Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Look to the stars, not at your feet. My Gamesmaker journey so far.

Unfortunately a few last minute preparations for the next ten days have meant I have missed the Opening Ceremony for the Paralympic Games. The same Paralympic Games that I'll be volunteering as a Gamesmaker at, from Friday morning until the following Saturday night. Tomorrow I make the journey down to London to settle into the house I'm staying in, ready for possibly the biggest thing to ever happen to me.

When I tell most people that I'll be a Gamesmaker, they tend to ask, 'How did you get into that? or 'How did you find out about that?' So that seems a good a place to begin as any.

It must be over two years ago now, LOCOG (London Organising Comittee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games) put out adverts in the media asking for people to apply to volunteer to be Gamesmakers. They asked for people who had been inspired by previous games, wanted to be part of the greatest show on earth and those that had common sense. The latter was heavily featured in a video put online in the Games maker Zone website, presented by Eddie Izzard. I'm trying to remember this from memory as I think the original pages of the site have now been removed. Going by emails, I completed my application on September 19 2010.  Over two years before the Olympics would even begin. I applied because it sounded exactly like something I'd enjoy and if I didn't apply, then I'd regret not doing so for the rest of my life.

Every few months or so, an email from LOCOG would then pop into my inbox to wish me a 'Merry Christmas' or that they hadn't forgotten my application and I would hear soon from them. Soon, was in fact the following June. I was told I had been confirmed a place at a selection event. However, what they had offered me, coincided with my parents Silver Wedding Anniversary. I remember ringing my mum and saying 'you'll never guess when they want me to go for my selection interview!?'. We were due to travel to Poole that very same day. After a swift call to the helpline, they managed to switch the time of the interview to a week before. July 23 2011.

So early that morning, I set off to Warwick University. Which isn't even in Warwick, it's in Coventry. The interview was conducted in a sports hall which had been divided off into sections. The interview was at the end of a 'journey', through a series of stages. Starting with the collection of a rubber wristband to show which group you had been placed in. Even though I had dragged half way across Coventry with very little idea of where I was going (I despise university campus', they are big, scary places which I do not feel comfortable in, not going to university myself) and getting off the bus far too early, I still managed to turn up early and with no hesitation, was placed into a group with an earlier interview time. This seems to be one of LOCOGs major plus'. All your details are on the computer and timings that you are given for events, are just to make sure you aren't waiting around for long periods of time. The staff behind the desks are always happy to help and put you at ease. We were then led through the various areas and given videos to watch and exhibits to look at. Another Eddie Izzard fronted video, in which he congratulated us for getting this far and wished us all the best for our interviews. Both he and Chris Addison have been great faces for the Gamesmakers in all of the media we have been shown.

It was then time for the interview which took no more than half an hour. I was asked questions about which Olympic Games had inspired me and what memories I had taken away with me after watching them. My earliest Olympic memory is watching the Atlanta Games. My favourite memory was watching the Paralympics held in Beijing in 2008. My brothers best friend, Sam, won Gold and Bronze in Swimming and he along with his younger brother, Ollie are hoping to obtain medals in London in just a few days time. I was also asked questions about skills that I could bring the role I'd be allocated to and the usual stuff like identifying  my strengths and weakness. I had to give detailed answers that had to last for a few minutes. Even for someone like me who is known for talking quite a lot, I still struggled. I came away from the interview with no clue as to whether they would think me good enough or deserving of a role at either Games.

The selection event will forever stay in my mind as being the day that Amy Winehouse died, I got on the wrong bus back to Coventry and ended up in Leamington Spa. The last time I had been there I had been quite small but thanks to my iPhone I stopped panicing about it and bought some lovely things in Paperchase to cheer myself up. A quick look on Twitter and suddenly my time line was full of rumour that Amy had died. I texted my friend straight away to tell her. I don't know why her, I just needed to let someone know and I knew my mum wouldn't have the foggiest about who Amy was. I finally got back on a bus to Coventry and played 'Love is a Losing Game' over and over all the way home.

Finally on January 6 2012 my offer email from LOCOG came through. I was at my friends house celebrating her birthday and I just happened to click on my emails. When I saw it sat there, I nearly dropped my phone.

"Following your interview to be a London 2012 Games Maker, we are delighted to inform you that we would like to offer you a role in the Command, Control and Communications team at the Paralympic Games!"

I clicked straight onto the Games Maker Zone and pressed 'Accept'. I then checked which Venue I would be at and texted my mum to tell her. She still has the text saved in her inbox. Her phone is pretty basic and she has 3 texts stored constantly, That one, the one from my brother after Sam won Gold, and the one from her brother with the description of what the coroner said her mother had died from. (Pulmonary Embolism, if you're interested). I was more than happy to be selected for the Paralympic Games. For two reasons, the fact that Sam and Ollie would be competing and that one of my mum's bridesmaids, Tracy, had been a patient at Stoke Mandeville when she was younger and she has spent all her life in a wheelchair. Stoke Mandeville is where the Paralympic Games where created. Sam, Tracy and I all share the same birthday. July 3rd. Which is a little bit spooky.

By January 15 I was sent an email asking me to confirm my place at Orientation Training. February 5 was the best date I could make. That morning I found myself standing outside Wembley Arena in tiny little ballet pumps, whilst the temperature on my phone read minus figures. The night before back home in Mansfield, it had been -6 Celsius and hadn't really risen much the next day. We were then allowed into the Arena and sat for 3 hours watching and listening to various speakers, such as Lord Coe, Jonathan Edwards. The most random thing about this was a little skit called 'Gamesmaker TV'. I'm slighting gutted this never really happened because at the Orientation Training it was presented by Shauna Lowry who had presented lots of children's TV when I was growing up. We were given our workbooks on that day and shown the uniform we'd be wearing. There was a slight snigger at it from 10,000 people that morning. My initial thoughts on it were McDonalds meets Wimbledon. Given that management from McDonalds had a say in the design, I wasn't quite surprised by it. However having picked this up and tried it on, I do like it more now.

From the Orientation Training in February to the Role Specific training in July, a lot of concern when through my brain. I'd begun to look into the cost of staying somewhere in London for the duration of the Games. This was beginning to look quite expensive. I began to feel angry that people were complaining that G4S and the Army were being used to man the security and other areas of the Games. These people were being paid and given accommodation. Yes, the Army were a last resort and had give up the leave they had booked, but I was having to use up my annual leave allocation from my job too, and be expected to pay for my accommodation. The process had been nearly two years for me. I felt cheated and that we were just being used a cheap labour. Even when I rang the Gamesmaker helpline, they were unable to provide me with any guidance about why I shouldn't withdraw my application. A few close friends persuaded me no to withdraw citing my thoughts about regretting it if I didn't do it, I had had way back in 2010. So I manned up and confirmed my Role Training place.

I travelled down to Hackney at 2am in the morning from Mansfield. I got into London for 6.30am. It also happened to be the day of the trooping of colour. However, after waiting four hours for The Queen, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, earlier that week in Nottingham, I decided against doing it again. Even though I did manage to find a good spot near Horse guards Parade that gave me a great view. The training wasn't until 2.30pm so I took a stroll around London and headed over just after lunch. I ate in the cafe next door to the training venue and heard the Red Arrows fly over, whilst watching them do so on a television inside. The staff were even nice enough to let me use a plug socket by my table to charge my phone up.

The role training really helped to motivate me again. And make me remember that this was going to be an amazing experience and not to be missed. Videos starring Chris Addison and Joe Wilkinson were shown, giving examples of how to be the best Gamesmaker you could be. The rule of thumb from Orientation was this. IDOACT - be Inspirational, be Distinctive, be Open, be Alert, be Consistent, be part of the Team). I think I'll go over these more in another post later on.

We were then lead into rooms with the rest of our team we would be working with. We were given a briefing on the equipment we would be using and how to use it. It all felt very complicated at the time, but I'm assured it all becomes very easy, very quickly. Doesn't stop me being incredibly nervous and worried I won't be any good at it.

The penultimate stage of my Gamesmaker journey was picking up my uniform and accreditation from the centre in Star City close to the Olympic Park itself. Again, the uniform deserves a post of it's own. Which I will possibly do tomorrow when I've taken it all out of the bag it's in.

Lastly, just a week later, I attended the Venue Specific Training. Which meant I along with four others from my team who were able to attend that morning, was given a tour of the facilities at Eton Manor where I'll be volunteering from. This venue is the only venue to have been built specifically for the Paralympics and will be mainly used for the Wheelchair Tennis. There are also training swimming pools for the athletes too. Hopefully, and this isn't certain, we might actually get to use them too, towards the end of the games. Centre Court at Eton Manor is magnificent. I have a photo which I'll post later.

I will write on here about my experiences during my time in London. I've possibly missed lots out about so when I'm all settled in, I'll go into as much detail as I possibly can.

So far this has been a fantastic journey and I cannot wait to get started on Friday. So many of my friends have been great during the past two years, as have certain family members. I am so lucky and hopefully this will lead to fantastic opportunities in the future.

J x

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