Yearning for some adventure and a month void of family and professional responsibilities combined with a desire to play a small part in this once in a lifetime opportunity, I headed for and my Olympic Games Maker roles as Athletics Training Venue Team member (Olympics) and Field of Play Team Member (Paralympics).
The dispersal of Games Makers at the London 2012 involved the largest movement of people since World War II. The Games Maker Army marching out of The Royal Naval College Live Site in Greenwich on the eve of The Opening Ceremony and the military presence in security at Stratford Gate was with synonymous to the resilience of The Home Front to support the war effort and typified everything that is great about British Culture.
Newham Leisure Centre, where I spend a large portion of my volunteer time during the Olympics was one of three Olympic training venues for athletics, specialising in track and sprints. Newham and Essex Beagles Athletic Club’s track, refurbished with an identical surface to The Olympic Stadium and boasting an indoor track and regular bus from The Athletes Village, became the training venue of choice for runners and jumpers away from the hustle and bustle of The Warm-up track at The Olympic Stadium.
Open two weeks prior to the start of competition, we initially hosted predominantly minority nations arriving early at the village whilst larger teams were held elsewhere. The Newham Games Maker Team always had at least one member who could speak their language or who had been posted there whilst serving in the military and coupled with our passion for athletics, technical knowledge and outstanding problem solving ability (including successfully repairing the leaking water jump with long jump plasticine), everyone received a heartfelt athlete-centred welcome.
During the Paralympic Games I was posted at The Warm-up Track and on some shifts in The Olympic Stadium during athletics. This was an amazing experience as along with the Olympic experience it allowed me to gain an insight into an athlete’s complete journey from their arrival in London to leaving the stadium post competition elated or disappointed. Guarding the double doors to post event control at The Olympic Stadium taught me so much about culture and communication as every nations’ press and athlete entourage re-wrote Aesop’s Fables and re-defined Charades in an attempt to gain access to their athletes.
People always ask if I met any famous athletes, “Did you meet Usain Bolt? Or Jessica Ennis?”, Yes probably most of them at some point and athlete spotting using our London 2012 Mobile apps became a bit of an obsession, but the opportunity to support and understand a diverse global population of athletes regardless of who they were and where they came from was far more rewarding. Personally meeting former athletes from my own generation, now coaching the world’s greatest athletes such as Alberto Salazaar, Maria Mutola and Leeroy Burrell was far more rewarding alongside welcoming smaller African countries to The Paralympics for the first time.
Frequently the only female on shift, preparing athletes’ ice baths became one of my regularly allocated tasks. As Newham was frequented largely by Caribbean nations, when Grenada’s Kirani James won the 400m Final and The Bahamas 4 x400m relay team won Gold over the USA it was rewarding to feel you might have made a small contribution to that performance.
London during Games Time was enlightening. You were transported to a litter free environment where everyone was friendly and cheerful, proudly decorated in national colours. Everything was recycled, you saw very little poverty and you randomly bumped into celebrities everywhere. I re-call two DLR journeys home, the train packed with spectators, one at The Excel Centre where the driver announced that Bradley Wiggins just won Gold and a second where the platform announcer at Stratford announced a race for the train between myself and three other Games Makers. Both events received a deafening roar from passengers which everyone participated in regardless of where they were from .
The Technical Rehearsal of The Opening Ceremony. The Olympic Stadium has a heartbeat that you can feel. No matter how many times you re-play Sundowner, re-mix or rearrange your speakers you cannot replicate the emotion of the resonance of 1,000 volunteer drummers that night. The challenges of past two years all became worthwhile just for those few moments.
The Womens’ 3000m steeplechase Final. Sitting in the athletes and coaches compound trackside with Constantin Nourescu the Tunisian coach of Habiba Ghribi who eventually finished in the silver medal position, one of their only 3 medals of the games. As a coach myself I shared all his emotions through every microsecond of that race and the trackside joy at the success of an Arab woman from a country that had previously had very little female representation in The Olympic Games.
The Biggest Challenge:
One of our warm-up track duties was to operate the OMEGA starting system, in order for sprinters to rehearse starts. Responding to various demands from athletes and coaches for longer or shorter holds as part of their athlete’s preparations, I had never dreamt that saying, “Ready, steady go” to the world’s greatest sprinters was so complicated, or terrifying!!
What I’ve personally gained form my Olympic and Paralympic volunteering experience is a vision to implement the Olympic spirit into my everyday life. Despite whatever challenges you face there is no place for negativity or unpleasantness and the majority of our Paralympic athletes are testament to this. Having experienced an inclusive sustainable vibrant environment filled with colour, cheer and friendliness we can all take a little of this and implement the legacy at no cost regardless of our background into our personal and professional existence.
Hopefully through my professional work in the North West I made a small contribution to improving the lives of many disadvantaged people by giving them opportunities they would otherwise not have had. I’ll never forget some of the characters we met in HMP Forest Bank the delight of Mohammed Parvez, who’d never been to London before enthusiastically reciting to me the list of Mosques he had visited whilst in London volunteering and his wide-eyed awe at the fact that “The one in Regents Park had a restaurant in!”.
What I personally came away from both the Olympic and Paralympic Games with is a heightened sense that globally there is still so much untapped potential in sport and its power to change the lives of disadvantaged people across the world. The opportunity to welcome some of the most politically challenged civilisations to London, despite my appalling language skills has filled me with pride. This was without a doubt the most unforgettable summer of my life.