Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The stars at night

Halfway through my time in Texas, I watched the new Cameron Crowe documentary on Pearl Jam two nights in a row. The whole thing, two nights in an exhausted fog row. Because halfway through my time in Texas my brain was so full it was comforting to listen to Eddie Vedder's voice and think about being 16 and in the basement of my friend Sarah's house watching MTV in the middle of the night and seeing the video for "Jeremy" and my head kind of exploding.

An exploding head is maybe the best way to describe what it's like to be managing an event for 21 straight days. I wasn't sure how this thing was going to go. I almost can't be rational about what kind of an experience Team Processing was in Vancouver. I mean it's the Olympics right? The whole world was paying attention but tell me something you know about the Pan American Games that you didn't learn by watching my tweets or Facebook page. It's actually the second biggest multi-sport event in the world next to the Summer Olympics but I'm sure more of you can name who is playing in the World Series right now than who won the gold in Women's Softball. Spoiler alert-we did. Seventh straight Pan Am gold as a matter of fact. So true confession, while I was excited to get on the ground an run and event where, unlike Vancouver, the show was all mine, I really hadn't managed to get that excited about the actual sport side of it. It's not an Olympic qualifier so lots of sports use it as an opportunity to send development teams, I just wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was like a three week, full-bore, crash-course personal and professional leadership laboratory.

Last time I ran Team Processing, one of our Senior Directors was on hand and not everyone reported to me. This time I had full responsibility for the venue and 18 people staff members including an intern on loan from the Houston Sports Authority. To say I felt a different measure of accountability is a giant understatement. On top of wanting to make sure the athletes had a great time, I wanted all of the staffers, the volunteers, and every last person we relied on at the hotel to enjoy the experience. And there were moments where I suddenly understood why Michael Scott is such a brilliant character-because when you want to make EVERYONE happy you may find yourself making your staff play musical chairs to win a pair of Oakleys (true story). The hope is that you realize the moment is going horribly awry and you cut the game short so everyone can go do what they really want which is most likely to go drink beers in the concierge lounge or eat something that requires utensils. And then sometimes you catch a glimpse of yourself with your hair in a ponytail wearing a hoodie and calling the transportation staff a bunch of nerds and you know all those Liz Lemon comparisons might have some validity.

This was the first time I had done everything-selected the venue, picked my own staff, chosen the apparel and placed the orders. On top of that I was experimenting with a new way of issuing the apparel as a test for London and wasn't even entirely sure how we were going to do it. So it was a thrill hearing the athletes whisper in the dressing room about how cool the gear was, to get emails the next day from Team Leaders saying it was the smoothest processing they had ever been to, and to have my staff tell me they'd love to come to London and do it all over again. I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and my brain is full of all kinds of new dreams and ideas for the next few events. 

There were so many great moments it's hard to pick just one but there was a particular highlight for me this year. We had a Track athlete one night whose plane was landing long after Team Processing had closed so I stuck around with his two team leaders to get him outfitted. We were sitting in the lobby, pretty tired and ready for bed when this kid walks in just grinning from ear to ear. We all shook hand with him and I thought he was going to explode as we took him down to get his apparel. His face lit up again when we handed him a bag full of apparel and shoes. He went in to try everything on and came out to model every single outfit and asked us to take photos. He told us this was his very first National Team and getting to wear USA on his chest was the realization of a dream he'd had since he was a little kid. I had to fight back tears as I watched him dancing around in front of the flag in his podium uniform. It's rare to be in a job where you get so many chances to watch someone's dreams coming true. It made me feel hyper aware of my responsibility to do my very best for every single athlete that comes through. And it made me feel incredibly lucky to do what I do. How many people in the whole world get to have this job?

A few fun photos from the trip...

Arriving in Houston
Load in day and the big green forklift
My survival kit
I loved seeing this every day 

I also didn't mind seeing this. Go Team USA!

Behind the scenes, prepacking the swim team

The women's gymnastics. Yep, that's Shawn Johnson
Pallet jack in flip flops-our warehouse manager would kill me

Yep, that's this little monkey jumping on the bed at our wrap party

We celebrated with a little fuel for the Houston economy


lively_linds said...

I have never been to an athlete team processing but the reason I like my job so much is because of this exact sentence right here: "It's rare to be in a job where you get so many chances to watch someone's dreams coming true."

Kudos to you for a successful processing and if you ever need more staff for that, I'd be more than happy to help! ;)

(Just so this doesn't seem creepy, you know my good friend Jamie and I think we met briefly when I interviewed for YOG ambassador.)

Alicia said...

You, my friend, are amazing and fabulous! And I would have absolutely cried watching that kid get so excited about his dreams coming true.

april said...

That sounds exhausting, but also completely amazing! What a wonderful job.

pburt said...

MotherFuddrucker!! (I feel a little guilty typing that out.)

H. Brown said...

so inspiring, katie! love this and you.