Doing the Right Thing in London

By John Kessel | Sept. 06, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

Had a morning off from jury duty, so I got up to meander the Paralympic Village and Olympic Park. The one thing that never ceases to bring a smile to my face is the huge number of people guiding their blind or wheelchair bound country men and women.  With a village population of 16,000 beds, you see this support every 100 meters as you move around anytime day or night. Enter the main dining hall and that job of doing the right thing, helping the nation’s best athletes in time, guidance and even fiscal commitment, is seen at every food station. The food options are vast, from “the best of Britain” to “The Americas,” Asian, Indian, and of course…McDonalds. There is always a line at McDonalds and my favorite treat to head to bed on it the Whispa McFlurry….carmel, chocolate and vanilla ice cream yummmmmm.

The word that comes to mind all the time you work with these athletes is courage. To trust your guide as a blind athlete while running, bike riding, skiing, swimming and more. The “tappers” who touch their swim racer as they get to a certain distance from the end of the pool and wall. The long jumpers who have learned to fly down the runway and leap in front of countless fans into a sand pit they hope they are aiming at. The courage to overcome what has happened, from sitting volleyball player Martine Wright who lost both legs in the London Undergound bombing back in 2005, the day after London was chosen as the Olympic/Paralympic hosts, and now is playing for Team Great Britain.

 How about the South African swimmer who lost his leg to a shark while rescuing other swimmers lives in the bloody turmoil in the water.

 So many nations are not disabled person friendly, so crutches, not wheelchairs are the best way to get around, yet these competitors still find time to work and train, to reach these Paralympics as the best from their country.

The other thing that many may not know is the major support USA Volleyball athletes, coaches and officials help provide our Sitting Volleyball Teams with their membership in USA Volleyball. As in the other disciplines of our sport – indoor and beach, the teams train year round, with full time staff – in this case Bill Hamiter and Elliot Blake currently. Based at the US Paralympic Training Center at the University of Central Oklahoma, the annual programming costs to support these sitting athletes is hundreds of thousands of dollars – with competition, housing, meals, travel and staff support. We do this as it is simply the right thing to do, but could not do it without the help of each of you who join USA Volleyball. So as the women play on Friday for the Gold medal against China, I want to say thanks to all of you who are supporting these players with your USAV membership, for it matters a lot.  You have choices to make and I for one appreciate when you choose to support USA Volleyball, so we can do programming like this, as well as support our Olympic and High Performance program pipelines for both males and females.

Also once again Ottobock gets a shout out from me for their work in the village as a technical service provider since the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul. These games they brought TWELVE welders alone on a staff of 80 technicians to help with any repair or upgrade needed, and man sites in the village and at 9 competition venues. They are nearing the 2,000 repairs and get this, “whenever the equipment is too worn out and the athlete cannot afford a new one, we replace it for free…”

Last nite I was on ABC – the Australian Broadcast Company, talking about sitting volleyball around the world. Like getting the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and  one of the most beloved screen/TV stars of Great Britain, Barbara Windsor (spry enough at over 70 to still play sitting volleyball, I invited the ABC staff to come to the venue and take on the staff. I also got a tube of Vegemite – which says “Warning, may cause spontaneous outburst of ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi!, Oi!, Oi’”   On my return, I got several emails from coaching friends in Oz who were pretty shocked to see me on their television that morning. Just part of growing the game, no matter where and when…

So just some observations from these Paralympics, an event I first worked as ACOP sitting volleyball producer in 1996 with Phil Bush, Jim Stewart, Pierre Farmer  of Canada (who is here on the jury staff), Kathy Scott and many others…..

Wheelchair Chicken games in the streets and walkways of the Paralympic Village, yet I have never seen anyone collide.

The WOVD website has over 5,000 likes….thanks to all who are checking in there, along with our USA Volleyball page. Jason is doing a good job taking pictures and posting right after each match.

The floor wipers here are top notch. I filmed them for reference/lessons as the WOVD moves forward into 2014 World Championships and 2016 Paralympic in Brazil. Simple lesson – see this? Do that…

I think in 2016 all families with USA members making our Paralympic and Olympic team should have special shirts made with their athlete’s last name on them…

With Brazil hosting in 2016, the battle will be between USA and Canada men most likely to see who can also qualify from our PanAm zone, which is just one team.

The Dutch fans remain the #1 ranked in wackiness, well ahead of Brasil. The Iranian fans are the most passionate, closely followed by Japan. But nothing beats the crowd at the venue for noise when Great Britain is on the field of play, in any sport. I thought during the Opening Ceremonies that the stadium might shake apart from the noise level, and bet the Queen and all her subjects, and the rest of us, lost some hearing during these games.

China’s sponsor is 361 degrees sportswear.  I guess the idea is that you can see beyond the whole panorama of a person’s normal view with that extra one degree. Sorta like the 211-212 story of one degree making a difference from hot water to steam to drive locomotives and power the nation…

Great transportation system here, with busses pulled into service from all over the United Kingdom, a lot of Excel venue drivers are from Scotland. Once they figured out the route, things have been very smooth.

The total games workforce is 200,000 – 6,000 staff, 70,000 volunteers and 100,000 contractors.  They have built over 200,000 temporary seats, and right now, as Track and Field is played in the Olympic Stadium nearby, I can hear the thunderous cheers with each event happening.

My favorite part about the Opening Ceremonies, other than the amazing Stephen Hawking speaking to all, were the apples…I will miss the closing ceremonies as I depart as soon as competition ends, for we have the FIVB World Congress to help host in Anaheim later this month.

Our venue is THE place to be at Excel – we are with individual sports- Boccia, Wheelchair Fencing, Powerlifting and Table Tennis, so the announcer, staff and set up is always rocking – with the morning/afternoon sessions filled with school classes in uniforms.

My favorite silly thing they do getting the crowd to “play” the bongo drums overlaid on their image.

Today head coach Bill Hamiter just asked for the ice cream from a McFlurry and poured his CocaCola onto it, instant Coke Float. Wise man that Hamiter.

Cecile Reynaud has been doing a great job as Team Leader for the ladies, and will bring back some powerful insights into sports programming when she returns to teach at Florida State.

Bobby Clarke, who I have known since the early 1970s, and partnered with in a doubles tournament in 1977 where we lost to a young Karch Kiraly, said to shoot him if he said he says he is working in Rio. Bobby has worked as the chief staffer of volleyball at nearly every Olympics since 1996, doing volleyball, beach volleyball and sitting volleyball, and living in London for the last 3 years to accomplish that. He is headed back to the USA for a long deserved break from volleyball…

They said they have 26,400 tennis balls, 2,700 soccer balls and 6,000 Archery target faces. We have a few hundred volleyballs which are used just one match, then will be donated out to volleyball venues as part of their legacy program.  The same thing happened to the sand after the beach event, some 10 or so beach sites were created in England using the sand from the venue.

I got a chance to “meet” Mandeville today, the one eyed mascot named after the first disabled event, the Mandeville Games which began the Paralympic movement.  Andrew Getting from Sport Court International saw the pic and told me that when he was here in London earlier this summer with his six year old daughter, she asked “Dad, is this city famous for aliens or something?”.. and that is the best way to end this, along with a GET WELL SOON to Bill Neville, who is recovering well from a stroke of all things up in the Puget Sound area…