What’s It Like to Volunteer at the Olympics?

We have a fabulous Carleton Place connection to the Sochi Olympics about to take place from February 7 – 23, 2014.  One of our patrons is volunteering there, and she’s agreed to fill us in on what it’s like to be helping out with such a major event. I’ll tell you a bit more about her in a moment, but first, a few important facts about the Olympics themselves.

It’s the twenty-second Winter Olympic Games, and Sochi, Russia beat out PyeongChang, South Korea by only four votes in order to host this year! Sochi is located on the Northeast coast of the Black Sea, and is said to have mild winters, the perfect climate for Winter Games, don’t you think? (Certainly better than this Arctic Vortex we’ve been experiencing in parts of Ontario this year.) When the Games begin on February 7th,  they’ll encompass sports like freestyle skiing, the luge, hockey and bobsleigh (is it bobsleighing or bobsledding now?) To make all of this run smoothly requires volunteers from around the world. They’ve arrived in Sochi many weeks prior to the Games, and are already getting to know each other, the places they’ll be working in, and the people who are assisting them. It’s a long process, but a satisfying one, from the sound of it.

Sarah Loftus is a mainstay in our community. When she’s not jetsetting around the globe volunteering at one type of sporting event or the other, you can find her making hot, handcrafted beverages at our local Starbucks, always with a smile on her face. We might see her father in the library a little more frequently than she manages to drop in, but it’s always nice to say hello when we get the chance.  She was super nice about answering a few questions for us regarding her volunteering highlights in Sochi.

Sarah Loftus

How did you hear about volunteering for the XXII Winter Olympics?

Sarah:  I had previously volunteered at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and loved my experience. I was constantly checking the website for information about when you could apply and signed up to be reminded when the application opened to the public. 

I think I heard about volunteering for Vancouver from an advertisement on the side of my email. I definitely had never, ever considered it. I didn’t even know it was possible. To me it felt like a unique way to experience the games and to be involved with all of the excitement.

What are some of the highlights of your work there in Sochi, Russia?

Sarah: Biggest highlights so far are:

          – Meeting new friends from all over the world (Russia, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Australia, USA, Canada)
          – getting the chance to travel to Russia and volunteer at another Olympic Games 
          – seeing all the pieces fall into place for opening ceremonies
          – the excitement of knowing I’m going to be part of the cast of the Opening Ceremonies of              
            the 2014 Olympic Games
Sarah Loftus

Where do you stay?

Sarah: I’m staying in Adler, Russia at a hotel called the Dolphin. Sochi is the first Olympics to provide accommodations for all of their volunteers. I probably wouldn’t have been able to come here if I was required to provide my own accommodations because of the cost. 

You have long hours as a volunteer. Do you get to attend any of the sporting events as a spectator?

Sarah:  All volunteers are being given a ticket for one of two dress rehearsals for the Opening Ceremonies. As I am a cast member, in the ceremonies, I won’t be attending them as a spectator. Before arriving in Sochi I purchased tickets to two games in the Women’s hockey tournament. I’m going to see the USA ladies play Team Finland and to a quarter final game. I’m hoping to pick up some tickets to a Canadian ladies and men’s game and something else that isn’t too expensive. 

What book did you read on your flight over?

Sarah:  THE STORYTELLER by Jodi Picoult. Plus, I watched two movies: Perfect Pitch and The Lion King

Do you know any Russian?

Sarah:  I came to Russia knowing absolutely no Russian, which was definitely very intimidating. I’ve been here almost a week and I’m starting to recognize a few words but nothing significant. It’s difficult because there are so many characters in their alphabet that are nonexistent in the English language. 

Within our little group of International volunteers (there are about 16 within my function of ceremonies) we have started a Russian words of the day to help with things like hello, goodbye, thank you, etc. 

Since you work at Starbucks, how is the coffee over there?

The coffee is not very good. I miss Starbucks. Powered coffee is far from the quality I’m familiar with. Tea is very popular though. 

What’s been your best moment so far?

Sarah:  The best moment so far would be one of two things:

        1. Getting my accreditation (security clearance cards) finally after 4 days of problems    
            and stress. 
        2. Rehearsing the Athlete’s Parade beginning to end for the first time. It was the first   
            time I realized just how incredible and emotional the experience of being a cast 
            member really is. It really was beautiful and there wasn’t even a single athlete or 
            costume in the room.
Sarah Loftus

Do you think the Bolshoy Ice Dome looks like a giant computer mouse?

Ice-Dome-Bolshoy-by-SIC-Mostovik-09(Photo courtesy of SIC Mostovick- Architects)

Sarah:  Bolshoy DOES look like a computer mouse. Funny isn’t it? 

Have you seen Canada’s official mascot, Komak the Moose?

Sarah:  I have not seen Komak the Moose yet. There aren’t very many hints of countries floating around yet. Pretty soon teams will start arriving and hopefully we start seeing more flags, mascots and general Olympic excitement. I will keep my eye out for him and will be sure to say hi and introduce myself!

As you can tell, the process of volunteering is not only rewarding, but fun. Here’s hoping our Canadian athletes do well and bring home the gold as many times as possible. You can find out more about the Canadian athletes on their official site, and more about the Sochi Winter Games at the 2014 site right here.  And a big thank you to Sarah for giving us a glimpse inside the Olympics. You can follow her wonderful blog posts chronicling her stay in Sochi right here. Have a wonderful time, and cheer loudly for all of us, too! Good luck, Olympians!