Edinburgh Young Ambassadors to Paralympic Games Makers

Young Games MakersDay one: On the 24th of August our trip began with a photo shoot on the mound for Edinburgh’s press. This took place in front of the enormous Paralympic Agitos and having a group photo taken, adorned with British and Scottish flags, seemed to be a fitting start to our journey. We then made our way to the train station for our five-hour trip down to London. Over the course of those next five hours, everyone really began to properly bond as a team and it started to sink in that our journey had begun. Finally we arrived at our accommodation at Queen Mary University and settled into our home for the next sixteen days

Day two:  On the second day we got straight into the Games Maker programme with an eight o’clock rise and travel to Excel for venue specific orientation and some practice matches to allow other teams to fine tune their roles. At the orientation we first attended an induction presentation where we were given all the necessary information for being a Games Maker in general, and told a bit more about what was expected from us while working in this prestigious role. The orientation culminated in a tour of Excel where we were taken into a few of the different sporting arenas to give us an impression of the venue before being shown around the Sitting Volleyball section in more detail.  The scale of the arena compared to the size of the Sitting Volleyball court baffled all of us and it really hit home how popular sitting volleyball is and the pressure that would be on us once the crowds were in to deliver an outstanding service to the athletes and officials

After this we had our first practice as courtside assistants on the Paralympic court.  GB Women had practice matches against Japan and Ukraine, and it was the real deal but without the crowd!  This allowed us to perfect our quick and fast mopping as well as our ball retrieving roles before rushing to ‘UDAC’ for uniform collection

TravelsAt the enormous distribution warehouse known as ‘UDAC’ (uniform distribution and accreditation centre) we registered then were quickly ushered into one of the slickest and most impressive distribution procedures any of us had ever experienced, starting with a photo being taken and our details being confirmed. After the photo we were told to follow a yellow line painted on the floor and as soon as we turned the corner, no more than twenty seconds after having the photo taken, our passes were ready, laminated and our names were being called to collect them. After getting our passes we then went through to a second hall where we took a ticket from a numbering machine and waited to be called. Although some jokes were made at the time about it feeling like being children again, waiting to be fitted for school shoes, this was nowhere near the feeling of childish excitement we got at the end when, after all the fitting of uniform, we were given a massive bag stuffed to the brim with Adidas shoes, tops, socks, trousers and every other imaginable uniform item! To top it off, at the checkout we were given a receipt for all the items with a total cost of £0.00….it was like Christmas again! 

Calum Connelly, Edinburgh Young Games Maker
Courtside Assistant, Sitting Volleyball

Thursday 30th August saw us all on court for the first time properly. This was it, this was the real thing. It is what all of our training and preparation had been building towards, that first Sitting Volleyball match at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. It had been a long journey to this point but everyone was raring to go, all of our hard work was finally about to pay off. Waiting in the tunnel at the side of the court with the rest of my team I could see the seats filling up, the noise and colour building as we waited.  On the big screens I could see a video being played with many well-known athletes and celebrities talking about the significance of the Games and how proud they were to have them in their home country. It was at this point more than any other that it hit me how lucky I was to be an active part of it all. It was surreal to think that we weren’t going to be watching it on the television or even from the stands, we were going to be courtside right in the middle of the action. I couldn’t wait to get out there….

We were announced onto court and walked out to David Guetta’s ‘Sweat’, just like we had practised so many times before. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I walked, I tried furiously to pretend to the crowd that I do this sort of thing every day, that it was just another day at the office. ‘Professional but pleased to be here’ was the look I was after. I think the huge grin on my face may have called my bluff on that one though. But that’s the point of all of this, right? It’s not something that we do every day; it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of something amazing, something unforgettable. In the matches that have followed from the first it has not got any less surreal or any less amazing. Each day brings new challenges and experiences and I speak on behalf of all of the Edinburgh Young Games Makers when I say that we are all having the time of our lives!

Daniel Shields, Edinburgh Young Games Maker
Courtside Assistant, Sitting Volleyball

Young Games MakersEach and everyday on court was very different.  Some shifts involved a lot of hard graft and a lot of motivation, but the moment we marched onto court the adrenaline started pumping and with the music blaring, you simply forgot how tired you were and focused on the game. We had some incredible moments on court whether it was Daniel dancing with his mop, or chatting to the GB women after their games, or even Haseeb getting a cheeky wee wink from a Brazilian! But in fact it was the play that was the best bit when they spiked the ball down the line or when it got tense when there was a suspected touch on a ball that had gone out and the crowd went wild. We even managed to set our own Paralympic Games record, as we were the first team to complete two 5 set matches in a row. When ‘Everybody dance woohoo clap your hands’ came on we couldn’t help but smile and even Heather and Bev got a chance to shuffle their feet

The crowd roared as the GB women’s captain Claire Harvey was awarded with her medal, oh no wait ….. it was just Michael as we all stood with our shoulders broad and our chins angled high as our leader Heather presented us with our gold medals which looked very like a strangers accreditation! We had been asked to role-play at the dress rehearsal for the Sitting Volleyball competition, and it was another layer to making everything seem so real.  It was such an amazing feeling to be standing in the exact same spot as the Paralympic gold medalists would be standing after days of hard competition. In order to become Paralympics champions Bosnia had to defeat; China, Brazil, Rwanda, Egypt, Germany, and after previously suffering defeat in the group stages of pool B from Iran, Bosnia had to block serve again from them in the final. But could the result be changed when a gold medal was at stake?

Being a part of the men’s gold medal match last night rounded off the whole experience and definitely exceeded all my expectations. It can only be described as thee single best night of my life. To see a full-grown man of over 6 foot slide across the court in tears to serve for match point was indescribable. Even now a whole day later thinking back to that moment I get butterflies right under my rib cage, I guess it’s a moment that will remain close to my heart forever. To watch the underdogs Bosnia beat the undefeated Iranians in a gold medal match is a moment I could simply never forget and to make it even better I had the best team on court beside me, I think of them as my own little Paralympic family. As the Bosnian national anthem blared out through the arena, a waterfall of emotions flooded from our team. As Hannah R began to cry, this was the moment when it became real that our journey was almost over, that all our hard work had finally paid off and this was the last time I was going to be on court with my Paralympic family. However little did we know that in a few seconds time, Hannah M’s life was about to be made when the beautiful man that was number 4 in the Bosnian team ran from the podium to where we were standing and gave her his Olympic bouquet!!!!!  I think I almost nearly died of shock and cannot imagine how she must have felt, but she was absolutely beaming for the rest of the night and possibly will be for the rest of her life as it was a truly beautiful moment in which generations could definitely become inspired by

I realised in that moment how fantastic our team has been and just how well we have worked together. There’s not many groups of young people that if you asked to live together for over two weeks would come home best of friends. I was so proud to be standing on court with my team last night as everybody worked incredibly hard.  We were also very grateful for the support from all our Team Leaders through their time, effort and organisation of the training and the trip, but we were most appreciative of the water supplies during the matches!  I think the hardest part however was thanking Jen for all her hard work, she has been outstanding, the amount of time and effort she and Matt Rogers have put in to help and support us into becoming a gold medal team made our hug very emotional, as it symbolised our journey being almost over. However we have one more piece of excitement ahead and were honored to receive an invitation from the Lord Provost to attend the ceremony to bestow the freedom of the city on Sir Chris Hoy, another inspiring individual – a great way to end our journey

Katherine Corbett, Edinburgh Young Games Maker
Courtside Assistant, Sitting Volleyball