Special Olympics – My experience Part I

SOWSG

It is a week and a half since the games are over and I don’t seem to have stopped talking about it. Special Olympics has affected my life in a way nothing ever has done before. I still wake up every morning dreaming of something related to Special Olympics and I seem to find a resemblance in each face that I see to someone I met in those couple of weeks!

I’ve had both good and bad experiences and I feel it is all a part of the learning curve. It was like a two week MBA crash course for me. Managing a crowd of 103 people is not a joke!

The big blow came to me a day before my delegation landed! My Head of delegation (HOD) had changed in the last minute. I was not sure if my new HOD will be as nice as the old one. I was regularly in touch with the old HOD and we really got on well with each other.

On the day the delegation arrived I went nice and early to the airport, grabbed something to eat and gathered crowd to go and meet my delegation at the aircraft! I even got to announce in the aircraft in Hindi and ask my delegation to stay back on the aircraft till everyone else disembarked. I had a real surprise a few minutes later when I found out my HOD was a 72 year old woman who was quite pleasant.

It took me four hours to get all the accreditation sorted out. The volunteers were really patient with us. Actually the best part of the games were the 30,000 volunteers. It was always service with a smile and nothing was beyond their limits! After about five hours of checking and rechecking everything we boarded the bus to our host town. For once I envied those DALs (Delegation Assistant Liaisons) with small delegations! Actually I was offered a choice of Singapore and India and I stuck to India. I knew it would be a big and challenging delegation so I didn’t want to hand it over to Prakash or Sumit – my other two Indian friends who were DALs as well, so I actually have nothing to complain about šŸ™‚

By the time we reached our host town, got all the accommodation sorted out and by the time I found a room for myself it was two in the night, and less than 24 hours into the job and I was already breaking rules šŸ˜¦ As a part of the training we received, I was told time and again that I was not supposed to share accommodation with athletes and here I was sharing an apartment with a couple of cute athletes! After finishing my daily report I went to bed totally knackered!

The host town people were very nice and they had loads of plans for us to keep us entertained! I had no time for breakfast and managed to eat just a couple of small pancakes walking around the apartments and trying to sort things out for everyone. Infact the first few days I had absolutely no time for breakfast, most of the days it would be just a tub of yoghurt! I had a wonderful bunch of athletes. They were so lovely and lovable that anyone who saw them actually got attached to them. The lunch on the first day was veg lasagne and chicken curry. At the end of the day people realised that the kids would prefer Indian food and since then the Host town crowd took care that the food was as Indian as possible, infact we even had lassi for a couple of days! We had a very positive complaint to make about the host town – “We got fed up of being fed!”

As a typical bunch of kids who got freedom all of a sudden, my little athletes too overate and started falling sick šŸ˜¦ They were training too hard and were not over the jet lag and that made it all the more worse! I had athletes dropping off like flies and so spent most of the time running around to hospitals and filling out forms! On the second day I broke another rule by accompanying an athlete alone to the hospital at one in the night!

I should tell you something else before I forget… We DALs were a special crowd! We got the best of the training and the toughest of the job! We were only 160 among the 30,000 volunteers who had access to everywhere and also had a special uniform of sky blue t-shirt! The rest of the volunteers had green (general volunteers), red (medical staff), yellow (event services) and white (officials). People were generally used to seeing the green t-shirt crowd so they used to keep thinking that we were a part of the delegation! Each time someone came to me and asked me how long I had to travel to reach their country my response with a smile would be “from Castleknock to Airport on the M50 just took me 15 minutes”! There were people who thought that we were getting paid to do this! We would have to explain patiently with a smile that not only were we giving up hour holidays we were also working 24×7 (actually make it 48×7) for the games!

Now back to the story…

The team landed on Sunday and we were not leaving host town till the next Friday. We did loads of different things. The best part though was the boat trip on the river Shanon from Athlone to the Hudson Bay hotel. Thirty boats took the delegation, the volunteers and the media to the hotel. The dinner that night was great but then I had a sick athlete that night too! I had a few problems here and there but nothing big enough to make me feel really bad. Then it happened on the Wednesday night! I had heard one of my coaches say to a volunteer “I want one of those jackets that you are wearing and one of the t-shirt and one of that and this… I want to show my people how to run world games!”. After this a volunteer from the group came and told me how each one of them just got one jacket and one t-shirt and how it was a souvenir for them. I had to talk to the HOD (Head of Delegation) regarding this. The HOD spoke to the AHOD and he spoke to the coach. So the coach was back on to me asking how dare I complain! He didn’t realise that I was standing in the crowd and listening to him when he said that! I went back to bed exhausted that night and didn’t care.

Thursday morning I woke up thinking it would be a better day but it turned out otherwise! I spotted a few new people walking around and I did not have enough time to question and find out. I had three athletes who had collapsed and only two stretchers! So after running around and getting a few things sorted I had the time to find out who they were. When I did I realised they were visitors from India who had no accreditation to be there in the first place. I had broken enough rules at that stage and was not ready to break anymore rules. I had to do the dirty job and tell them that they were not supposed to be there. I walked straight to the lady I spotted and introduced myself. I asked her if she had the accreditation to be there. Her answer was on the negative. Then I had to tell her that she was not supposed to be there in the first place and if she stayed back in Athlone she had to find accommodation for herself.

She asked me about tickets for the opening ceremony and I told her that I couldn’t promise her anything as tickets for the opening was like “Gold Dust”! I remember a few DALs (Delegation Assistant Liaisons) asking our Manager if she could manage a few and she said no! So I just repeated the information that I got. I didn’t realise that this lady was going to cause me grief a week later then!

Finally on Friday morning we left the host town and headed to Dublin with mixed feelings.

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