KWSC member, Sue Fortescue, describes her experience of volunteering for the Paralympic Sailing.
When I applied, in 2010, to be a London 2012 Gamesmaker, I was expecting to be assigned to an airport or a railway station to 'meet & greet' arriving delegates, using my knowledge of French & Italian.
So I was astonished to learn, in April 2012, that I had been assigned to the Paralympics Sailing at Weymouth & Portland to work as a French and Italian interpreter! At that stage I knew nothing at all about sailing, had never even been in a sailing boat. A friend advised me to join a sailing club and recommended KWSC – so, after consulting the website, I emailed Vicky and Julie, and became a member. On my first visit to the Club, I was fortunate to meet Judy Scullion, who is not only a keen sailor, but also speaks very good French and lives close to me in Darlington.
Under the capable direction of Julie and Judy, I followed a crash course in sailing, including several sessions of RYA Level 2 training. This gave me an overview of the topic, and I listed on a spreadsheet around 300 words that seemed to be commonly used. Then, with help from Judy and from French & Italian friends, I started to collect the French & Italian translations of those words. There were some interesting discoveries. The English word 'boom' comes from the German word for tree 'Baum', which is also 'boom' in German. In Italian a boom is translated as 'boma' but the Italian word for tree, 'albero' is used for the mast!
I also followed GamesMaker training at the Hackney Community College in London, where I met lots of other volunteers, including those who would be working at the same venue. The key message was to smile and make people welcome.
In mid-July, great excitement, I received an invitation to attend the last Technical Rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony – free! So, on Wednesday 25th July, together with 60,000 other GamesMakers, I was in the Olympic Stadium, viewing the fantastic show. We were all thanked by Lord Coe, and we were sworn to secrecy, not to divulge any details of what we had seen.
All too soon the time came to leave for Weymouth. I was to work from August 31st to September 6th. On the first day I collected my uniform and learnt where everything was. To my amazement, I was based in the Paralympic Family Lounge, where all the dignitaries were welcomed. We were a very international team. My colleagues came from Brazil and Japan as well as the UK and, between us we spoke French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German as well as English.
So what did we do? Well, sometimes we were in the lounge to assist the various dignitaries, at other times we sat downstairs at the entrance to the lounge to stop unauthorised people from coming in for free coffee!
Sometimes we went out on the hospitality boats with the dignitaries and served them refreshments. This is one of two boats built by Benetteau, each worth over a million pounds. They had been bought by private individuals who had lent them to be used for the Olympics and Paralympics. After the Games, one would go to Singapore, the other to the South Coast of England.
And sometimes we cleaned the hospitality boats! This one, Wet Wheels, came from Fareham where it is used for sailing classes for disabled children.
When we were out on the hospitality boats, we got unrivalled views of the racing.
The weather gods were kind to us and we had sun every day, and just one day when there was not enough wind to sail but that was the last day and the rankings had been determined by then. So we worked on our own, GamesMaker races. Entries had to be made entirely of recycled materials found on the venue.
I also had the immense privilege of meeting the athletes as they came off the water when racing was finished each day, and interviewing the French & Italian teams about their experiences. This was, for me, the best part of the time I spent in Weymouth, as the athletes are in many cases very severely handicapped and yet have the immense courage to go to sea in very small vessels. For obvious reasons, we were not allowed to take photos of the athletes at this time.
Britain had never before won a medal in the Paralympic Sailing so it was immensely exciting when Helena Lucas won the 2.4MR, getting a Gold Medal, and Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell won a Bronze Medal in the SKUD18. I was very lucky to attend the medal ceremony, where the people we had been entertaining all week (who had been casually dressed in jeans) suddenly appeared in their best clothes and went on to the podium to give out the medals!
So what else? Well, wearing the uniform was quite an experience Cars stopped for me in Weymouth to let me cross the road, people asked to be photographed with me, coach drivers asked where they should take their passengers to get the best view of the racing! I am already having withdrawal symptoms now I am out of uniform and people just pass me by!
It was also wonderful to be part of a very international team. One of my colleagues came all the way from Japan, at his own expense, to assist with Japanese interpreting, another came from Brazil, and hopes to also volunteer in 2016 when the Games are held there. We shook hands with Lord Coe, Prince William, and many other dignitaries - and everyone thanked us!
We were given lots of souvenirs by those we met, and I have a great collection of pins now - but by far the best souvenirs are the wonderful memories!"
And what is the Legacy? Well, I fully intend to remain a member of KWSC and to learn to sail, and, who knows, I might be there in Rio in 2016, as a member of the GBR team! For an ex-GamesMaker, everything is possible!