The main reason was a bit of a selfish one, I wanted to treat athletes mostly because it would be a positive learning experience for me and look good on my CV.
During the months leading to the games, there was a lot of negative talk about the traffic inconvenience the games would bring, the mounting cost to the city, and the fact that some of the world’s best athletes wouldn’t be attending since these games are not as ‘important as the Olympics or World Championships.
On top of that, my Pan Am schedule revealed that I would need to take quite a bit of time off from my chiropractic clinic to fulfill my requirement of over 70 hours of volunteering. As a small business owner, I was a bit worried. No work means no paycheck. I was also assigned the sport of roller skating. Roller Skating? That’s not in the Olympics. Since when is that even a sport, is what I thought. Honestly, hearing all the negative chatter about the cost and poor organization of the games as well as trying to rearrange all of my patients around a tight schedule had my spirits and excitement of the pending games dwindling.
On July 7th I reported to my first shift at the Exhibition Centre. Construction and traffic was chaotic and what should have been an easy and straight forward 5 minute walk into the venue was a 30 minute walk filled with misdirection, confusion and frustration. But as I approached the venue, aligning the exterior walls, I saw the 41 flags representing all the countries participating in the games.
When I came across the Dominican flag I had to pause. The country my parents were born and raised in which has a population of only 72, 000 would be represented in my home country. A little excitement began to creep in. I made my way through security, made up of volunteers just like me, they were smiling and eagerly awaiting my arrival. They welcomed me and guided me inside. Upon opening the doors to Hall B, where I would be stationed for the next 4 days, there were even more volunteers. Sweeping the floors of the make shift roller rink, fastening together the portable stands, preparing the sound system; the large room was swarming with orange TO2015 volunteer shirts. I began to realize that in just 4 short days this arena would be filled with thousands of people cheering on the skaters. A little more excitement hit me.
I then met the medical team I would be working with, and aside from us all being a bit nervous, not knowing what to expect over the next few days, everyone was friendly and eager to see the roller skating athletes. We joked that morning about none of us knowing anything about the sport of roller skating. But those laughs turned quickly into jaw dropping moments of awe as the skaters took to the rink. Spins, jumps, amazing costumes, beautiful choreography, all the things you would expect to see at an ice figure skating competition, were right in front of us. It was fantastic, like nothing I had ever seen before! The athleticism of these skaters was further solidified for me once I started to treat them. They came to our clinic complaining of tight and sore muscles often due to training. Most of the girls were short in stature but stronger than any male athlete I had treated prior. English was not their first language, but what came across clear as day, was that they were there to compete. This was their Olympics. This was why they had taken a year off from school and why they hadn’t seen their families in months.
What really surprised me was the overwhelming sense of responsibility I began to feel. It didn’t matter that my paycheck would be a bit lighter this month, it didn’t matter that I would be fighting intense traffic and construction to get here over the next few days. What mattered was that this athlete needed my help to achieve her biggest dream.
And it wasn’t just me. The volunteers maintaining the roller rink to ensure its safety before her skate, the volunteers putting together bleachers so her friends and family could cheer her on; we were all contributing to a common goal. Her goal, what she had been working towards for years. The sacrifices she had made to be here at the games, were more substantial than the small inconveniences I had been dealing with. She had given up so much, worked so hard and she was just one step away from achieving her dream. That is what the games have been about for me; the athletes.
Recognizing how much work these athletes have put in and knowing that without help and support from volunteers these games wouldn’t be possible and many of these athletes would not have an opportunity to compete. For most, there are no big endorsement deals, or money waiting for them when they return home. This is it. Yes, there are some political issues and some that disagree with the city hosting these games but having shared intimate moments treating these athletes I realize just how lucky I am to be involved with the Pan Am Games.