Monday, February 22, 2010
Sooooooo, how exactly DO you go about recounting an adventure such as the Olympics. I didn't take enough pictures, I should have blogged as I went instead of waiting until the end, and I'm still scatter brained and exhausted even after spending the weekend pretty much asleep. But I want to share some highlights and since this is a blog and not me talking incessantly, I don't have to worry about boring you! You can just stop reading!
Easily the best part of my experience was getting to know a whole bunch of really amazing people-and that's everyone from the athletes and their team staff to my USOC personnel to a group of ridiculously great volunteers, an amazing hotel staff and really terrific folks from all of my sponsors. You know how my favorite thing is people? I was like a kid in a damn candy store for three straight weeks. Every single day was a new crop of collector's items for me. Even as tired as I was and how compounded that tiredness is every day you are there, meeting these people and being part of the culimination of so many dreams was intoxicating. I don't know why my team needed so much beer ; )
Over and over I thought how lucky I am to be in a job where I'm surrounded by people who absolutely love what they do. No one ends up at the USOC because it's the only option-people here are talented and driven and they have high expectations of themselves and everyone around them. So they jump in. When I needed more muscle to help us unload trucks on the first day, I didn't even have to ask-the guys from the Performance Service Center just sucked up the early hour and helped us unload five semis. When I let most of my team go to a hockey game on load out day, the completely exhausted transportation boys came in and built pallets for me. No one complained when the Cross Country team came in late and we had to put in crazy hours to get them processed. Everyone was just as smiley for the Figure Skaters on Day 9 as they had been for the Long Track team on Day 1.
I got to see a bit more of the Olympics than I did when I worked on the Organizing Committee in Salt Lake which was a treat. My dear friend Paul who works with the IOC hooked me up with an Opening Ceremonies ticket which kind of made my head spin. Sarah McLachlan was flawless, hearing KD Lang do Hallelujah was brilliant and that version of "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell is one of my all time favorites. And after six months of staring at those Opening Ceremonies outfits on worksheets and counting them at the warehouse and hauling them to Canada and unpacking a ballroom full of pallets of them and watching our extraordinary Ralph Lauren tailors work wonders on all manner of body types, I burst into tears when the US Team walked out onto the ice. They looked so cute!!! Their boots were tucked so perfectly and the flags on all the moose hats were over the all the left ears! It was brilliant. And we all got a really good laugh at USA House that night when the stylist from Ralph Lauren who was backstage told us how blazing hot they all were and that they kept laying on the ground trying to cool off and he had to scream at them to STOP GETTING DIRT ON THE WHITE PANTS!
The next night I got some backstage passes to the Nelly Furtado show and my intern sidekick who has put up with me bossing him around pretty much nonstop since October and I went to see Hannah Kearney, Shannon Bahrke, Apolo Ohno and JR Celski get the first round of American medals. We were thisclose to the stage and then afterwards, the interns managed to convince a couple of local girls that they were athletes and I got to catch up with my dear Bev friend who is working furiously to ensure Event Services are flowing smoothly at all the city venues. It was wonderful to see her even if we didn't get enough time.
I made it to a Long Track event and even though the Zamboni broke down (what? in Canada???), I got to see both Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick skate which made my speed skating loving heart nearly burst.
We ran a program called the Olympic Ambassador Program that the athletes go through right before they leave Team Processing. They bring in past Gold Medalists to talk to the athletes about what it means to be an Olympian and to represent your country. So for two weeks we had Dan O'Brien, Nikki Stone, Vonetta Flowers and Bonnie Blair just hanging out at the hotel. There is something pretty fantastic about Dan O'Brien giving you his card and telling you to keep in touch. Class acts all of them, it always felt like the universe might explode sitting at the breakfast table with that many people who have been the very best in the world at what they do. And who were all so nice and down to earth about it.
I had a great time getting to know all the Team Leaders for each of the sports. The Team Leader is kind of like the Den Mother for the team. They handle all the logistics so the athletes can just focus on performing. So we end up working very closely with those guys in the run up to the Games and then on site. They were all so different and so fun. My favorite team leader moment being when the Bobsled/Skeleton TL was standing there on the last day with his Women's Bobsled team, waiting on two of them to finish packing and two of them to pick up alterations and two of them to quit arguing and he looked at me and said, "do you see why I'm single?" . I wanted to give him a gold medal on the spot.
There are a whole bunch of fun moments that aren't specifically Olympic related that you always get when you work an event and spend looooong hours with people. I ended up at the nearby casino more often than I would have guessed which happens when the going out crowd is mostly rowdy boys. I even managed to get up about $200 one night in black jack to the surprise of all the transportation crew. We spent more then a few nights at the Flying Beaver (seriously) eating wings until last call. We found an all you can eat sushi place that had sashimi that it breaks my heart to know I might never eat again. I got to know all my coworkers on a whole new level and even though events TOTALLY bring out the crazy in everyone (me included and perhaps in high doses), I love and appreciate how hard they all work and how much of their hearts they put into what they do.
I had one little personal disappointment amongst all the excitement but with a little distance, I'm relieved to finally let go of someone who had become fairly toxic in the last few years. And grateful that it happened at a time when fun and personal accomplishment could make it clear that everything was going to be just fine.
Professionally the Games felt like redemption. I am to a point where I am at peace with my time in Boston and every time I see Rickie Fowler's smiling face under a PUMA Golf hat I feel a surge of pride at what I was able to accomplish there but this is where I belong. This is a job that utilizes so many of my talents and feels like home. I was sitting in the office one day, cursing my computer for being so slow and not having a single clue whether it was Tuesday or Sunday and eating a rice crispie treat for breakfast and I just started grinning because this is what I love. And now that I'm home I have to say that I miss the constant phone ringing and blinky red blackberry light just a little bit more than I thought I would.
And then there were the athletes. You obviously get a few with too much ego who require more attention than you really think an adult should need but the OVERWHELMING majority of them are just a delight. A few of my favorite things...
-Nike was selling leather jackets, the only item that the athletes have to pay for. Apolo Ohno bought them for all his teammates who wouldn't have been able to get them otherwise. Didn't make a big fuss about it, just did it. The guy is a superstar but he came into Team Processing and just acted like a guy on a team.
-Casey Puckett came in late one night and we had to process him by himself the next morning. This was Casey's fifth team so I imagined he would be over it. Instead he spent three hours with us, trying stuff on, telling jokes, asking me to scratch his back because he was nursing a hurt shoulder. I asked him if the thrill wears off when it's your fifth Games. "Naw, it's always cool. It's the Olympics!"
-Every. Single. Member. of the Men's Bobsled team is just beautiful. I felt like we were on some kind of GQ shoot. I was walking past the alterations room at one point and one of my volunteers pokes his head out and says "katie katie!! You have to get in here!!!". Great, some emergency I'm sure...I go in and there are four guys from the team wearing just their Closing Ceremonies pants, ties and hats posing for photos from my staff and volunteers. So much for our zero tolerance policy on athlete ogling. Also funny when my volunteers discovered that one of them was LDS and ran into my office to tell me to go talk to him! He's single!! And one of your people!! (and 26! I did go talk to him!)
-Johnny Weir=delightful, Evan Lysacek=delightful, Lindsay Vonn=just as beautiful as you imagine.
-Shaun White was on a different flight than the rest of the team so he got to the hotel early. My transport guy called to let me know he was in the banquet hall if I wanted to go welcome him. I walk in and Shaun has wired his iPod to our speakers and he and his coach are LITERALLY bouncing off the walls in the room. I couldn't stop laughing because seriously, isn't that EXACTLY what you would expect when the snowboarders show up??
-There are so many athletes who are never going to medal but who were just so excited to be there. Can you imagine what it's like when you get to be around people whose dreams are coming true every single day for two weeks?? I can't see how I will ever be jaded in this job.
-My favorite athlete moment was my last night in Vancouver. I had gotten to be friends with one of the wax techs with the snowboard team. He called that night to say that they would be celebrating Seth Wescott's medal at the USA House. So after a focus group in the Village and dinner with Nike (oh yeah, I'm totally name dropping), I headed over to meet up with Alex. Most of my team was there so I got to say goodbye to people, ran into my friend Nick who I worked with in Salt Lake and had fun catching up with, and then finally found the snowboard boys. We're talking, flirting a little, and then he asks if I want to see a real live gold medal. So he introduces me to Seth who promptly pulls his medal out of his pocket and HANDS IT TO ME. And I protest, "Oh I can't hold it! It's a gold medal!" and he says, "it's America's medal! Hold it!". So I'm standing there, with four cute snowboard boys, holding a gold medal, in a beautiful city, with a crazy successful Team Processing behind me and all kinds of adventures waiting for me when I get home and everything just felt right in the world.
I am really looking forward to London and my first Summer Games experience but oh my heart belongs to the Winter Games. I spent a lot of time thinking about my experience eight years ago and how lucky I was to get to do this even once, let alone land a job where now this is just what I do.
On a more personal note, this job feels like a message from the heavens that God knows I am here and what my most important dreams really are. In the eight years since Salt Lake nearly every human I know has gotten married and/or had a baby. I never would have dreamed when I stood at Closing Ceremonies that I would be in a city we didn't even know about then, two Winter Games later, still a single lady. There are days I can't help but giggle because really? As Liz Lemon would say-"come on! The female Larry Bird is with a guy? What am I doing wrong?" And then I look at this job. And the eight years I spent feeling like I wasn't doing what I really loved and wanting so desperately to find that passion I had felt at SLOC (and I will interrupt myself here to say that I am FULLY AWARE that even in my low job points, I had terrific jobs in the last eight years and I do realize that no one feels bad for me that I had to travel all over the country and world and pitch deals to celebrities and live in cool cities so, please, take me with a grain of salt) and yet those eight years are precisely what made me a perfect fit for this dreamy job. As in, "we need someone who once worked at the Olympics and then spent a bunch of time working in the apparel industry and hey, if you could have experience with both events AND marketing that would be awesome." So I have to believe that somewhere , He's got a boy for me that will be the perfect fit for my thirty three years of experience. I have said before, and I will stand by it, that I wouldn't trade one second of the life I've had to have been married or a mom before right now. I am so thrilled and satisfied with who I am and the path I'm on. But I also think it would be silly of me to pretend that a family isn't on my To Do list. If you had told me a year ago that I would be writing this post my head would have exploded trying to figure out how I got here. So I'll take this clue that He knows I'm here and knows how to get me where I need to be. And he's out there. And not in any danger of winning a gold medal for speed ; )