World Para Championships – Stephen Parsons Report

School boy on first day of term

So the time had come for my World Para Championships volunteer adventure, having originally applied in October 2016 and attended an interview in February 2017 and a training day in June. Having collected my lovely pink uniform on the Saturday morning I was sitting on the Olympic Park awaiting my shift starting at 2pm. I was feeling a little bit like a school boy heading into the high school for the first time, with lots of questions running through my head: Where is workforce check in? How far is the meeting point for Hero Village? What activities will I be doing?

A lot of the questions and concerns I had very quickly disappeared when I walked along towards the Orbit on the Olympic Park, workforce check in was signed straight ahead of me and the entrance to the Hero Village was a short walk from there. As I was walking around the park I saw lots of volunteers in the lovely uniform many of whom where as nervous as I was and those that were already in post and volunteering where on hand to point many lost looking volunteers in the correct direction and spectators towards their destination. When I arrived at the workforce check in I started to recognise a couple of people from the training day and we were quickly met by our team leader for the day who lead us around the are we would be working and the activities we would be leading

Boiling Pod

photo-from-garethOn the first day I was placed in one of the activity ‘pods’ for the day, there was a selection of 8 activity pods in the gazebos and an athletics track and  field event area for youngsters and as it turns out the not so young who have competitive streak.  On Saturday I was in the reaction wall activity which was a 40 challenge to cover as many lights as possible. The lights where at a range of heights which would become a challenge for the younger participants who would need support.

It was very surprising how quickly you can learn a sequential light pattern when you are encouraging partipants to have a go at the activities and encouraging them to look out for some of the key athletes that evening. As some of the participants where coming to have a go at the activities I was also helping by covering the lights at the top of the system. One of the best parts of the activities through the whole week was the reactions to the scores and the competitive nature coming out in all of the participants from the 3 and 4 year olds up to the parents and grandparents wanting to beat a friends or family members score.

After five and a half hours in the marquee I was given a break for my evening meal. While not intentionally done all volunteers where in the same role all day on the first shift and this was one of the issues over the first couple of days was the availability of extra volunteers to offer breaks and the timing of breaks, this was quickly ironed out after a couple of days but I had started to get cabin fever on the first day. This was not helped by temperatures of 25’C for most of the afternoon.

The best reaction on the Saturday came from one of the parents of young participant who must have been around 5 or 6 and his mum had indicated that he was visually impaired an may need some assistance. However apart from the two lights at the top which he could not reach he was fantastic at reacting to the lights and covering them. His final score was 31 on the reaction wall which was a very respectable score with the highest on the day being 47. The child then jumped for joy as he heard his score and his mum became very emotional watching him do the activity.

Sunday followed a similar pattern with the activity for the day being the Star Balance activity, which again was a light based game using one leg to stand on and follow the sequence on the lights, again the competitive side of every participant comes out. I am fairly sure I may have broken one couple up when the female beat the gentleman and therefore won their little competition, the male stormed out leaving the female jumping for joy in my marquee.

ICE Cream is the savour.

After the chaos of two extremely busy days in the Hero Village activation zone came the relative calm of Monday that was until the school groups headed our way. As part of the Legacy from London 2012 the organisers wanted to encourage as many people as possible to experience para sport this resulted in 45,000 school children attending on Monday and Tuesday morning sessions.  I had experienced the noise in the stadium from the school children on the Monday morning, however the ques where long and winding for the activity zones in the hero village.

Throwing challenge would be my home on Monday and Tuesday which was a simple throwing competition to the sequence of the lights from a seated position, again some of the participants not only surprised me but surprised parents and siblings with the throwing accuracy and consistency, scores ranged from 9 up to 23. Adam Hills (from The Last Leg) came around the hero village on Tuesday afternoon and I had a chat to him explaining everything that was going on in the village and that the activities where all free. Which he was delighted to hear and stated he would be bringing his Children later in the week to soak up the atmosphere despite the rain.

After the post morning session rush which seemed to last for hours I was met by one of the workers on site with what would become my savour of the week free ice cream. Strawberries and clotted cream is now high up on my favourite flavours list.

teammiller3

Let loose with Team Miller

Wednesday afternoons where quieter sessions that the weekend had been due to there only being an afternoon session however after being allocated a role in the sponsors area for the day. I was let loose on the park and headed towards the bridge 1 entrance which was the main walk way from the Westfield shopping centre to advise people where Hero Village was and what was going on. This was a very enjoyable hour talking to all the people walking around the park including some of the athletes who were heading towards the medal ceremony to collect their medals from the night before. Because the afternoon volunteers had not as yet arrived myself and another volunteer from the Hero Village became the information point for all the spectators and athletes in and around the area.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the sponsor’s area handing out clappers and flags in the village which was lots of fun and was a chance to welcome all the spectators to the area and explain all the area’s.

photo-from-gareth1Thursday was my only day off from volunteering and it also happened to be Stephen Millers competition day. What an experience it was to be in the stadium with Stephen’s family and friends as part of Team Miller and see him win a Bronze medal at his seventh World Championships. I must admit even I was a nervous wreck before the competition I really don’t know how Rachel and Roz have coped for so many years.

Monsoon stops play

Friday and Saturday’s role allocations where in the wheelchair area where participants could experience an assault course based on the daily troubles someone in a wheelchair could experience. The course included a tilting ramp, a ramped path, a door frame, slalom, a mixed textured ramp, and a dropped curb. For many of the participants this was their first time in a wheelchair and it was really nice to see them start to appreciate the challenges and difficulties they have while using a chair.

Friday was interrupted by the medal ceremony for Stephen and a rain delay, the rain made some of the challenges a difficult to get a grip on the rims and the traction with the wheels that meant that the participants were struggling to move the chairs. The light shower on Friday was nothing compared to the monsoon that came on Saturday afternoon that flooded a number of the activity pods and turned the wheelchair area into a swimming pool. The rain did not dampen the volunteers spirits however as we had to close the wheelchair area for the afternoon and moved into the sponsors area and where meeting and greeting people at the entrance to the area

Sunday was a similar damp morning which did not get off to the best start with the first three trains I could get all being cancelled, however on the train I was able to get on there was a family that had seen the uniform (it is hard to miss) and came over and said ‘are you travelling to Stratford?’ When chatting to them I found out that my early morning call or 6.30 am was nothing compared to their 4.45 am alarms and they had already been travelling on a bus for an hour and a half before the train issues.

 I managed to get in touch with the volunteers and inform them that I was going to be late and was allocated a floating role for my final shift between the sponsor area and the wheelchair zone.

Enjoyment and inspiration

Despite the rain and blistering temperatures all of the spectators and people walking around the village where smiling and happy to be at such an event and where looking forward to seeing the Para Athletics. It is a testament to the athletes and the increase in the profile of the Athletes that people who coming in all week and talking about the athletes including, Jason Smith, Stef Reid, Johnny Peacock and Stephen Miller (yes someone did ask when Stephen was competing) all being household names. It was great as a volunteer to see all the children celebrating their achievements with the Richard Whitehead ‘Guns’.

The experience as a volunteer was fantastic  from the interaction with the spectators young and old, the athletes and guest who were in and around the Hero Village and then the fellow ‘Runners’ in the Hero Village and around London as a whole who are all fantastic and friendly. An experience I will never forget and will defiantly look forward to repeating at the upcoming IAAF World Championships.

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