Thursday, July 29, 2010

The 2010 Canadian Summer Special Olympics! - Part II

Let The Games Begin…

It was a very busy time driving my bus throughout London, dropping off or returning athletes from their events. The athletes always wore smiles on their faces, even if they didn’t do as well as they had hoped in an event. If they had won an event, their smiles had a hard time staying in the confines of their faces!!!

Although our schedules were quite full, there were times when a half-hour had to be waited through and so I’d get an occasional glimpse of a baseball game.

I sat down on one of the benches just as Team Ontario was finishing a group photo. There were three Team Ontario ball clubs. This team had white tops and red bottoms. One of the other teams wore red tops and black bottoms while the third team red tops and red bottoms.

It was quite hot! Almost every spectator wore a hat and sunglasses and funny umbrellas kept popping open throughout the stands.

It’s the pitch!

Crack! A perfect hit!

And the runner on second base makes a steal!!!

There’s something about this last photo that I just love. The character and positioning of the runner just says something so simple and yet it’s so full of joyous emotion! I look at this and I think, “Painting!!!” Maybe… one day.

When I had the time, and I saw an Olympic medal around the neck of an athlete, I had my picture taken with them.

As I think about all of the peace Stik-ers that I gave to each and every athlete I met during these days, I wonder how many of them just might visit my blog to see pictures of themselves or their friends!!! I’ll bet they’ll be pleasantly surprised!

There was only one time that I regret not taking a picture. One day, I had the oldest Olympic athlete on my bus. She is 71 years old and she’s on one of the bowling teams. Her coach introduced us, we shook hands and exchanged greetings and then she was off. And then I remembered my camera – D’oh!!!

As each day progressed, the weather got a little hotter… and a lot stickier. Southern Ontario is known for its extremes in humidity. It was 1:30pm and I had just dropped off a team of track athletes at a university playing field. Half an hour later, I was called back to pick them up again as a few athletes had become sick from the extreme temperatures. Imagine running laps around an outside track, under a blazing sun with temperatures reaching above 46 degrees!!!!

Because of this change, I was let off work early, so I went home. Other drivers were being called in to drive the athletes back to the playing fields later that evening, when the temperatures had become bearable. Then the dark clouds came rolling in. As I sat in my backyard, enjoying a nice cold beer, the skies cracked with thunder and lightning, and I wondered what was happening with the athletes. I was told, the next day, that our drivers had broken a record for time for this massive stadium evacuation. The Police Chief was impressed!

It was really great meeting so many people from all across Canada. Since Joanne and I had spent five years travelling across this country, as I worked on various community art projects, I had some knowledge of many of the towns and cities that the athletes came from and this gave us some common ground to speak about.

I chatted with one of the coaches from The Northwest Territories for almost half an hour, one evening. I told him that I had been to the arctic – Rankin Inlet, Nunavut – to be precise and he told me that he had actually lived there for five years. I shared some of the family names that I had come to know and he knew a few of them. He knew the hotel where I had stayed and he knew the radio station where I had been a guest DJ.

For being one of the planet’s largest countries, Canada can sure seem very small at times!

On another day, a group of athletes was walking beside my bus to get on the bus behind me. I was casually glancing at everyone when one face stirred a memory in me. I focused! I actually knew the face that was walking by me. I looked at the team shirts this group was wearing and noticed that they were from Manitoba. I sent my memory into overdrive so that I could remember how I knew this person. Then I remembered that his favourite drink was a gingerale. While I was living in Neepawa, Manitoba I worked as a bartender at The Classic Rock Bar – now burned to the ground – and this person used to come in, from time to time, with a family member for special community gatherings. I laughed! I never had a chance to talk with him but I wondered if I had if he would remember his old bartender from 1999.

One afternoon, I was enroute to the baseball fields, again, to return a group for their dinner. While I was driving to the field I noticed that the clouds had formed into a massive eagle in one of my rearview mirrors – with head tilted upwards and wings spread large and wide embracing the sky. Since the eagle is one of my greatest life-totems I knew that something interesting was about to happen.

As the team started to walk towards my bus, I had inquired as to how their game went. The coach beamed with delight to inform me that Team PEI had won a landslide victory – 25 to 0!!!! I asked the coach if I could have a photo taken with the team as they just might end up being the gold medal winners if this streak continued. The coach said, ‘Yes’ and in less than 5 seconds – LOL – the team was ready for the photo. I guess they had practiced the ‘team pose’ on many occasions in the past!

Since PEI is an island just off the coast I thought it was appropriate to call them The Hurricanes! The players loved this idea and we all laughed!!

I was told that this was the team’s first shutout victory and that it was one of the greatest shutout victories in any Special Olympics. I guess that the eagle cloud was watching over them as they played.

The stories that were shared and the memories that were created during this time will live on in thousands and thousands of people for many years to come. I am very grateful to have been selected to be one of the drivers for this weeklong event. I had a blast!!!!

As I drove my bus back to yard, at the end of the last day, I felt a little pained as I knew that the smiles that had been created on my face would soon be a memory.


PS – you may think that this concludes my story telling from this week long event… but I have one more amusing story to share… next time!

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