Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Adventures and musings of a Pan Am Volunteer

Pan Am - Toronto 2015 - what does that say to you?
Are you like the millions of other people who up until 18 days ago had no interest or even any idea what these games entail?
Were you one of the naysayers?  Poo Pooers?? Complaining about something you had a vague notion about or repeating what the media had to say right up until that first moment at the opening ceremonies?
And then... shazam.  What a ride.

I initially volunteered way back in June 2014.  And did my online interview in August.  And then waited...and waited...and waited...and wondered...and had just about given up when at Easter this year, while I was visiting my parents in NS and I got the email.  Role offered - Flag Co-Ordinator, Medals ceremony.  A quick look at the PDF link confused me as it stated Flag Bearer.  Me.  Somehow I thought it was probably meaning that I was actually going to be like ironing the flags, or repairing them. After all I am a seamstress.

Well I wasn't far off.  I actually was behind the scenes along with 2 or 3 other co-ordinators prepping the flags for the medal ceremony.  That entails steaming!!  Lol.

I'm not going to expand on what I actually did on prepping the flags.  I am going to share with you my overall experience and feelings about the 16 days I spent as a Pan Am Volunteer.  I do not think I can easily sum it all up.  But I will try.

I met so many wonderful people.  Everywhere I went if I was wearing my orange shirt or toting my backpack someone would strike up a conversation or high five me or ask me what I was going to be doing or what my role was.  Not once did I encounter any negativity from the general public.  I did my best to encourage them to check out a venue or watch on tv.  After all we were 23000 ambassadors for the games.

From my first encounter at the accredition site to walking into my venue for the first time all I felt was excitement. 

And love.  I loved every single minute of this.  I loved my venue - even with the humidity, sweating, shooting.  I loved my team.  The young ones, the silly ones, the supervisor, my other flag people.  We worked so well together.  We gelled.  I made (I hope) life long friends.  I didn't want to say goodbye.  We've made plans to get together before the end of August and I can't wait.  

From the first minute I arrived at the venue and was greeted with a smile and a welcome and sometimes a gift.  From the venue manager down to the people watching the gates everyone was happy, friendly and outgoing.  

I met volunteers from other countries who traveled here on their own dime, so they could take part in this amazing experience.  I also met many people who have done this very thing a few times - Vancouver Olympics, London Olympics, European Games, Canada Games.  How awesome must that be to travel and work at a games.  What experience they brought to our games.  And what awesome people they are to share their knowledge and expertise with the rest of us.  With smiles on their faces and love in their hearts.  Fred from Scotland, Colin from England.  Manwar from the middle east.  So many many more than that but those were some that I personally met and learned from.

Every where I went someone would say hello, someone would smile and say thank you.  Thank you for being a volunteer. What a great feeling.

I chatted with busdrivers from Quebec, athletes from Colombia, Peru, USA, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Argentina to name a few.  OPP officers from all over the area.  Even the police on duty had a smile and a quick word.

And the pins! First day at the venue our medals team were asking me about my pins on my lanyard.  They had never heard of trading.  I gave them their first pins and then they were off.  It gave them something to do during the hurry up and wait times.  Pin trading is a great icebreaker.  Complete strangers will stop you and ask to trade.  Athletes will offer you a pin.  I enjoyed watching the kids collections grow and the little rivalry that grew out of trading.  The meet and greet that Leah had organized before the opening ceremonies had a large amount of   trading.  So much fun.  Walking down the street people would admire the pins and ask about them.

The team.  I cannot believe that we had a unique team and experience but apparently that is what happened.  People heard about the Dream Team and came to visit to see for themselves.  I have never bonded so fast with such a large diversity of people as I did in those first 8 days.  Yes we were in a small venue and a small tent but I like to think that we just gelled.  We worked together cohesively.  No egos, no arguing, no prima donnas.  All for one.  One team, one dream.  I love these people. They are my family now.

The other volunteers.  Every single one brought something to these games and together we made these games a success.  People gave up work, family, vacation time to stand by a gate, to collect meal tickets, to wipe sweat off of a volleyball court, to check in other volunteers, to handle athletes, to drive here there and everywhere, to steam flags in 35C weather or stand out in pouring rain while handing out medals, to accredition, training, tech crew, media crew, setting up and taking down.  I personally didn't hear any complaining.  Just smiley faces.  And pleasant greetings.  Awesome.

I never wanted it to end.  I can say that this was the best experience of my life.  The ultimate highlight for me was seeing the flags and hearing the anthems of the gold medal athlete's country.  And hearing teammates sing out loud and proud.  My first ceremony I cried and my last ceremony I cried.  I had the privilege of carrying the bronze winner's flag in the last ceremony and to my great thrill it was the Canadian Flag. It didn't matter to me that it wasn't gold I was so thrilled to carry that flag out on my last shift.

The Canadian athletes who came back and thanked us for  being there. The USA gold medal winner who felt that our tent was a fun and relaxing place to hangout. On and off for days.  And meeting Pinball Clemons.  What an amazing role model/ambassador he is for the games and for our city.  He made me feel so special and he thanked me for doing this.

Every single 22999 volunteer who made this game a success with their sweat and hearts.  I thank you for being my friends, for accepting me as I am and for making this a once in a lifetime experience.  I hope that we can get to do this again sometime.  Maybe 2024???



  1. I agree 100% with everything you said! I was a Sport Desk Supervisor and our team had a lot of contact with the athletes and coaches. We were of similar ages and work ethics and had a great time together! I never imagined that it would be as awesome an experience as it turned out to be. I shall be watching Rio closely to see "our" athletes, every one of them from every one of the 26 countries that we had the privilege to be with for 2 unbelievable weeks. I'm suffering PanAm withdrawal for sure! (I'm glad, however, that it wasn't as hot as it has been the last couple of day!)

    1. I think I would have melted for sure. I miss everything and suffering withdrawal too.