On a Monday morning my Brazilian taxi driver Marco (pessoa de confianca – a trustworthy person) waited for me at the airport. The sun was shining and I missed the city after a study session in Oregon USA. We passed the beach of Barra to the family’s house. In the meantime Marco bought me pastilles for my nasty cough. What a service! After a good lunch and fresh shower I came back in my volunteers uniform. Time to go to the Paralympic village and see my delegation!
The ritual at the village repeated: check in, pass the security, take the lunch voucher and check in at the NOC/NPC Services Center. I had no delegation yet, but to find one was not that difficult because of the lack of volunteers. The minimum of 3 volunteers each delegation could not be delivered. There was a long list with the names of the delegations, their number of assistants and how many assistants they preferred to have. We checked the list and decided that I would be assigned to Sri Lanka. I got a working mobile phone and the numbers of the other volunteers and Chef de Mission. First task was to recharge the battery and get in touch with the delegation!
My volunteers work started the next morning. I was expected in the delegations’ office in one of the condominiums in the village. Rajeeva Wickramasinghe was a friendly Chef the Mission and brigadier in the Sri Lanka army. He welcomed me in the team. Sri Lanka has a small delegation with 9 athletes (1 female and 8 male) and a few people around them (like the team manager and coaches). In Sri Lanka para-sport is closely connected with the army. It’s a method to revalidate wounded soldiers. A lot of athletes have war-related handicaps or were soldiers themselves. Learn more about the team here.
Or first destination was to support archer Sampath Bandara Megahamulea in the Sambodromo. Normally it’s the place to celebrate Carnaval. Now arrows were flying trough the stadium. Archery is a nice sport to see. Especially at the Paralympics it’s amazing to see people handling the bow and arrows even with no arms. In this discipline people in wheelchairs are mixed with standing people with other disabilities. Unfortunately, the tensions made Sampath ending in the first round. The Chef de Mission talked to him in a positive manner: bring this experiences to your next games!
Boccia and wheelchair fencing
In the afternoon we traveled to Barra Olympic Park to watch some other sports. For the first time in my life I saw boccia. I thought it was boring until I was excited about how a shaking body could throw the ball so precise! Amazing! The next game was wheelchair fencing. For me interesting because I’m a fencer myself. Now I could explain the rules to the Chef de Mission.
Olympic Stadion: bronze medal in javelin for Sri Lanka
The Olympic Stadium was the last destination of that day. Two athletes participated in the athletics discipline javelin. It contains a few rounds and your best result counts. This took some time and other competitions passed by at the other venue parts. This gave me the opportunity to see Ananias Shikongo for the first time. He ran the second heat of the 200m T11. It was a great experience to see him qualifying for the finals!
Also for Sri Lanka it was an exciting competition. Herath Mudiyanselage Dinesh Priyantha Herath won a bronze medal in javelin! His team mate Ketawala Gedara Gamini Ekanayake finished 9th out of 12. It was beautiful to see how the delegation discussed their results in the end of the day. The delegation was so proud and give compliments to all their athletes who competed that day. This week I would return a lot of times in the Olympic Stadium. Not only to support Sri Lanka but also to see Ananias Shikongo winning one gold and two bronze medals.
Sunday the team had a day off and we visited the famous Christo statue. We returned on time for the collective departures of the delegations to their closing ceremony. Before leaving the village we had to make a lot of pictures of our wonderful team! I enjoyed the closing ceremony with my fellow volunteer Marcos in the Maracana Stadium. It was a wonderful show despite of the tropical storm that passed the city. It was very windy and you could take a shower outside! After the ceremony we had to run to our car and we were totally sodden. The rain made us feel fresh again after a very hot day. We had a long journey back to the village because of the traffic. In the middle of the night we joined the party for the athletes. It was cozy and a lot of people were dancing. People in wheelchairs, small people, blind people, people from every corner of this world. But above all: happy people!
Monday was our last day with the delegation. It was surprising that everybody was still looking fresh after the party. We went to the shopping center for the last presents and a heavy amount of chocolate! The moment of departure came closer. The keys of the delegation’s van and car had to be returned after a funny inspection (Marcos lost the car keys during inspection and found them back in his pants after 15 minutes). We also had a small hearth attack because our Chef de Mission forgot his accreditation and was not allowed to reenter the village. Fortunately I could bring his pass from the condominium. Just in time! The luggage and bags were collected on trolleys. The whole delegation was ready and on time for the bus to the airport. But where was the Chef de Mission?! After a phone call I found him at the NPC Services Center. Saying goodbye to everybody who has helped him these weeks. We had to hurry!
With a short delay we dropped our delegation. As volunteers we felt empty when they were gone. We had a great time together during the games, but we felt also a relief that the long days and hectic were over. Now it was time to check the rooms and collect the keys. It took a long time, talking about all our wonderful experiences. Until the moment that you have to return your mobile phone and get the certificate. Than I realized: it’s really Game Over now!