Last night was the wrap party for my volunteer gig at the Olympics and Paralympics. It was an exceedingly glamorous experience being a Uniform Distribution Team Lead. My life in teal, 4 real yo. But before I reflect upon the experience can I just say we’re not frickin’ smurfs–smurfs are blue people in white clothes and we’re (mostly white) people in blue clothes!!!!.

OK I feel a bit better now.

People need their uniforms before their first on the job usually. With a surprising number of workforce (volunteers, paid staff, embedded contractors) going “operational” in early January, we had to start distributing uniforms in mid-December. That meant all processes and setup for our team needed to be in place for early December. I worked my first “official” shift on 08 December; my last was on 21 March. Beginning in mid-December (up until then we were kitting out our own team), I worked 2-4 shifts a week until mid-March. You do the math.

We had 4 workstations (check-in, change rooms, collection, check out) and I only loathed change rooms. So I’ll say it now everyone’s wearing the same uniform. The colour, cut and flow of it doesn’t matter once the size is figured out. I had one person in a change room for an hour–just to pick a jacket size. I don’t mind shopping, but when there’s not much on offer, or if it’s largely about function I tend to blast through things. I got my sizing (leprechaun size: S across the board) done in less than 10 minutes. It’s too big? Try down a size. Too small? Try up. Can decide between two? Do the squat test and let your buttcrack do the talking. Great, here you go. Next!

At our busiest we were putting around 120 people an hour through. On 12 hour days that’s easily 1200 a day. Total uniformed workforce put through Vancouver was somewhere upwards of 20k people. That’s a lot of smurfs uniforms!

For the most part people were exceedingly patient and kind. Most people were just so excited to do something that made the Games real, tangible. “Are you ready to play dress up?” I’d ask many as I led them to the change rooms. “Hell yeah” or some version of it was almost always the response. It didn’t hurt that the uniforms looked great on a lot of people, good on pretty much everyone, and were well made. Running out of the smaller sizes though…that sucked. But our bosses moved heaven and earth and found solutions. For nearly everyone.

The minority of people who were unpleasant seemed to be trying to be the squeaky wheel. Squeaking didn’t make other sizes or colours magically appear: we gave you the very best fitting jacket, pants, vests and (2) long-sleeved t-shirts. When we couldn’t give you something that was a great fit we were almost as disappointed as you were. Really. We wanted everyone to be happy, ready to work, and proud of how you looked. And I think now, most of us BlueJackets™ are proud, even if we had to take our pants up 8cm. Like I did.

Some people wondered if working in an old hockey arena a warehouse in East Vancouver during the Games made me feel a bit removed from it all. Nope. Most of the workforce came through our doors. We met people from all over the world. People were excited. I feel lucky that my Olympics and Paralympics went “live” in mid-December rather than mid-February. I’ve been waiting all my life to attend a Games–the longer the experience lasted, the better.

Last night after the party ended we had the party after the party. The core group of us–mostly paid staff, but a couple of us volunteers–went across the street for a few drinks. As the party had cycled down we were sad to say good-bye after good-bye. But those of us at the bar were the ones who are now great friends. So we were laughing about different things that happened, who drove us crazy, who made us laugh. And what lucky, lucky people we were for the experiences we had.

I will always be very, very proud of what we accomplished as Team/Équipe 2010. If the Olympics and Paralympics are ever coming to your town–sign up to volunteer!!!!!

About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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