Thursday, April 29, 2010

The end...

HOME SWEET HOME! I am officially back in my own bed and couldn’t be happier. My travels were relatively easy—no delays, a pedicure to pass time during my layover, and friendly flight attendants. I swear I woke up every five minutes on the flights though, thinking that I’d been out for at least three hours and that we just HAD to be home already.

Looking back now, I think I’m still trying to process the whole experience and figure out my feelings toward everything. I loved it, I hated it, I handled everything exactly right, I regret so much…I have no idea. In any case, I am so incredibly grateful to Cleanevent and to the SPTE department for this incredible opportunity. How many people can say that they have seen the behind-the-scenes of the Olympic Games, and witnessed some of the most historic moments in sports in the flesh?

Here’s what I do know: the living conditions made me more independent and more humble. The job made me more flexible and more resilient. The people made me more accepting and more willing to be spontaneous. And just being at the Olympics made me even more passionate about everything that the Olympic spirit entails. I am confident that with time, the bad things about the experience will fade away and I will be left with just fantastic memories and an improved version of myself.

Almost there...

Two days before the end of the Paras, my parents arrived in Whistler! I was so incredibly excited to see them after nearly three months of sketchy Skype communication…plus the fact that I was officially done with the trailers and would be sleeping in a hotel room until I got home didn’t hurt! I had to work the morning they arrived and had never been so antsy in my life. By the time the afternoon finally came, I was about to go crazy. FINALLY I got the last bus checked and could head into town to meet up with them. As expected, it was a terribly dramatic family reunion, complete with tears. I hadn’t quite realized how much I missed them until I got to see them again. We spent two days in Whistler so that I could show them all my favorite places: the Irish Pub, the sushi restaurant, my favorite bars. It was really special to get to share a part of my life that everyone at home seemed so far removed from.

On the second day in Whistler, we got to go to some of the Paralympic Alpine Skiing events. I was so grateful for this opportunity, because I’d been feeling guilty that I hadn’t made time to attend an event yet and knew it was something I’d really regret. It was absolutely incredible to see these athletes compete, and exciting that the spectator turnout was fairly good. The events were incredibly cool to watch, and an American won one. Getting to watch the American flag go up and heard the anthem play as I stood next to my mom was amazing. She is an Olympic fanatic too, and is the reason I have such a passion for the Games. I couldn’t have been happier that the day she was there ended in gold for the US.

The next morning, we left Whistler for good and headed to Vancouver. Leaving was harder than I expected it to be, but I knew that I would see a lot of these people again. Cleanevent is definitely a family-oriented company, and once you’ve worked there and done well, you’re part of the family. If I ever wanted to work for them again or to go visit any of them, I feel like I’d definitely be able to. Additionally, a lot of the staff is now visiting the US and some are even stopping in Columbia for a few days.

It was nice to spend some time in Vancouver—despite being in Canada for nearly three months, I hadn’t yet gotten to really explore anything outside of Whistler. We met up with my mom’s cousin who lives there. I’d never met him before (I actually didn’t even know he existed), and truly enjoyed having the opportunity to hear some of his stories. It’s amazing to have such a large extended family that there’s always someone nearby, no matter where you go. After dinner we headed to a casino—my first time! My small bit of money didn’t last long though…clearly my luck isn’t going to make me rich. The next morning we took a bus tour of the city—it was a quick way to see a lot! I fell in love with Stanley Park and the Granville Island Market. I liked Seattle more, but Vancouver definitely had a lot to offer.


The rest of the transition period before the Paras began was a whirlwind of activity. We’d all been so excited for the Olympics to end, but we quickly learned that there’s no rest for the weary! The office was busier than normal—with the rest of the interns on their “spring break”, venue managers needed a little bit of extra help. We were also in the process of having half our staff leave, which meant processing termination forms, collecting uniforms, reallocating shift times, and moving people’s bed assignments so that we could get rid of a few unnecessary trailers.

The Paralympics began in a quiet fashion—hardly anyone outside of Whistler or Vancouver even knew they were going on. It frustrated me that these athletes worked so incredibly hard to get to the highest level of competition with almost no recognition. And for them it’s even more challenging to get to an international event like the Paralympics because they receive little (if any) funding. I have to admit that if I had not had this chance to experience the Paras up close, I would have remained as ignorant about them as the general population. But now that I’ve seen them, it will be hard to forget. These athletes are absolutely amazing—the way they overcome challenges to participate in the sports they love is awe-inspiring. For instance, the visually impaired downhill skiers compete with a guide in front of them, verbally giving instructions as to which direction to turn. And they do this while reaching speeds of 60 mph. I can’t even imagine the courage or trust it takes to try this for the first time.

With the start of the Paralympics finally came some calm within the company. We had done an excellent job during the Olympics and now just needed to keep up the good work on a smaller scale. Two of our previous venues, Cypress Mountain and the Sliding Center, were no longer in use, and the rest had fewer events and shorter days. Even the Media Center, which continued to run 24 hours/day was an easier task, considering how empty it was. Despite the less challenging days, much of the energy seemed to have left the camp. Coops and Lyn had left just prior to the start of the Paras, as had many of everyone’s favorite residents. We were all just chugging along, waiting for the end to come. Only one more week of competition and then it’s time to leave!

It's time for Spring Break!

The week between the Games and Paras was absolutely amazing. Gabby and Joey worked out a schedule in which all the interns had four consecutive days off, and shared the same days off with the people they hung out with most. Sarah, Dolton, Tyler and I decided to turn this into a mini Spring Break and headed to Seattle for three nights.

We were lucky that one of the Cleanevent drivers was returning a rented van to Portland on the same day we were leaving. He was nice enough to drop us off at our hotel in Seattle and helped us avoid an 8-hour Greyhound trip. Our first night in Seattle was spent exploring the city and having dinner at an AMAZING seafood place right on the water. We wanted to go explore some of the city’s nightlife, but went to bed at 10 instead. It might seem lame, but none of us were passing up the chance to enjoy a nice hotel room away from our less luxurious living conditions…

The next day we started at the Public Market. I had no idea that it was so large or had such a huge variety of merchandise! It was absolutely incredible. From fresh fruits and gorgeous flowers to handmade jewelry and vintage photographs, it had EVERYTHING. Sarah and I absolutely fell in love and spent hours there. We also went to the first Starbucks, which was definitely the highlight of my day (seeing as I am a complete Starbucks addict). From there the only logical thing to do was continue shopping, so we hit the main strip of stores downtown. After being in a town as small as Whistler, having a variety of huge stores to choose from was a dream come true. We even got Girl Scout cookies! We finished the day off with dinner at a Mexican restaurant and hit the sack early again.

Our second full day in Seattle was another busy one, with more shopping, a tour of the Mariners Stadium (Safeco Field), a ferry ride, a visit to the Experience Music Project, and finally a trip to the top of the Space Needle. The view from the top was absolutely incredible, especially at sunset. Sarah and I totally splurged for dinner to celebrate an awesome time in Seattle—we went to Cheesecake Factory and ate until I literally thought we were both going to have to be rolled out of there. We even brought leftovers home with the hope of wanting them later, but with no luck.

We headed back to Whistler the next day on a Greyhound bus. It was SO hard to go back to Camp Cleanevent—I nearly started crying when we crossed the border and it hit me that I could no longer use my cell phone. Despite the fact that the trip made going back more difficult that staying would’ve been, I was definitely grateful for the break from work and for the opportunity to visit a city I’d never been to. Seattle was stunning—I had no idea how beautiful and full of culture and life it was. I absolutely fell in love with it and would move there in a heartbeat. Granted, there was no rain during our stay in Seattle, but I think just one sunny day there would make up for a month of rainy ones.

Week 2 of the Games!

Monday, February 22: Class

Our last class was on February 22 and was probably the most interesting. Our first speaker was Craig Lovett, the founder of Cleanevent. He has such persuasive speaking skills and just demands the attention of everyone in the room. He discussed Cleanevent, from its inception in 1987 to its recent sale to another Australian facilities management company. He talked longer than most of the other speakers we’d had, but never lost our interest.

My supervisor, Peter Cooper, was the second speaker of the day and the last of the program. He discussed organizing committees from a variety of perspectives that I had never really thought about. Some are run like divisions of government, while others operate as corporations. It all depends on the type of country in which the Games are being held. For instance, the Vancouver Organizing Committee is completely different from that of Sochi. Additionally, the organizing committees of different events (i.e., the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Pan-American Games) are great stepping-stones to careers in the Olympic World. I had only heard of some of these events, and had never considered what a great opportunity working for them could be.

Tuesday, February 23: Medals Ceremony in Vancouver!

I had a BIG surprise waiting when I got to work on Tuesday…Sarah and I had been planning on going to see The Fray perform at that night’s medals ceremony in Whistler. However, just as I was picking up our passes for the event, Coops offered me two tickets to the victory ceremony in Vancouver. Since I hadn’t gone to any of the ceremonies yet, we jumped on the opportunity. That afternoon, Coops helped us find a ride to Vancouver. We got to BC Place right as the ceremony was about to begin and found our seats, which were located in an awesome suite. The ceremony started with tribal dancers, which were really awesome. Then a local band took the stage and was actually very impressive. The crowd must have recognized them because they went crazy. Finally it was time for the medals to be given out. Three events were given that night—the most exciting presentation was for Ladies Ski Cross. A Canadian, Ashleigh McIvor, won that event. I have never seen anything as electrifying as the crowd when she stepped onto the medals platform and as “O Canada” began to play. It was such an incredible display of national pride that brought a tear to my eye, despite the fact that I’m not even Canadian.

Wednesday, February 24: IOC Speakers

Craig Lovett has some amazing contacts within the sport management industry, and really hooked us up with an amazing opportunity today. All of the interns got to leave work to go to the Media Center and hear two speakers. The first was Anthony Scanlon, who is currently the Head of Games Operations Coordination for the IOC. He described the IOC’s Management Approach, which was developed in 2003, and consists of the following responsibilities: 1) Framework Definition, 2) Monitoring, 3) Supporting and Assisting, and 4) Evaluating. He also discussed the role of the IOC, and of the organizing committees, in terms of protecting the brand identities of the corporate partners. This part was particularly interesting to me and prompted me to think about combined my marketing and SPTE degrees in the field of sports-related sponsorships.

The second speaker was Lisa Hindsen, formerly the Head of Sport for the IOC. She currently owns and operates a consulting firm. Her client at the time was the 2014 Sochi Olympic Committee, who she was assisting with “transfer of knowledge”. She said the biggest challenge was ensuring that they know the realities of planning an Olympic Games, rather than just the overly optimistic view a former organizing committee might try to present. Lisa also discussed the Games Readiness Integration Plan, which the IOC developed to help bring three different planning streams (venue, function, and client) into one concise planning effort. I found it extremely interesting how the IOC has such a step-by-step guide in place for host cities. Obviously, it cannot explain everything down to the smallest detail, but provides an incredible framework for the process. It was also great to see a female be so successful in an organization that seems to be dominated by men.

Saturday, February 27: Bobsled, Medals Ceremony, Usher concert

Saturday was my last day to really “experience the Games”. All I had wanted since I got to Canada was to see the US receive a gold medal, and it was my last chance. After [another] long day at work, Sarah and I headed to the Sliding Center to watch the finals of the 4-Man Bobsled. The American team had the last run of the event, and needed a strong time to hold off a very competitive time. We were holding our breath as they sped down the first track and we waited for the split time. By the first split, they already held a substantial lead that they just needed to maintain. I was praying that they wouldn’t crash, and was absolutely in awe when they successful crossed the finish line. We absolutely went crazy, especially when we connected the dots and realized we would see them receive their medal that night.

Saturday night, we went into Whistler to the Celebration Plaza to see the US get their medal. Seeing our athlete’s on the podium and hearing our national anthem play was one of the coolest moments of my life. Due to the poor design of the venue, I wasn’t able to see our flag being raised (except on the big screen), but the music alone was enough to give me chills. It was even more special because I got to share the moment with two other Americans, Sarah and Joey. Following the ceremony, Usher performed. It was an amazing show that was made even better by the fact that we were there for free. How many people can say they saw the US get a gold medal AND saw an Usher concert without having to pay for any of it? Saturday was definitely a day that made all the struggles of the internship worth it.

Sunday, February 28: Closing Ceremonies

Sarah and I went to a bar to watch the closing ceremonies. I absolutely loved the humor of several of the performances and the wonderful energy it portrayed. The entire country had such a great attitude about everything during the Games—even the things that went wrong like the original torch lighting—and the closing ceremonies just emphasized that.

The last day of the Games was bittersweet for me. On one hand, I was so relieved that they were finally done. The crazy schedules, the insane stress, the pure exhaustion…all gone with the end of the Games. But on the other hand, this incredible event that I’ve loved for my entire life had ended in a flash and I felt like I missed the whole thing. There was so much more I could’ve seen and done during those 17 days…and if I’m honest with myself, I know I saw as much as I could without driving myself crazy. But there’s the part of me that wishes I could’ve seen it all. It was just hard to find a balance between working the Games and being a fan of them.