Inspire a Generation. My Olympic Story :)
Inspire a Generation: the expression I heard countless times throughout my Games Maker journey, and the phrase that I only became to understand fully after my experience had ended. As I sat enjoying the closing ceremony from the comfort of my living room, watching the flame being extinguished and the flag being handed to Rio, I felt immensely proud to have been part of the world’s greatest sporting event.
I guess my Olympic story began all those years ago when I first registered my interest in volunteering online. Having the Olympics on home turf was something I knew I had to get involved in and I saw it as an opportunity that simply could not be missed. It was around one year later that I got an email inviting me to attend an interview at the Glasgow Science Centre. Although the summer of 2012 felt very distant, going along to the interview made it feel that ever bit more realistic. After producing my identification and having my photograph taken, along with all the other hopeful volunteers, I sat down to watch a short video of the Games and what could be expected. The interview itself was pretty nerve-racking- mainly because I was still under 18 at the time and had to have an additional person in the booth. But I quickly relaxed and was able to chat freely about my skills and previous experiences. I left the venue that day to return to school knowing – more than ever – that I wanted to be part of a Games that could potentially shape the future of Britain. To my relief, a few months later I received an email confirming my role as a volunteer with the Events Services team at London’s Excel Centre!
Excel was to host the most sports in any single venue- 7 in all: Table Tennis, Fencing, Taekwondo, Judo, Wrestling, Boxing, and Weightlifting. Despite being an avid hockey player and athletics fanatic, I had never followed any of these sports before and so was excited to learn more. The thought of seeing the sports live with a world-class field of athletes was one of the driving forces behind my enthusiasm for volunteering.
On a wintery day in February 2012, my Games Maker training began. After getting the bus overnight from Edinburgh, I made my way through the snow to Wembley Arena for my Orientation training. Getting my Gamer Maker workbook and watching the inspiring videos acted as a turning point that certainly made the Games feel like they were fast approaching.
The following month, I made another trip down to London for my Role Specific Training at Hackney College. At this training session I learned more about my role on the Events Services team and met lots of fellow Games Makers. I discovered what would be some of my main roles including showing spectators to seats, scanning tickets, and checking accreditation at access points throughout the venue. I had the opportunity to try out the ticket scanners, as well as the radio handsets that we could use to communicate with each other on shifts.
The 13th June saw the Olympic flame pass through my home county of Clackmannanshire. It was fantastic to see the huge number of people who had turned up to line the streets with their Union Jack (and Scottish) flags.
Later that week, I got to hold an Olympic torch… and even try on a gold Olympic medal from Athens 2004. To my surprise, I had won a sprinting masterclass with the Olympic sprinting champion and member of the Mens 4x100m relay team that won gold in Athens 8 years ago- Jason Gardener. The whole day proved to be an amazing experience. Not only did Jason provide some excellent tips to help improve my running technique, but his motivational speaking and focus on mental preparation helped to give me a real insight into the life of a wolrd-class athlete. Being in London and seeing the countdown timer once again in Trafalgar Square acted as a reminder of just how close the Games were.
Three weeks and another overnight bus journey later and I found myself in London once again. This time for Venue Specific Training and a visit to UDAC to pick up my uniform and accreditation. As I was so early, I headed to Westfield Shopping Centre to catch a glimpse of the Olympic Park. Seeing Games Makers in uniform got me even more excited and eager to start my first shift. Arriving early at UDAC and so in the absense of queues, I was amazed at how quickly the process was. After checking in, I received my accreditation and made my way to the shoe area to get my Games Maker trainers fitted. Following this, I moved to the fitting rooms to try on a uniform before going along a conveyer belt-like warehouse line where the UDAC volunteers made sure I had everything I needed. Finally, after collecting my Oyster card for use on travel to and from shifts, I left UDAC with a giant bag of goodies and felt ready to begin work! With a few hours to kill, I made the most of my time in London, before heading out to the Excel Centre for my Venue Specific Training. It was fantastic to see the venue I would be working in and learn more about each of the sports that would be taking place.
At last, the day of the Opening Ceremony had arrived and I boarded my early morning train from Edinburgh with great anticipation for what the following 2 weeks would bring. Although the train was running late, I enjoyed the coastal views on what is a very scenic route to London. The first thing I noticed when arriving at London Kings Cross Station was the sudden change in temperature. As I came to realise over the next fortnight, London can get very hot! Loaded up with all my baggage, I made my way on the tube to what would be my home for the next 14 days. I had booked in to stay at some University Halls of Residence with fellow Games Maker, Kirsty, who I had known from school.
The halls were modern and basic, but just what we needed for our short-term stay. That evening, after unpacking all my stuff, Kirsty and I headed out to find somewhere to watch the Opening Ceremony. We ended up in a local pub that had set up a large screen to show all the footage. I personally thought the whole show was spectacular, and loved the British humour. I was pleasantly surprised that London had pulled off such a successful ceremony. That evening, I felt incredibly proud to be British- a feeling that remained throughout the Games and beyond.
After staying up late determined not to miss any of the Opening Ceremony, and with only 3 hours sleep, I was up, dressed in my Games Maker uniform and headed for my first shift, which began at 5.45am!
For my first shift I was working in the spectator zone in the Table Tennis arena. My role included queue managing and guarding one of the access points to the press centre and Olympic family areas. Although I felt exhausted after my early morning rise, the day ran smoothly and I quickly relaxed and felt comfortable carrying out my job. There was just time for a quick nap before I headed back out to see one of my favourite musicals- Wicked. As a musical theatre fan, I was thrilled to sit in the middle of the front row with a friend who had come down to visit for the day. It was an amazing show and a fantastic end to a whirlwind of a day.
The following day was another early shift, and so with very little sleep, I made my way back out on the DLR to Excel. In my second shift, I found myself working outside greeting spectators and scanning tickets, as well as manning the accessible entrance. All was going well (the sun was shining) until a thunderstorm struck and suddenly, spending the whole day outside didn’t seem so appealing. Luckily, I found shelter and managed to avoid getting completely soaked. A combination of late nights and early starts left me extremely tired- and so an early night was well needed!
However, Monday brought yet amother early shift. Today I was positioned in the main boulevard of Excel where I got to use the radio, megaphone, and big foam hand pointer throughout the day, as well as guarding some access points. On my breaks and after my shift I also managed to watch some of the fencing and table tennis, which was really exciting. The atmosphere in the crowd was phenomenal, especially when a British athlete was competing.
After my shift I made my way out to Wimbledon to the Legally Blonde the Musical UK tour and 9 to 5 the Musical launch party. With free cupcakes and exclusive performances from the casts of both companies, it proved to be an excellent way to unwind after a hard days work! I then returned to my accommodation ready to explore London on my first day off.
For most people on early shifts, a day off would mean a long lie and a day to relax. However, being the musical fan that I am, I decided to get up early to queue for cheap day tickets for that evening's performance of Billy Elliot. After a bit of sightseeing around Trafalgar Square and Westminster, I met up with my friend for lunch who was down in London for a job interview. More sightseeing followed before we met up with another one of my friends, who - as a GB fencer - was down from Scotland watching the fencing. After grabbing dinner, we all went to see Billy Elliot- another great show!
On Wednesday, I had another day off my Olympic shifts. This allowed me to spend more time with my visiting friends and show them around the city that I love so much. Through our connections in the dance industry, we were lucky enough to be invited to a private party that evening with some of the dancers from Flawless and Diversity- pretty cool stuff!
Thursday was a slightly later start but I was feeling revived and looking forward to getting back in my Games Maker uniform! For today’s shift, I found myself in the Boxing arena working in the seating bowl right next to the ring. It was incredible to get so close to the action and experience once again the warmth and enthusiasm of the spectators. Prince Philip even popped in, which was lovely to see! Its hard to describe how the mood changed as the British boxer, Ogogo, walked into the ring, The crowd erupted and their energy continued to lift throughout his entire match. As well as making me feel incredibly proud to be British, it was really encouraging to see so many children and young people getting behind the British athlete and being “inspired” by his performance.
I certainly wanted to make the most of my time in London, and tonight was no exception! After my shift, I made my way to ITV studios for filming of the Olympic themed ITV2 programme- Beat TV. With special guests including Paloma Faith and Conor Maynard, I enjoyed being in the small, intimate audience and experiencing television from the other side of the screen.
I couldn’t believe I'd already been down in London for a week- time was flying! But I think I was starting to get used to the very early rises at last. Friday was another early start, but this time in the Judo Arena Spectator Zone. After practicing how to work the ticket scanning machines on a previous shift, today's work with the ticket scanners passed with no real issues. As well as being given a pin badge from the German Judo team, I also managed to catch a bit of the Judo, which was good to see.
For that evening, I managed to get a very cheap last minute deal for the Musical Blood Brothers. As another one of my favourite shows, it was once again a wonderful end to a day of extraordinary sport.
On Saturday, I offered to swap arenas with another volunteer so I could spend my day in the fencing arena- a sport that I have an interest in. After showing spectators to their seats, I enjoyed watching some of the action and once again soaked up the incredible atmosphere that the crowds seemed to bring to every Olympic venue. After the fencing competition ended, I decided to stay around to see some of the other sports in my venue. I managed to catch some Table Tennis and then Weightlifting too!
On the evening of ‘Super Saturday’, I was really looking forward to watching a night of Athletics. After finding a pub near Leicester Square showing Olympic coverage, Kirsty and I settled down to watch this historic night for British Athletics. With golds for Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford, and Mo Farah, it was yet another moment where the pride in my nationality shone.
With another day off from Games Maker shifts, I was up early and in the queue for day tickets to the matinee performance of Matilda the Musical- one I hadn’t seen before and a show that was top of my London to-do list. After successfully getting one of the standby student tickets, I made my way to the bottom of the Mall to catch a bit of the Womens Marathon. Despite the thundery downpour, the wait in the rain still felt worthwhile just to see a little part of the race.
After a morning of shopping around Oxford Street, I made my way to the theatre to see Matilda, which certainly did not disappoint. The child performers were incredible and I was particularly impressed with the slickness of choreography. After the show, I got the train out to my Aunt’s house in the outskirts of London, where my mum was also down spending time with the family. As my mum is also a devoted followed of the Olympics, there was no way we could miss the Athletics and the final of the Men’s 100m. Bolt’s performance was unbelievable and definitely stood out as one of my Olympic highlights!
With another day off on Monday, I was able to spend the night at my Aunt’s and have more of a casual morning. We then got the train into the centre and went for lunch at Covent Garden, before wandering around and once again soaking up the amazing atmosphere. We were then lucky enough to be treated to afternoon tea at the Ritz- a belated birthday surprise for my mum. The grand decour, live music, and delicious food made it a very special treat!
After two rest days, I was ready to get back to work early on Tuesday morning. I spent the morning in the seating bowl at the Table Tennis arena. A fast-paced and exciting game, I enjoyed being able to watch some of the competition whilst carrying out my job.
Once the competition finished, I was able to go back to the halls to get ready before meeting my mum again for dinner. Following this, I went to see Ghost the Musical- yet another show that I really wanted to see. I was blown away by the special effects, and the singing was amazing! So glad I managed to see it before it closed on the West End.
My time as a Games Maker was quickly coming to an end and I was sad going to work on the Wednesday knowing it was my final shift. I spent the day back of house at the Wrestling arena, where I was greeting athletics as they arrived and checking their accreditation. Although this shift brought an end to my Games Maker journey, after receiving my souveneir relay baton, certificate and final pin badges, I left the Excel Centre feeling like I had achieved a lot over the last 2 weeks and that I had been part of something truly special.
Following my last shift, I met my friend for dinner near Covent Garden- she was back down in London flat hunting after successfully getting the job she had the interview for last week. Unbeknown to me, as we sat eating, my photo was being broadcast to the world on a McDonalds advert in Piccadilly Circus!
Thursday was my last full day in London, and again, I felt I had to make the most of it. As I love the musical Wicked so much, I took a friend and went to queue up in the morning for front row tickets. We then spent the day wandering around the city and enjoying the sun. After dropping by St Paul’s, Hyde Park, the V&A, and Harrods, we did a bit more flat viewing before heading to the theatre.
For the second time in my two week visit, I found myself in the front row at Wicked- a show I seem to enjoy more and more every time I see it. Again, I was blown away, and it really was the perfect end to what had become a spectacular week of musicals and sport.
Leaving London the following day was upsetting, but I left feeling inspired with a new found pride in my nationality. Not only have I inspired myself to achieve my goals, I truly feel I have played a role in an event that will “inspire a generation”.
Back home in Scotland, watching the closing ceremony, the many kind words being said about all the volunteers and all their work was so nice to hear and I know was greatly appreciated by all the Games Makers. “I made London 2012”. A phrase I can say with immense pride, knowing that I have been part of an experience that I will remember and treasure for years to come. I enjoyed every minute of my experience and it has definitely encouraged me to do more voluntary work. I have already began to plan ahead for my summer in 2016. It’s a long way off and I’ve no idea what I’ll be doing in life, but nonetheless, ive promised myself I will be in Rio in some way or another!
I set out on my Games Maker journey with the aim of inspiring a generation. Only time will tell what the impact of the Games will be, but I am confident that with the enthusiasm of the British population, and the infastructure left from venues and other facilities, the Games legacy will succeed.