Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All for a Cup of Water

“Je suis nerveuse.”
From my video interview

This summer Toronto will be hosting the 2015 Pan Am Games, which are held every four years. The games are a great chance for athletes from North, South and Central America to tone their skills and fitness before heading to the Olympics next year. I am not sure the important burghers of this important city—who fume at the inconvenience of a Sunday morning 10K race—know what they are in for.

Although I chose one of the words from the Olympic motto – Higher – as my goal word for 2015, I am really the opposite of an Olympic athlete. I am not competitive. If I were ever closing in on the finish line at the front of the pack (this takes pace in my fantasy world) I would probably step aside and let the person behind me go first, just to be polite. To me, the chance simply to participate in triathlon and endurance athletics on the scale that I have is nothing less than a gift. Every time I start a race, I marvel that I am there, and that such a structure of organizers and volunteers exists just so I can be part of the event.

Since my invitation to join the Canadian athletic cohort at this year’s Pan Am games was not forthcoming (my personal best time for the Olympic tri distance being about twice that of the pros), I decided to sign up to be a volunteer. It would be, I thought, a good way to get involved behind the scenes and see the events close up; also to give something back to the sporting world that has been so patient and welcoming to me over the years.

Laura handing out water/eau at Tremblant
I had in mind passing out cups of water in the marathon or pointing turns in the course, maybe while wearing a big foam finger. When I registered however, I found that the machinery in place to process the 20,000-plus volunteers is more complex than anything I could have imagined. The volunteer questionnaire made me feel as if I were applying to join the RCMP. They wanted to know basic ID-level things, like my driver’s license number and was I ever on anybody's no-fly list, but also what skills I had that would be of service to them. I’m not sure I have any. I like athletics and I want to help out; I can hand out water. That was about it. I love to write, I mentioned; maybe I can write something for your event.

I love to write.
Maybe I can write something for your event.
Today I passed another milestone in the process as I took the online video interview to tell them more about myself. This was turning into one complicated cup of water. After getting the spycam on my laptop all set up, I answered some questions before the actual interview started. One of the questions asked if I wanted to help welcome athletes in French. Yes (oui), I replied. I am fairly comfortable in basic French, and could certainly point out where the washrooms were and how to get to the CN Tower. At my last volunteer gig in Mont Tremblant Quebec, I spent several hours on the run course calling out “Eau!” to let the French athletes how I was holding water and not something else. They seemed to understand.
I started answering the video questions, pointing out that as well as being a writer, I was a very good editor and in fact had noticed a mistake in the copy on one of their previous web pages. Probably should have let that go, but sports people are notoriously nonchalant about grammar, and I wanted to let them know that some people notice these things.

I told the camera that I was at ease in front of large crowds, because of my background as a singer. Maybe I will get to sing O Canada at a lawn bowling session.
All of a sudden a lady came on the screen firing French questions at me. For all I understood of her she might as well have been speaking Inuktitut. I gleaned that she was asking me how I would welcome someone to Toronto and make them feel at home. When my turn came to talk, I mumbled in French that must have sounded something like:

“It is a long time that I have not speaken French, but if I had before me one athlete I would have spoke the French to that personage and have make them to feel in their home. However sitting before of my computer screen I am a nervous woman. Alive I am better.”
So I won’t hold my breath waiting to hear from the French volunteer organizers. But maybe there is still hope for me in a role in Canada’s other official language.

Really I would be happy to do anything, from Sponge Boy at the beach volleyball events to Sweat Mopper in the weightlifting room. I await their call.