“Who did the paras? (*Hands go up*) Whatever you learnt at the paras, forget it. The worlds is completely different.” This was the quote from our team leaders that sums up the first day of the IAAF World Athletics Championships and how it would be throughout the 10-day competition.
Let’s jump back a week or so. I was sat at my desk at work, mourning the loss of the atmosphere at the Paras. Being back in the office was such a strange feeling – before the volunteering started, my job was chaotic and I felt like I was just winging it. When I returned, trust me, I was still winging it (and that will never change!) but the role didn’t feel as chaotic anymore, not after sprinting around the stadium more times than Mo Farah goes around the track for the 10,000m. Speaking to the group, it became apparent that I clearly wasn’t the only one.
The WhatsApp group that was created on day 1 of the Paras had now grown into a 60-strong community of starting blocks and lane markers we’d met along the way, and whilst the notifications may still be going off at 1am most nights, the photos and memories are there to cherish for life, as are the people. Turns out we’re all feeling a little down, but I didn’t think I’d get this opportunity again. I didn’t know I would be at the IAAF World Championships, I originally had no shifts, just like the Paras, but once again, I got the call.
I’m incredibly lucky; I found out on the Tuesday that I’d been given shifts. For the Friday. Giving me only 72 hours to organise travel, accomodation and all the logistics to ensure I could actually attend, including getting the green light from work. One big brain ache, but completely worth every single second of confusion and stressing. A big shout out to my Aunty who is currently letting me crash on her sofa bed meaning I don’t have to travel the two hours each way to make it to my shifts, also currently where I’m writing these blogs.
After 4 1/2 hours of driving through three different traffic accidents on three different motorways, I made it to the stadium, but first, accreditation. And the queues. We were all stuck in it, we waited in line like the good little Brits we are and waited. And waited. And waited a little more. By the time I’d made it to the back of the line, I had 20 minutes before my shift started and the queue itself was looping round more than a slinky going down the stairs – I had no hope. But at least I spotted a few of the team from the Paras who were also screwed, so I was in good company.
Kudos to the Accreditation Team who had to sift through thousands of people in such a short period of time – we may have been getting antsy and feeling slightly distressed, but thank you for dealing with all of us in a calm and sensitive manner. After all, we’re all volunteers and you had to cope with stress-heads galore (me included). We all salute you in your role!
Eventually, I made it to my first shift – an hour late but nothing I could do about that – and found that we hadn’t started training yet. And once I had received a hug from one of our lovely team leaders and told I can breathe again, I was all set for day 1. Here goes nothing!
I was rather surprised to see so many familiar faces from just a fortnight ago, I imagined that there would be a couple of us from the Paras and a huge team of hardened volunteers who had been at the London and Rio Olympics together and so much more. I really do have to stop making assumptions, I keep getting them horrendously wrong. The evening itself though for our starting blocks team was, as Aleksandr the Meerkat would say, “Simples.” Two 100m set ups and a chance to watch the great Usain Bolt in action for the first time at the Championships.
The only thing that topped the evening off was being able to say we were in the stadium on the night that Mo Farah won his last major 10,000m track race. Even as a journalist, there are no words to describe the deafening noise around the Olympic Park during his run – it genuinely gave me goosebumps and will be a memory I can cling to for the rest of my life. And seeing a group of around 50 of the ‘Pink Army’ (our volunteer nickname for both the championships) screaming at the side of the track, four to five rows deep, and jumping to watch the legend in person cross the line first.
Our first shift as a group was the perfect start to yet another fantastic championships. We’re meeting people for the very first time, catching up with ‘old’ friends (well, two-week-old friends but friends nonetheless) and talking to people we didn’t have a chance to spend any time with the first time round. The action for us on the lane marker team may not be as frantic as it was during the Paras, but it does give us the chance to see the best athletes in the world – how on earth could we ever turn this opportunity down?!