy.

Jessica Redfield did not have a safe haven in the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora on July 20, 2012.

The budding sports journalist was just days away from beginning an internship with Mile High Sports when her life was taken during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” I did not know Jessica, but our morning show host in those days, Peter Burns, was a close friend who had helped arrange the internship. Peter became a changed man that day, and while he’s accomplished many great things in the years since – including establishing a foundation and scholarship in Jessica’s honor and moving on to a successful hosting gig with ESPN – I have no doubt that he would trade it all to have his friend back.

You will find dozens of bylines on milehighsports.com and in Mile High Sports Magazine, none of them belonging to Jessica. A life in sports journalism was her dream; now it is up to folks like Peter, Nate Lundy (the new owner of Mile High Sports and another close friend of Jessica’s), and myself, not to mention the countless others in the Denver sports media who knew her or knew of her, to fulfill the dream of covering sports for a living. Every time our name appears on TV, over the airwaves, in print or online, we should remember that she was robbed of that same opportunity.

Days like Monday make it hard to stick to sports, because sports remain invariably linked to tragedy in many instances.

As I drove to the Mile High Sports offices Monday, fully aware that the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history had happened just hours prior, sports was again at the forefront of my thoughts.

Nate was on the airwaves, still unsure of the whereabouts of a friend who was in Las Vegas this past weekend for the Route 91 Harvest Festival. There was Nate, afraid for his friend’s life but unafraid to speak about the unspeakable on a sports talk radio show. I learned later in the day that another one of our hosts, Renaud Notaro, had a friend who was shot Sunday. We are grateful to report that he is in the hospital recovering.

As I drove, I couldn’t shake the unnerving knowledge that had the festival been held just one week later our editor in chief, Doug Ottewill, and our former owner, James Merilatt, would likely have been in the Mandalay Bay hotel when the gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor into a crowd below.

I’ve stayed at the Mandalay Bay along with James and Doug several times. Their annual Broncos bye-week trip to Las Vegas always puts them at the Mandalay Bay. I can picture clearly the very type of room that housed the lunatic that enacted this latest deadly attack on innocent civilians. I know the route from the elevator to the Mandalay Bay sports book as well as I know the route home from the offices of Mile High Sports. As I navigated Speer Boulevard, then Bannock Street and 9th Avenue and eventually Lincoln Street, those were the images flashing through my mind. Mandalay Bay is no longer just the place we celebrated CU’s important victory over Washington State last fall; it is now another red pin on the map of unspeakable tragedy.

Put it next to Boston, Newtown, Orlando, Blacksburg, Fort Hood, Charleston, San Ysidro and, sadly, many others.

The frightening reality is that the events in Las Vegas just as easily could have happened in the parking lot at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, or outside Folsom Field, or Pepsi Center. Any sports arena in the world could be the next red pin. No clear bag policy or metal detectors inside a stadium entrance can stop a lunatic with heavy ammunition and the right vantage point. It’s a harrowing thought, but it’s the world we live in.

Sports and tragedy, as much as we may wish they will always exist apart from one another, are inevitably linked.

Perhaps your link is different, more personal: The too soon loss of a loved one alongside whom you cheered your favorite team. A promising young sports career cut short by accident, illness, injury or something worse.

In times like these, when folks like me are often told to “stick to sports,” it’s important to remember that sports, for many people, are just as much a part of the human condition as tragedy. For me and for many others, they have too often been one and the same.