On 25th August 2016, complete with 2 branded suitcases full of exciting new clothing, I set off to Heathrow for the 12-hour flight to Rio to act as the logistics manager for the GB Paralympic team. As part of the Operations team, we were a week ahead of the athletes and our first job was to get the village ready for their arrival. This week was also a great opportunity to orientate myself with the village and the sports venues most of which were a short cycle ride away (15 minutes) or a long road drive away (45 minutes at peak times). As the logistics manager I was responsible for delivering equipment to some of the further away venues like the triathlon on Copacabana Beach and the sailing at Marina da Gloria, both in sight of the iconic Sugar Loaf Mountain.
The village itself was a wonderful environment with everything an athlete could need from hairdressing and fitness rooms to the ubiquitous McDonalds. It took us the full 7 days to get everything ready for the arrival of the athletes, some of whom had been in training camps in other parts of Brazil for a couple of weeks. On the first night of arrivals, we set off to the airport to meet the cycling and shooting teams and their 300+ bags plus boxes of sports equipment. Most of the athletes are wheelchair bound so we had to recruit a small army of games’ volunteers to move the people and equipment to the vehicles waiting outside. We repeated this process over the next 6 nights until we had all 270 athletes and their support staff in the village.
The village had been quiet up to this point but the true extent of the power of sport for disabled people came home to me on that first morning when I went into breakfast and was surrounded by thousands of people in wheelchairs or wearing prosthetics. Watching them move so gracefully, eat and carry out all normal daily functions was inspirational – all this before they had got anywhere near the field of competition.
Once the Games started, we soon found ourselves in a hectic tempo of work. As well as moving people and equipment around the many competition venues – on a very tight schedule on very busy roads – our small operations team also had to look after the daily routine of life to make sure that the paralympians could focus on only one thing – competing for medals. This meant that I would often find myself climbing 18 flights of stairs (we tried to keep the elevators free for the athletes – there were only 3 in the building) to go and unblock a toilet or fix a leaking tap. Whilst there were maintenance staff on site, it could take days to get them to arrive.
Very quickly the medals started to come in and, as we were all staying in the same tower block, we shared the fruit of the athletes’ labours with them. All the athletes were very down to earth, with no egos on display, and a highlight of my time was sitting down with them and talking about their journeys, how they got into the sport, what motivated them and what their aspirations were for the future. Many of them are full time athletes just like their able bodied counterparts and they spend just as much time in the gym training and working on their diet and fitness.
ParalympicsGB had been set a target of 121 medals prior to the games and there was a lot of apprehension within the camp at the start to see if we could do it. Not only was pride at stake but also Lottery funding; under-achieving teams lose their money for the next Games. As the week progressed we worked our way steadily to the target and then the magical figure was met and we went on to take 147 medals in total. The medal board that we brought with us had to be hastily modified to cater to the extras.
Finally, the majority of athletes left on a specially chartered aircraft with seats allocated based on performance; multi-medal winners had the privilege of flying back first class with all the trimmings. We waved them all off at the airport having transported over 700 (identical) red bags and several tons of freight and returned to a very empty village which was suddenly eerily quiet. We had 3 frantic days tidying up the rooms, removing all the branding that we had carefully put up (with tons of Blu Tack) and loading the rest of the freight into a sea container. We had one final day exploring Rio where we got to go up Sugar Loaf Mountain and visit the Christ the Redeemer statue and it was back to a cold and damp London 4 weeks after leaving.
I can’t wait to do it again.
February – March 2017