Sunday, July 1, 2012

Olympic Diaries part 1: Preparation, and a little history (mine and Olympic)

In 2004 I did massage at the Beach Volleyball venue of the Olympics.  During that time, I wrote an Olympic Diary for Massage Magazine (read it here) and 2 articles for the Valley News of New England. This go round, I haven’t found a place to publish…but now I have a blog! So I decided to write anyway, since people don’t know a lot about the work involved, and like to ask questions.

 First, some background. The Olympics is staffed by almost all volunteers. There will be 70,000 volunteers from around the world this time in London. The Para Olympics are always held in the same city, right after the Olympics. London was actually the first place to have the Para Olympics in 1948. London has hosted twice before, 1908 and 1948.

 I’ve worked at 2 Olympics before: 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City and 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. In 2002, all my shifts were before the Olympics started. I worked at the Olympic Village, the Olympic Family Hotel, and doing chair massage at the Main Media Center. I’d never been to Salt Lake before and I loved the diversity of being at 3 venues. I met amazing therapists from all over the world and I was hooked. In 2004, I sweated my butt off in Greece. That was a very different experience because I was stationed at Beach Volleyball and it was mostly an all Greek medical staff and myself. I’m not gonna lie, it was incredibly lonely and challenging for me. But I was treated to incredible generosity and got an amazing appreciation for life in another country…watching the US from afar.

 This summer is, again, completely different. I’m going to London, where I’ve been before. They speak English (kinda). And I’ve been assigned to the tennis event, held at Wimbledon. I work at the US Open tennis event in New York every year. So I’ll actually be working on the same players I see every year…except, I may also be working on male players. My shifts are almost all before the Olympics start. So I will see plenty of athletes, but not a lot of matches unfortunately. And there will only be 2 massage therapists on duty at a time, so meeting a lot of International therapists won’t be too possible either. I’m working 9 shifts, about 9-11 hour shifts potentially.


What’s the application process?

 I apply to the Olympics the day after the last Olympics ends. So right after Vancouver was over, was when the volunteer part of opened up. It’s a lengthy process of filling out forms, getting vetted, being interviewed, etc. And if I’d been a local, there would have been lots of training, more volunteering and other warm up events to work. As it was, a lot of my training was online and a little more will happen after I arrive. I’ve been getting updates for the past 2 years about where they were in the selection process, but I didn’t officially get accepted until, I think, early in 2012. I got my schedule/venue position maybe in April, and details were still coming in up til about June. Little scary trying to plan.

What do you get? Money? Housing? Free tickets?

 Nope. None of the above. I had to book and pay for my own travel and housing. The Olympics did not help at all. I get free local travel around London with my work pass. I get a uniform (which, in this case, seems to include a bag, hat, jacket and umbrella! Hello London). I get a meal on my work day. I hope I can eat it! (see Things I don’t like to talk about, Food Allergies blog). And hopefully I’ll get to see some tennis for free while walking around.  We don’t get any tickets to events. I know everyone thinks that’s unfair, but there are 70,000 volunteers and about 200,000 folks on staff. So giving out 400,000 free tickets seems like a bad idea to me, who used to do ticketing!

You get nothing?! Why on Earth do you do this?

  Well, that’s a good question! I grew up with the Olympics. I jumped around the living room shadow boxing with Mohammad Ali. I did gymnastics on my coffee table with Olga Korbut. I crushed on swimmer Mark Spitz. I wanted to be an Olympian and be part of a team. I wanted to represent the USA. I love seeing all countries from around the world together and not fighting. Everyone competes on an even playing field and everyone gets along. I love seeing athletes who’ve spent their entire lives training for 1 moment, achieve their goals. As humans, when do we EVER get to see the exact moment and reaction when someone’s dreams come true? I find it incredibly moving every time. Every time. Watching athletes with gold medals listen to their national anthem played and seeing the moment they fully realize that that anthem is being heard by millions because of THEM. It’s priceless. There’s just nothing like the Olympics and getting to work on athletes that are the best in the world. In the world. Not the best volleyball player in your school, or the county, but THE WORLD. Talking to them a little about their life, their habits, their journey. It’s an honor and a blessing to be there and support them. I know I couldn’t do it. Not in any way, shape or form.

You’ve been losing your mind recently, preparing for the journey. Why?

 Oi. Well. I was watching the cost of airline tickets rise while waiting for my schedule to be listed. I got my work schedule about a month before getting the dates for my training…which I can’t attend because I will have already started my job 5 days before!
 I’m going from doing about 10 hours of massage a week, to 10 hours of massage a DAY…for 9 days (almost) straight.
 I’m trying to book tickets, travel, fun stuff to do, and a lot more, without knowing what anything means, because English in America is not English in England! I’m very much a planner, and then adjust accordingly. I like to do a ton of research beforehand. Eg: when I was preparing for Greece, I studied Greek for 4 months before I went. I’m SO glad I did. But it didn’t stop me from still getting horribly lost all the time (an almost daily occurrence in my life).
 The last time I went to England was 18 years ago. No internet, no cell phones, and no clue. I went to study Shiatsu at the European Shiatsu school in Devon, England and then travelled all over the UK, mostly by myself. I was really, really sad and lonely. I had some of the worst, “getting lost” experiences of my life. I don’t want to repeat that. So I’m thrilled that this time I have people to stay with, play with, and internet to help. But it also means I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to do better this time.

 If you have more questions, I’m happy to answer them. Otherwise, my next entry may appear after I’m in England starting July 13th. Send good thoughts!

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