Archive for March, 2010
After a string of awesome weather last week, it was somewhat fitting that clouds and grey skies would return on the day of the Paralympic closing ceremony. Our task was simple: Make sure all the buses leave on time – with all the athletes on board – as they make their way up to Whistler. My colleagues and I waved goodbye as the teams slowly departed one by one. Once the load zone was emptied, it finally dawned on me the end of Vancouver 2010 was upon us. That was the last time I’ll see these courageous athletes as well as all the hard working bus drivers I’ve come to know during these games. The last hurrah came and went quickly and our work, as a team, was done.
It was another bitter sweet moment. I had a lump in my throat. I was sad.
That was Sunday afternoon…….
Today I donned the blue jacket for the final time and went back to catch one last glimpse of the Athlete’s Village as crews began the process of dismantling some of the infrastructure. Hard to believe this was truly the end of a remarkable journey. What I’ve experienced in the past two months far exceeded my original expectations. As mentioned previously, for myself, the legacy of Vancouver 2010 will always be the memories of people I’ve met and worked with.
As I move on from this chapter of my life, I would like to thank the following blue jacket “Smurfs”:
The crew at the ROO: IN, Shorty Yank, Aussie Gal, Indian colonel, Gameday Jen, The dark Englishman, Bilingual B, Maritime Bill and Double M. Rain or shine, we shared some good laughs and we sure did a kick ass job in the media and athletes load zones.
The dream team at the Athlete’s Village: English Steve, Irish T, Papa Smurf, Yukon J, The 3 amigas from AGI (And you know who you are), Ms. Port Metro Vancouver, Costco Pin Lady, The Therapist, Gentle J Mac and Eager Jeremy. It was amazing how we bonded as a team in such a short time. I wish they had kept all our shifts but it was time well spent.
Fate put us together. Thank you ALL for making this so wonderful and memorable!
P.S. Tonight, my blue jacket refused to zip up as I tried to put it away in a garment bag. Could it be that the blue jacket didn’t want this end either?
Amongst all the activities that go on during the Olympics and the Paralympics – or any major sporting events for that matter – there is the popular sub-culture of pin trading. I knew a little bit about it before these games but didn’t “get in on it” until very late. In some ways it would have been cool if I had pursued it earlier.
Event organizers, media outlets, sponsors and various sporting federations usually produce pins prior to any major events. Through people interactions, these pins are usually passed on as gifts. An example would be drivers receiving pins from passengers as tokens of appreciation. Instead of storing them in pockets, people would wear the pins on their accreditation lanyard to “show off” the collection. Through time, excess inventory or personal preference will see some of the pins being traded amongst the collectors.
And then you have the hard core collectors who will even travel around the world to events just to pin trade with others. I’ve seen so many of them roaming around town and at pin trading centers such as the Coca Cola one at the Olympic/Paralympic Superstore downtown or at the airport. Some of the collections on display were quite impressive, not to mention the amount of time it took to amass them.
Perhaps it was my luck – or lack thereof – but almost all the drivers and media types I’ve met during these Winter Games have very little to trade or give. So you can imagine my excitement when I received 3 in one instant. Slowly, I’ve been able to build up a small collection for myself.
When the Paralympics started, I had hoped for some opportunities to acquire and to trade. I managed to pick up a few and traded with a couple of fellow blue jacket volunteers. And through chance I met the president of one of the largest pin club in Western Canada. We chatted for a bit while lining up for – of all things – an Olympic merchandise warehouse sale and he gave me some pointers on pin trading which was quite valuable.
On the last day of the Paralympics I made my way to the Olympic/Paralympic Superstore to complete a trade I had arranged the day before. The pin trading area was packed with people – a lot of first-timers – engaged in negotiations. It seems a number of them have discovered the fun of pin trading and were there to experience it. Numerous kids came up to me wanting to trade and it was fun interacting with them and finding out what they were interested in. The festive atmosphere in the pin trading centre is likely one of the last memories I’ll take away.
So…….would you like to trade some pins?
Item du jour
With two city venues in Vancouver, my team is only responsible for the curling and sledge hockey athletes. By and large they have been very friendly and a few even came out early to the load zone just to chat with us. They might not be as well known as their Olympic counterparts but their spirit and determination are second to none. Every time they came out to the load zone area, all I saw were a bunch of dedicated athletes and nothing else. Perhaps that’s the way it’s suppose to be – no differentiation between the “able” and the “disabled”.
The way the competition schedule was set up, opposing teams tend to come out and board their respective team buses at the same time. So the morning starts quietly then the pace picks up for about an hour and a half. Then there’s a lull around lunch time before the athletes return for another round of departures in the afternoon. And with the Paralympics being smaller and more relaxed, we get to explore the athlete’s village and take pictures of the area during the aforementioned breaks.
The village has received raved reviews since the start of the games and it’s easy to understand why with its location and the amenities available. VANOC also succeeded in recreating the feeling of “home” for the athletes and the “Salt Building” is a shining example. Built and opened for athletes only, it is basically a giant “living room” and a club all rolled into one. You can have parties, spontaneous guitar jam sessions as well as video game competitions inside. It’s a place for the athletes to unwind and mingle with each other.
The other item that stands out in the village is the food since the volunteer work force share the same kitchen with the athletes. It’s not fine-dinning-quality but the lunches I’ve had were really good and definitely better than the soup and sandwich spread at the Oval. And if you fancy a Quarter Pounder with cheese instead, there’s actually a McDonald’s inside the dining area. Believe it or not, some of the athletes (and volunteers) still have a craving for Big Mac’s.
In some ways it would have been awesome working in the Village during the Olympics but my experience thus far has been great as well. Especially the day our team took a picture with the VANOC CEO under a bright, sunny sky. That’s the kind of memory I’ll cherish forever.
On Sunday I continued my volunteer journey at the athletes’ village and much like my first shift at the Oval, I had to bump around before finding my team leader and the load zone area I was assigned to. Luckily I was not alone as I met two of my fellow team members who were both reporting for their first shift.
Ms. Acklands Grainger was one of twelve employees in all of Canada who won a volunteer berth (120 entries submitted) for the Olympics or the Paralympics. She was assigned the latter and, needless to say, was quite happy about it since all expenses were paid for by her company.
Mr. Mac is a nice, gentle fellow from North Vancouver who worked at Cypress during the Olympics. We actually met as we were walking out of the Canada Line station at the same time. He was so kind as to offer me and Ms. Acklands Grainger a pin from the city of North Vancouver as an introductory gift.
So the three of us hung around and met the night shift team leader who spent some time with us even though it was time for him to go home. After the sun came out, we finally met one of our team leaders, Yukon J, who took us on a tour around the village and introduced other members of our team.
We didn’t “work” much that day since we mostly observed how the system works and there were enough people to handle the work. As well, we were told about a warehouse sale just a few blocks away and a whole bunch of us volunteers decided to spend some time there. By the time we got back and finished our lunch – more on the food later – it was the end of our shift. Overall, an interesting start.
And talk about not being at the right spot at the right time. I was busy chatting with the driver of the Swiss curling team bus when the Canadian sledge hockey team came out to board theirs. Some of them, including captain Jean Labonte, were signing autographs on their own personalized hockey cards and handing them to a few of my colleagues. By the time I realized what happened, they had to leave and I was left empty handed. Here’s hoping for another chance later on this week.
After what this city experienced during the 2010 Winter Games people, understandably, wanted to maintain that Olympic spirit and atmosphere. And despite the massive size difference between the two games, it’s been very encouraging to see the amount of support Vancouver has shown for these Paralympics. Case in point: The Opening Ceremony.
Over 60,000 people bought tickets for the event. That, and the ceremony itself, far exceeded my expectations.
The evening began with a pre-ceremony show where the organizers engaged the crowd and asked that we all participate. Depending on the section and the seats, a colour poncho (Green, White, Blue and powder blue) was given along with a white pom-pom (with flashing lights) as part of the spectator kit. We were also taught certain “moves” that we needed to perform at certain points during the program. It was an interactive affair that turned out really well.
The ceremony was not flashy and the focus, rightly, was on the athletes and their triumph over adversity. Towards the end, Rick Hansen addressed the crowd and the Paralympians and offered his encouragement.
“Never give up on your dreams, and enjoy the Games, everyone.”
Then Lloyd Robertson (CTV News lead anchor) delivered a moving tribute to the late Terry Fox moments before his parents brought the Paralympic Flame into B.C. Place. The torch was passed around amongst a group of decorated Paralympians before the cauldron was lit by 15 year old Zach Beaumont, whose aspiration is to become a Paralympian himself.
Overall it was a sincere and inspiring presentation and a fitting prelude to these Paralympics.