2010 volunteers embrace hard work and emotion to get the job done 

Olympics set the stage for more volunteering work in Whistler

click to flip through (2) Olympic spirits Mary Scott, Astrid Wolf, Michelle Dyrgas, Tasha Johnson, Courtnay de Rooy, Rusty Livingston — volunteers at the Whistler Sliding Centre during the Games. Mary Scott is Miga.
  • Olympic spirits Mary Scott, Astrid Wolf, Michelle Dyrgas, Tasha Johnson, Courtnay de Rooy, Rusty Livingston — volunteers at the Whistler Sliding Centre during the Games. Mary Scott is Miga.

It's been five years since the Olympic flags flew over Whistler, but the legacies of those Games live on, not just in the bricks and mortar of venues, but in the spirit of sport they left behind. To celebrate Pique will run a series of stories looking back at the event and forward to the legacies. This is the second in the five-part series.

One of the most tightly guarded Olympic secrets has finally been revealed, five years after the Games.

Mary Scott was Miga — reception supervisor at the Whistler Eye Clinic most days, the black and white lovable mascot when called upon by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games.

The experience was a "magical thing."

"It was the connection it made with adults as well as children," recalled Scott. "They couldn't get enough of having their picture taken with the mascots. It was fabulous, so much fun to do."

For the 17 days of the Games, however, she put aside her alter ego and became Mary Scott in the blue jacket, volunteer official at the Whistler Sliding Centre, weighing the bobsled and skeleton sleds during the race, among a host of other duties.

On the first day of the Games, before the Opening Ceremonies had even kicked off, there was a fatal sliding accident at the track — Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed during a training run.

"It was tough — emotionally very difficult those first few days after that accident," said a somber Scott.

These were the highs and lows of volunteering for the 2010 Games in Whistler.

Some 10,000 people were recruited to volunteer at the Whistler venues alone during Games-time.

They came from far and wide. It was Donna Savage's daunting job to recruit them all in the lead up to the Games.

"There are people, as I found out, who are "Gamers" — staff and volunteer people," said Savage. "And they travel to the Games from all over."

Her carrot to get them to sign up, donate their time, go through police checks, book off time from work, put their lives on hold for 17 days was this: "to support the community and to be involved in something that is very exciting."

Exciting, yes. Exhausting, too.

Exhaustion and hard work are the enduring themes for the volunteer Weasel Workers, who readied the mens' and ladies' courses for the Olympic alpine venue.

Lisa Ferguson ran a slip crew on the Ladies' downhill track. A longtime Whistler Weasel Worker, volunteering at ski races both near and far, Ferguson knew the drill of weasel work.

But the Olympics in Whistler were different.

There were routine calls out to be ready on the hill for 3 a.m. Some days they weren't off the hill until 10 p.m. — late nights, hard work, lots of shovelling. The conditions were challenging. But the Weasel Workers had their name and reputation at stake. No race would be cancelled on their watch, not if they had anything to do with it.

"If that was your first introduction to putting on a ski race, it was overwhelming, the amount of work. That amount of work is not a normal ski race," said Ferguson.

Rick Hume was chief of course, in charge of 700 Weasel Workers for the alpine venue, including his mother and his two sons.

His days began at 2:30 a.m. on the mountain. He was never off before 8 p.m.

The Weasels know Whistler is one of the most difficult venues to hold a ski race — it's all about the weather.

"Anybody can do a ski race when the weather is good," said Hume. "It's when Mother Nature has different ideas, it's pretty neat to see how the team can come together."

Both Hume and Ferguson pause when asked if they had any regrets about the Games.

"Regret" is not the word, they say. Both have just returned from volunteering at the World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Vail.

"You know what, I knew what I signed up for," said Hume.

And making all the long days and hard work worthwhile was the camaraderie and the friendship built with the others in the trenches.

"The best people I have ever met I have met through working ski races," said Ferguson.

"They're my best friends. So I would go back and do it again even knowing how much hard work it was and how little sleep people were going to get. Spending time and laughing and drinking beer with those people is... just the best."

Scott agrees. It was the same at the sliding centre.

Now it's full steam ahead for the 2018 Olympics in Korea.

"I'm now looking towards Korea, so keeping my fingers crossed," said Scott

While some may have been turned off by the massive expectations, the sheer volume of work, the emotional roller coasters, the Olympics fostered the spirit of volunteering that has long thrived in Whistler.

"Did it set a climate?" wonders Savage, who went on to recruit 2,500 volunteers for the past two years for Ironman. "Yes, absolutely. People had experiences that they didn't anticipate. They enjoyed their experience, and learned, and all those kinds of things. So did that help with recruiting for other kinds of events? Absolutely. There's no question in my mind. "



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