I know we are now in February, but as I said in my last post I wanted to have some posts that share my experiences as a volunteer during London 2017. It still feels like yesterday that I dressed in pink and strutted off to QEOP to face my first shift as a Runner for the Para athletics.
I said my goodbyes at work, and made my way over to the Park on the train. My heart was beating fast and I was nervous. What did I have to do? Will they make me use the radio? What if I am the only one that doesn’t know what they are doing? Will I look OK in this uniform? Will I make a mistake? All these thoughts were racing through my mind as I got off the train and made my way through Westfield, down past the Aquatics Centre, past the Podium Cafe and finally to Workforce Check In. I made my way towards the rest of the Runners all due to check in and got to the desk, gave them my name and I was handed my Check In Card and my very first pin badge – this was the first of MANY – and gathered my thoughts on the bench nearby.
I saw a girl who had already been able to collect the rest of her kit as she was clocking off from the morning so we had a little chat about that. Then I saw someone else who had “Venue Transport Team” on their accreditation and started talking to him – he was John. He had already been doing some shifts so I felt relieved to find someone not only on my team, but who could lead me in the right direction of where we had to meet.
We walked towards the security desk where our bags were checked (they never did bother checking pockets so I could have got anything in really) and our accredication checked also. I was led through into what we called Workforce which was the huge dining area – catered for by the Co-op – which was where all staff had a voucher to get their meals and to have a coffee. I followed John and the others and we made our way over to the other people in Team Transport, where I recognised Marissa from our WhatsApp group.
I was added to the group after our training on 1st July and had been enjoying seeing the photos from the four days before I got there of the team doing their job during the pre-event shifts where it was mainly athletes coming to train in the long throw area up at North Park Lawn – NPL – and then back to the stadium to get their buses back to the hotel as nothing was going on inside the main stadium yet. They had had Newham Leisure Centre as well, but after the UAE athlete was tragically killed there on the first day when the cage for the shot put collapsed on him, that area was closed off meaning the QEOP was the only designated area for athletes to come and train.
So when I saw Marissa, I introduced myself and she was surprised I knew who she was until I explained who I was and the penny dropped. Marissa was the first person I had seen in the full (well, full-ish before we got the rest of it) kit from the first day – looking great in her high visibility top, along with clipboard and radio, ready for it!
We sat around and chatted for a few minutes until Sally arrived who was one of our bosses, and gave us a brief for the shift and allocated our areas. I was allocated Bridge 4 (which I already knew was the best place as the athletes came in there!) and I was due to go there with Liv and Keith. As most of us were fairly new, Sally said she would walk us to each of the load zones and we started with South Park Lawn – SPL – where the Runners allocated there swapped with the morning shift. Next stop was Bridge 4 after a bit of a walk over the canal on a temporary bridge onto the island where the stadium is, then down and the excitement of being allowed to walk over the warm up track was so exciting for me as only a week or so before I had been watching the athletes warm up when I came to watch the Anniversary Games.
We approached Bridge 4 and my heart was beating fast. I was finally here. It was bright sunshine, everything looked amazing and I was ready. We had a chat about what we needed to do there and essentially we had to keep a track of the numbers getting off the coaches from the hotels on the sheet in the clipboard. We were given the radio from the morning shift, and also took their high vis tops to put on as we were dealing with traffic and needed to be visible (as if our pink outfits weren’t enough) and Sally went off to take the others to Car Park 1, NPL, Car Park 2 and VIP.
We were introduced to Gavin who was in charge of all the busses coming in and going out of Bridge 4, along with Andrea (who I recognised as one of the people who trained us on 1st July) and Lee who were our bosses on the load zone. Liv, Keith and I got to know each other and discussed what we do in normal life and how we got to where we were that day.
We were very diligent with our counting – even though we later found out that it wasn’t really required as the bus drivers were all counting them off the busses anyway. Busses were coming in and leaving every 30 minutes (if memory serves!) and so we would let athletes know who had come a bit early or just missed a bus when the next ones were, and then confirmed which bus they needed to get onto to get back to their hotel as there were a few different destinations.
I remember seeing the fastest para-athlete in the world on that first day – Jason Smyth who is a visually impaired athlete from Ireland, and the T13 100m and 200m world record holder and multiple gold medalist – who was asking directions. I did feel a little star struck when I saw him, but kept my cool as I remembered that we must remain professional. Some of the coaches were normal coaches, and some had a wheelchair lift on the side which was interesting to see as I don’t think I have seen ones like that before.
During a lull between busses leaving and arriving, I spotted a familiar face again and this time it was someone I didn’t expect to see – it was Liam Malone. As I said in one of my earlier posts, Liam was someone who I only knew from Rio, and I knew he wasn’t due to compete as he was injured. I was surprised to see him there but I wasn’t going to let my chance pass by and I called his name and he answered so we had a little chat.
I said how disappointed I was to see that he wouldn’t be competing against Jonnie Peacock in the 100m finals, and of course he agreed as he was gutted he couldn’t race but he said that he was here to commentate. I asked him for a photo to which he was more than happy to oblige and he said he was going to get an Uber to go meet his friends and went to sit down on a chair. It took a few moments and then I realised that he wouldn’t be able to get an Uber down the Loop Road because it wouldn’t have the correct security clearance or accreditation – somehow I managed to remember that from my training! – and so I went back over to him and let him know that he needed to go down to Pudding Mill Lane and get it from the road near there where public access for cars were allowed.
He thanked me and went on his way. Meanwhile, the others at Bridge 4 had no idea who he was which surprised me, so when I said he had won two golds and a silver in Rio, they didn’t even belive he had a disability. He had his jeans and day legs on, so of course you wouldn’t instantly notice that he was a below the knee amputee. Gavin noted he had a nice arse to which I agreed – he was looking very gorgeous indeed!
I proudly posted my photo of us onto Facebook and called Mum and Dad to share my news – what an amazing first shift it had turned out to be! The rest of the shift we chatted to athletes that had come to get their busses and also chatted to bus drivers and the pink shuttle drivers. The pink shuttle was a service that ran between Bridge 4, then over to SPL for the short throw warm up area, then over to NPL for the long throw warm up area and then back to Bridge 4 to get the athletes around the park, and of course to take us round when we couldn’t be bothered to walk.
Other hightlights for that first shift were getting my first pin badge – this was from one of the coaches from Hungary as I had helped him out – and realising that the athletes were all just really lovely. I don’t know what I had expected really, but I didn’t think they would interact with us as much as they did. Every athlete was more than happy to have a chat with us while waiting for their bus and it made us all feel very special.
Time went pretty fast in the end of that first shift, and we went to eat at the end of the shift in Workforce and then all left at the same time, after going to Workforce Check In to get the rest of our uniform. My shift on that first day was 2pm until 9pm and leaving the park we were all on a high and talking to each other about our experiences and wondering what the uniform was going to be like when we got it home to put it all on properly for the first time.
I got home, had a bath and got my bag ready for the next day – I was working from 7am until 3.30pm and then had tickets for the opening ceremony and first session – London 2017 hadn’t officially begun but it had for the Venue Transport Team and I was absolutely loving it.