Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olympic Dreams

Unlike the athletes who have expended many hours of dedication to their dream - my dream was just to be able to go along to London 2012 ... so rather then having to pursue this dream with hours of effort, support from family and friends, dedication and sacrifice ... like most people who entered the ballot for tickets... I didn't bother with that but jumped at the chance of a weekend break package from Thomas Cook as seen advertised by The Pope.... and actually it was The Pope who booked the package up too.... so not much sacrifice at all from me.. but still my Olympic Dream was set an in place!

And then came Cyril....

One of the first questions I asked the nurse when they said I could be freed from hospital was did they think I'd be fit and able enough in two weeks time to go see the Olympics?... I think they just thought I was stupid... but you know.. I am an "Ironman" (*) ... so yeah I am stupid and can be somewhat determined when it comes to doing things!!

Once I got home I set about getting walking fit - starting with laps of the living/ dining room (about 14') and had my own "olympic test event" the few days before we were due to go; shuffling to the Cafe (about 300m from my house) and sitting down to eat a sandwich.... now all this did tire me out somewhat but I was feeling hopefull.

My biggest concerns were (a) ability to walk to venue and (b) ability to sit down for periods of time and (c) getting out and back to the hotel. We had tickets to see Volleyball (taking place in Earl's Court) and Hockey (taking place at the Riverbank Arena in the Olympic park) with our hotel luckily very well placed right near Bayswater (district line) and Queesway (central line), both about 200-300m away. Now as luck would have it, one of my good friends, Katharine, was "working" as a games maker at the Hockey... she did some scouting about and fact finding and said there were wheelchairs which we could use - this was a surprise to me... at no fee, no Dr's note required. But wheelchairs available on first come first serve basis, and failing that there was also an extended golfcart thing which transferred less able people around the Olympic park.

So having succesfully carried out my final test event on the Friday we decided to give it a go!! The Pope instructed me to pack light (as I couldn't carry anything and she would have to have it all)... so the bare essentials went into the baackpack; 3 pairs of pants, two clean t-shirts and a light rain jacket. That was it.

The journey up was pretty uneventful, and we realised when we were midway through that there was an easier route to go... I was kind of ok until we got to the underground in Paddington. Waiting for the tube to come I felt really rather faint and not at all good. Was slightly worried we had made the wrong decision for a moment... but told myself that really the end of the ironman (*) was surely worse then this...  it was the end of the journey and only one tube stop. Somehow managed it and was somewhat pleased to get to the hotel room for a few hours rest.

Next stop Earl's Court. It was here we got our first glimpse of the mobility transfer offered at every venue. A minibus which could take less able people direct from the station to the entrance. As we just missed one I decided that standing waiting 10-15mins would be as uncomfortable as walking and so we left at a snails pace with the Pope protecting me and my shuffle from the less aware pavement walker (it is seriously amazing how little people are aware of their surrondings). We got to Earl's Court and were quickly spotted by a gamesmaker and asked if we needed assistance. It turned out they had wheelchairs for use here too! .. We later discovered that one of the factors which played a part in London's bid winning was the accessability and mobility offerings they made - this was the first Olympics where this type of assistance was being offered! Anyway - somewhat amazed - a wheelchair was produced for me, we got through security and a gamesmaker whizzed us over to ticketing where they annoted our tickets and basically swapped out seats for wheelchair access ones.... I hadn't thought about the effort required of actually getting up flights of steep steps to our seat until this point. So another reason to be grateful!
Just holding The Pope's beer... My taste buds were still out of action!
We (well I say we but I mean the Pope) signed for the wheelchair and it was ours to keep for the duration of our stay in Earls Court, and we had court side seats too! At some stage I became quite emotional if I'm honest - Since knowing the operation date I really wasn't sure I would make this - and the helpfullness, kidness and support I was shown was, to me, very touching and made me very humble and very grateful in many ways. There were about 3 groups of us "less able" peeps in the accessibility area - I think the other two had feet/ leg issues (like being in plaster!)

The Pope not quite believing how close to the action we were
Now then... ; I have never been to a volleyball game before (ok so I did play about 4 times when I was in sixth form), and the atmosphere was ELECTRIC. Just prior to our alloted games Team USA were playing and the noise coming from the court was simply amazing. It was just exciting listening to that! Soon enough though that game was over, we waited a short while for people to exit and a clear up before we were allowed in to the court side... we saw the evening games of Argentina vs Bulgaria (Argentina had the better outift) and Brazil vs Serbia (The brazilian supporters won it!) ....Both games were utterly brilliant. The speed of play, the amazing agility and the noise of the supporters was utterly immense. Did I mentioned the Brazilian supporters already? If this was an indication what Rio is going to be like well - start saving your money people as it will be brilliant!
The Brazil Serbia game was a complete thriller... and at 00:30 (yes a.m!)... with Brazil coming back looking like they were going to take the 4th set and moving the game towards a 5th set decider we decided that we were completely and utterly pooped and needed to head home... and actually doing this ahead of the max exodus was also wise given my condition. We left, saying goodbye to the awesome games makers - who had been stewarding for over 12 hours by this stage..... and quickly entered the rear entrance of Earl's Court tube, a quick ride home and back to the hotel for much needed sleep! Tomorrow was Olympic Park day after all!

Despite a lot of publicity asking people to go via one of the other tube stations/ entrances we headed to Stratford station direct down the Central Line. Someone kindly gave up their seat for me and away we went. We missed the sign for mobility transfer from the station to the park but actually it wasn't too far a walk (in the pouring rain!) ... You couldn't miss the way up to the park with cheery games makers every 10metres; pointing, shouting and encouraging you in the direction!... ....  Getting across the traffic of people we made it to the mobility centre..  Now this centre was really rather big and all sorts of offerings; from electric mobility scooter things, electric wheelchairs and push wheelchairs (like the one we had in Earls Court)... Now there wasn't just a dozen of each of these but 10's of each variety.  An incredible amount in fact. As we were quite early in the scheme of the day we were asked what we would like; I quickly dismissed that idea of a mobility scooter thing - firstly I don't think I would have comfortably reached the controls, secondly I would probably be a danger to other walkway users and thirdly The Pope was a good pusher and we figured there could be less abled people who didn't have someone who could push them. So having signed for the wheelchair off we scooted and into the queue for security. Once again the Army did a quick and efficient job and we were there - walking across the bridge and into the Olympic park. Talk about AMAZING!!! Lots of people were stopping to take a photo of themselves with the Olympic stadium in the background and I can't blame them - but we decided to do the walk in a oner and just soak in at atmosphere... it was BRILLIANT! I quickly realised why the tickets just to get into the park had sold out! With the beautiful landscaped gardens, an electric atmosphere, with big screens to watch events unfold whilst lazing on the banks of a river - why would you not want to come here!

Made it to the Olympic Park!
 We slowly took in the Park and headed North walking the length from Statfford towards Manor Gate - we saw the sites of all the venues which up until now we had only seen on TV; the stadium, the aquatic centre, the BBC TV studio (!), the RiverBank arean and the Pringle shape of the Velodrome .... have I used the word amazing yet? I can't describe the atmosphere - if you have been you know that buzz, that feeling that something amazing was happenening all around you.... it was fully charged - and I don't think that was just because of the clap of thunder we had!

The Olympic rings - the things of dreams!
 We wend our way towards the Riverbank and then over to the "street market" which had all sorts of food on offer... we grabbed ourselves a couple of delightful boxed up sushi's lunchs and headed back to the Riverbank Arena. Once again the GamesMakers and organisation was incredible - they whizzed us through the entrance and pointed us in the direction of the ticket swap - where they once more changed our seated tickets for mobility access tickets so I didn't have to worry about trying to get up a bank of steps .... we got the swap done (this time we had numbered "seats" in that I had a slot for the wheelchair and The Pope had a slot for a foldup chair to sit on which they had in the area)... and we were pitch side... the only people closer to the action were the photographers, officials and players! Katharine popped by to say hello and give us a low down on what she was doing on her GameMakers duties - she was working pretty much the whole two weeks at the Arena as a player liaison type role. It was great to meet up with her... Soon the match was on... Despite the heavens opening in true British Summer style (complete downpour with thunder) we thoroughly enjoyed the first game of South Korea vs Pakistan. By the time the second game was on we had such clear blue skies and heat that actually we almost got burnt... the second game was Holland vs Germany - which as it turned out was to be the fixture for the final too... however the result was different with Holland the more superior (by far) and winning the group encounter.

If I am honest though, and given I used to be a hockey player I do find this surprising to say - I did find the atmosphere and excitement of the volleyball encounters a ratchet or several up from the hockey. Not sure why - possible as a result of an intense and enclosed stadium for the Volleyball. Or maybe those that got tickets for the hockey was less partisan to one team over another (the Volleyball most certainly had a lot of Country specific supporters!!!).... Stilll I am not complaining - just observing really.

We originally planned then to try and meet up Kirsty (another friend who had been watching handball that day) and Katharine again... but the park was heaving and being in a wheelchair made manoevring me about a little bit more challenging - mainly because people were walking around in awe (or using their mobile phone) and not paying any attention at all as to where they were going (or whom they were about to walk in front off).... being at the height of a small child and not being able to maneourve myself certainly gave me a different perspective.

We dropped the wheelchair back off and got the mobility transport back to Stratfford station (literally through the back door and security to pretty much on to the train line).... the Station was not as busy as we feared it may be and a tube quickly pullled up for the journey back to Hyder Park and where our hotel was.

An utterly fantastic, amazing, and awesome day. What a weekend. What a spectacle.

I felt and still feel so blessed that we were able to go, and to be able to get around (with heaps of thanks to the Pope for pushing and the 2012 Bid team to have had the vision of access for all).


The Pope happy to stop pushing and enjoy pitch side seats!

Germany vs Holland

Action Photo - spot the ball!

Germans coming out of defence

Holland on the ball...
 (*) Strictly speaking I haven't done an Ironman but I have done a Challenge... full distance... so I have done an "iron" distance... whatever... I shall continue to claim "Ironman" with it in speechmarks... and yes Jules ... this comment was especially for you!! Mwahhhh! ha ha ha ... oh how we laughed!

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