Editor’s Note: There’s no doubt that London 2012 will be a big deal this summer – so as part of our plans to cover it, we’ve brought on board a new columnist who’s actually going to the Olympics! Candace Rotolo is a writer who has been lucky enough to snatch a place as a volunteer in the media center during the Olympics. Here’s her first post – we’re looking forward to the rest of her updates!
Becoming a GamesMaker by Candace Rotolo
My love affair with London started when I was 19 and spent a college semester studying there. Living in a three-bedroom flat in Bayswater with five other college girls (and one tiny bathroom! ) was one of the best experiences of my life. I still remember the sheer giddiness and endless curiosity I had as I rode to my flat in one of the traditional black cabs. With the city’s historic buildings, I felt as if I’d been transported back in time.
I’d rather not think about how long it’s been since I was a student. Let’s just say, it’s been a decade… o.k., two… since I said goodbye to London’s hustle and bustle. But I’ve always wanted to return. When I learned that the Olympics would be held in London, I knew my time had come.
Now, I’ve been fascinated with the world’s greatest sporting event even longer than I’ve loved London. As a television news anchor/reporter, I had the honor of carrying the torch through Charleston, WV in advance of the 2002 Olympic Games.
So, I started to explore ways to be in London for the Games, one obvious choice was to volunteer. Putting on the Olympic Games requires the work of thousands of extra hands. It’s a massive undertaking.
With my previous experience working in television, and my current career as a public relations professional and freelance writer, I figured some way, somehow, my skills must be useful to the folks who are organizing the world’s biggest sporting event.
After some online research, I signed up to be a GamesMaker – the name given to volunteer for the London Games – during the summer of 2010 – two years before the actual Games would take place. (Applications closed on October, 27, 2010)
To volunteer, applicants had to agree to be available for the entire duration of the Games, and pay for their own travel expenses (airfare, accommodations, etc.). In return, GamesMakers receive a snazzy uniform to wear during our volunteer shifts, (it’s also our souvenir), an Oyster card of sorts to pay for public transportation to and from venues, refreshments while we volunteer, and the opportunity of a lifetime. Volunteers do not get an all-access pass, and any sporting events I want to see are also on my dime.
Filling out the online application was pretty easy, I wrote about why I wanted to be a volunteer, submitted a CV, and chose the volunteering area which most interested me: working with the media.
Then I waited. And I joined a host of LinkedIn Groups for volunteers and Facebook pages to read about the experiences of other folks who had applied.
I have to say, I was a little nervous about my chances since I don’t live in a Commonwealth country, or in the European Union, or have ancestry from either. But in reality, the London Games will have volunteers from all over the world, and many of them have volunteered at previous Olympic Games.
Five months after applying, I was chosen to have a 30 minute phone interview (folks closer to London had face-to-face interviews). The phone call – which took place hours earlier than I anticipate because I misjudged the time difference – consisted of a few questions…. Why I wanted to volunteer, what specialty skills to I possess… things like that.
Then I waited some more…. and kept up-to-date on Games preparations through Facebook and Twitter, including the unveiling of the Games Makers’ uniform in November.
Just a few days before Christmas, I opened my inbox to find an official invitation to be a GamesMaker! More than 250,000 people applied, so I feel incredibly lucky to be one of the 70,000 chosen. I’ve already been assigned a position in Press Operations. According to the GamesMakers website, Press Op volunteers will help print and media professionals from all over the world by answering questions, researching information and making sure they have what they need to broadcast the Games to the billions of people who’ll be watching around the globe.
For now, though, I’ve been busying pricing flights and finding a place to lay my head for a minimum of 10 days. Hotel rooms are indeed at a premium, with many of them already sold out. And I’ve also been compiling a list of some of the places I want to visit in-between my volunteer shifts. London will have thousands of free activities and concerts during the Games, including public venues to watch some of the events on enormous screens. I can’t wait for the experience that is before me, and the new people I’ll meet. And you can bet that a visit to my old Bayswater flat will be on my to-do list, so I can revisit the place where my love affair with London began, and make new memories that will last a lifetime.
Candace Rotolo is a freelance writer and public relations professional who loves all things British. She’ll be blogging about her experiences while in London for the 2012 Games. Have a place you think she should include on her to-visit list? Include it in the comment section below.