The life of an Olympic and Paralympic Games Maker

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Many of us enjoyed watching the Olympics and Paralympics this summer, and some of us even had the opportunity to go and sit in the crowd. But a select group of privileged people got to see the Games from the inside: the Games Makers. Dancing Giraffe talked to Emma Shepherd, a Games Maker from Chelmsford to hear just what being on the inside was like.

DG: What exactly did your role as a Games Maker entail?

Emma: I was a Multi-Faith Team Member working alongside Chaplains in the Athletes’ Village. There was a Multi-Faith Centre in the Village catering for people of all faiths. I mainly worked on the reception desk welcoming athletes, officials, coaches and other volunteers, showing them around and telling them all about the different services we had on offer during the Games. I also prepared the rooms for different people’s needs, and helped with administration.

DG: How did you get involved, and why did you want to do it?

Emma: I filled in a Games Maker application form back in September 2010 but it was not until October 2011 that I was informed that I had been invited for an interview. This took place at the Excel Centre in London Docklands and consisted of a forty minute interview conducted by another volunteer. Then I had another wait before I found out in March 2012 that I had been selected to be a Games Maker at both the Olympics and Paralympics. Two days of training followed during which I was shown around the Athletes’ Village, then given some Role Specific Training where I found out what I would be doing at the Games.

I wanted to be a Games Maker because I was confident that Britain could put on the greatest Olympics and Paralympics the world has ever seen and I wanted to be able to help achieve that, even if it was just in a little way. I have always enjoyed volunteering and this seemed like a fantastic opportunity to gain such an amazing experience of the Games.

DG: Did you enjoy the experience? What did you enjoy most?

Emma: I absolutely loved the experience. Nothing could beat the feeling of pulling on the uniform every morning knowing I was going to help put on the greatest show on earth – it was such a privilege.

I enjoyed working with the other members of my team the most. Although I was the only one there who was not a Chaplain I was always welcomed and felt like a valued member of the team. I listened to their stories built up over many years of Chaplaincy work, we laughed every day, and I met so many great people who I would never have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.

DG: What did you not enjoy?

Emma: Although some of the days were a bit slow with not very many people to visit the Chaplaincy, at no point did I not enjoy being a volunteer. There was always a Chaplain around to talk to or an Athletes’ Village newspaper to read, and during the Games we watched the sport together on the TV in the Multi-Faith Centre lounge.

DG: Was there any difference between being at the two events, the Olympics and the Paralympics?

Emma: The atmosphere in the Athletes’ Village felt different at the Olympics and Paralympics. During the Olympics the athletes were so focused on their performance they very rarely walked around the village with anyone else and they did not make eye contact with anyone – they were very much in their own world. However at the Paralympics, even though the athletes were focused on their events, they went around the Village in groups chatting and would smile to anyone passing. It was much more friendly and relaxed.

DG: Were you able to see any of the events?

Emma: The only sporting event I went to see was a session of athletics at the Paralympics as my sister had managed to win tickets in the original public ballot.

However, I was very lucky as I was given a ticket for the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games. The Ceremony started at 9pm and at 8.55pm I did not have a ticket. However, some of us volunteered for an extra shift giving out fruit and cereal bars to the athletes on their way into the stadium. A member of the Australian team approached a Rabbi I was working with because he had lost his team and did not know where to find them. After we’d helped him, the Australian man asked the Rabbi if we were following them to the Stadium after all the countries had gone through. We said no, as we didn’t have tickets. At this the Australian asked how many volunteers there were in our group and, after being told there were seven of us, reached into his wallet and pulled out his last seven tickets to the Closing Ceremony and gave them to us. After this he disappeared off to find his teammates having made seven people very happy. The excitement did not stop there because when my group reached the Stadium we were directed to the very front row in the block in front of the Royal Box!

My luck continued into the Paralympics when I won a ticket to the Opening Ceremony in a ballot. That was absolutely amazing too, especially as where I was sat meant that Stephen Hawking kept coming past me when he went onto the stage to speak.

DG: Did you get to meet any Olympians? Anyone we might have heard of?

Emma: The night of the Closing Ceremony I was lucky enough to meet many of the Team GB equestrian, rowing and cycling teams including Nick Shelton, Zara Philips, Jason Kenny, Laura Trott and Sir Chris Hoy.

I did not meet any Paralympics GB athletes although I did see Ellie Simmonds walking through the Village. However Mohamed Farhat Chida from Tunisia visited the Multi-Faith Centre after attending Muslim Friday Prayers having won a Gold Medal in the 400m T38 class in a world record time. He was a really nice man and even let me hold his medal.

DG: What feedback did you receive from visitors to the Games on what they thought of London?

Emma: Everyone I spoke to during the Games, especially when I was wearing my Games Maker uniform commented on how friendly London was. Everyone was willing to give directions to those who looked lost and for the first time people spoke to each other on the Tube and exchanged smiles. It was a really nice atmosphere.

DG: What did you think of the Games overall? Has your view of the Olympics and Paralympics changed?

Emma: The Olympic and Paralympic Games are incredible and that is not just down to the sporting prowess demonstrated during the weeks of the competition. The stories of the personal sacrifice of the athletes and the hurdles some have to overcome to even play sport, whether that be because of disability or lack of funding or equipment, let alone play sport at such an elite level is so inspiring. Also witnessing the effort and hard work so many people put in to make it such a success has been breathtaking – it has been all-consuming for so many people for such a long time.

I have always watched the Olympics when it has been on the TV and some of the Paralympics in the past, however I have always felt rather detached from what I was watching. Now, having heard the stories of the athletes and watched some of them training round the Village while I was working, it has really opened my eyes to the human side of the Games.

DG: What do you hope the Games’ impact will be now they’re over? Do you think they’ll leave a lasting legacy?

Emma: I really hope the Games leave a positive lasting legacy on Great Britain and the world. Firstly, I hope watching the Olympics and Paralympics have inspired people to find a sport they enjoy doing and the drive to participate in it to the best of their ability.

Secondly, I hope the Paralympics have positively changed peoples’ attitudes to disability. I hope able-bodied people will now realise that although most disabled people cannot run like Oscar Pistorius or Jonnie Peacock, they are capable of so much more than many may previously have thought. I hope everyone will now be treated with dignity and respect.

Lastly, I hope the Games and the overwhelmingly positive reaction all the Games Makers received has inspired others who may not have considered volunteering in the past to step forward and give it a go. I know people can get so much out of volunteering, even if they only have a little amount of time to give a week or a month, and I hope the nation has realised this over the summer and more people want to get involved in their communities or with national or international charities and organisations.

I really hope the Olympics and Paralympics will have a lasting legacy on Great Britain. The signs look good at the moment with increased participation in sport and an increased interest in Paralympic sport, however only time will really be able to tell.

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