I know we’re all enjoying the Olympics right now and the Paralympic Games are starting on March 7 in Sochi. The 2012 Paralympics in London generated much enthusiasm for this event. I’ve been reading and tweeting and writing to get us all ready.
My friend Margaret was a volunteer at the London Olympics and was able to attend some events. I asked her to share her thoughts.
First, can you tell us what events at both the Paralympics and Olympics you attended?
I was at the stadium for an evening of athletics during the Olympics with my niece, great nephew and son. We had started the day in Victoria Park where there was a live event and lots of activities and live screens showing events.
The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic. Our seats were high up and we did not leave them until the events finished as to get there we had to climb 100 steps! However, we had a perfect view of everything and could see what was happening. We saw Usein Bolt compete in heats. One of my great nephew’s friends was given his hat which made the event even more memorable.
I had tickets to two venues for the Paralympics. Tickets that cost me just £5 each and a travel card to get there that cost more than the ticket price. Great value for seniors!
I watched the athletics at the Paralympics as well. We saw David Weir progress to his final in the wheelchair race. We also watched the high jump and the amazing skill of competitors who were using prosthetics. It was a magnificent and humbling experience to see such determination and commitment from these worthy athletes.
On the second visit I was at the pool with my brother in law and his friend. Words fail me at this point. How can I describe the electric atmosphere and the wonderful packed venue which supported each and every swimmer as they came to their podium; to see their dedication and seamless transfer from prosthetic limb to missing limb as they readied for their race. We saw many UK swimmers and were especially excited about seeing the close races between Ellie Simmonds and Victoria Arlen. Magic!
What were your duties as a volunteer during the Olympics?
During the Olympics I was a Games Maker in the polyclinic based in the Olympic village. I was one of a team of about 10 reception staff at any given time. We managed three floors of clinics which included dental, optometry, sports medicine, massage and physiotherapy suites as well as podiatry, radiography, primary care and an emergency room all supported by pharmacy services. During 4 weeks of activity the clinics had 13,000 encounters! Our job was to make sure everyone got to the right place and was made to feel welcome. This facility was for athletes and their support teams of coaches, doctors etc. The focus changed a lot during the actual games as many of the treatments were associated with events. We had a few experiences of athletes being told they were not able to take part due to injury or illness.
What was the atmosphere like at Olympic Village?
The atmosphere in the village was fantastic. I started my duties on one of the first days people arrived in the village and really watched it come alive for two weeks before the games started. There were welcome ceremonies for each team and 207 countries were made welcome. The ceremony was exactly the same for each country and I have to admire the performers who faultlessly put on the same show over 50 times! During each ceremony the flag of the respective country was raised and their anthem sang and their representative signed the peace wall.
Were all the athletes from different countries spending time together?
It was very clear in the village whose team came from where. They mixed together in the massive dining hall and leisure areas. There was a real buzz about the place and it was great fun to walk around and come across events! One day there were plastic team ducks on one of the water areas! On this day I also bumped into Misty Hyman! We had to be very careful during our time in the village to respect privacy of the competitors as this was their home for the duration and where they let of steam and relaxed. We were not allowed to ask for autographs or photos, although they were often offered to us. We also were able to collect a number of pin badges from various countries. I was given one by a team member from Burkino Faso who had been into the clinic 3 or 4 days in a row for when I was on reception. He came especially to bring it to me!
The village was a very active and vibrant place with sculptures and greenery decorating the vast area. I am pleased to see that following the games this large site will be offered for affordable housing complete with the already built school and, of course, the health centre!
How did the atmosphere at the Paralympic compare to that at the Olympics?
I think it was better. Everywhere people were saying how amazing this event was. A great deal of understanding and insight is the legacy of these games for those doubting its attraction. My grandchildren, loved watching the Paralympics and tried their best to do blind high jump! I have to say for me, who has always expected inclusivity, it was heartening to see people actually realising that anything was possible regardless of disability! To discuss with young children why some people have no legs, arms or vision as well as why some need more help than others gets this message into reality. The message for them is impressive, I hope they can hold onto it!
What was your most magical moment at either Games?
Having the chance to go to the dress rehearsal of the Olympic opening ceremony and how my breath was taken away as soon as I approached the stadium; witnessing Great Britain succeed at the swimming Paralympics was magical; seeing Usein Bolt achieve so much with my family members supporting his country. For me the change of atmosphere in London where people smiled, spoke to you and genuinely showed interest was significant. I am so glad I was involved and met some wonderful people giving freely of their time and energy.
THANKS MARGARET FOR TAKING THE TIME TO RECOUNT THIS EXPERIENCE FOR US!