Cathy Jewett: the spirit of volunteering 

You need to forget about the ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude

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Cathy Jewett knew she wanted to volunteer for the 2010 Winter Games as soon as she heard the biggest sporting event in the world was coming to Whistler.

A regular face on the volunteer roster of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club - both her kids are racers - and with other community groups as well, it's no surprise that this feisty trail-blazer would set her sights on one of the top jobs: Chief of Patrol for the 2010 women's Alpine events.

And that is the job she got.

"I really wanted to be involved in the Olympics and I knew I wanted to be inside the fences," said Jewett, who has a reputation for remaining cool even when situations are extreme.

"...I knew from being around courses that I wanted a position that would get me on the course and be part of the action because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Jewett, who has lived in Whistler since 1976 and was one of the first woman to be hired as a pro patroller on Whistler, admits that her passion could be interpreted as corny but it is, she said, honestly felt.

"There has to be a certain amount of altruism in this," she said. "You need to forget about the 'what is in it for me' attitude."

This will not be Jewett's first experience with the Olympics. In 1992 she was the first woman exchange patroller to go to Val d'Isere, the site of the men's speed events for the Albertville Olympics.

"It was the experience of a lifetime because just to start things off we had a huge storm cycle in December which resulted in an avalanche that took out one of the chairlifts servicing the men's downhill, as well as ripping out some of the safety systems, burying three people, and killing a cow," said Jewett with a tomboy grin.

She was first on the scene of the avalanche as she had not been allowed to patrol the ski hill and was told to "stay behind with one of the secretaries, because I was the first woman to work in patrol there."

Rescuers saved the people and, said Jewett, the town rallied and the lift was repaired in record time, with all the safety systems back in place for the Olympics.

Then in the early morning of the day the super G was to be run, the course got 50 centimetres of fresh snow, said Jewett, telling the story to illustrate how the Olympics pulls volunteers together.

"There was a feeling of 'we better get this course ready. This is an Olympic event and we are going to have it, by God.' We had 400 people out at four in the morning sidestepping in knee-deep snow... The army was there, all the ski instructors were there, the ski patrol were there, the snowmakers, anybody who could get on a pair of skis was up there sidestepping the entire super G course because that is what you do... you get out there together."

Jewett was chosen as Chief of Patrol after a series of interviews by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC). As part of her preparation VANOC has helped fund Jewett's way to work at World Cup events at Lake Louise. She expects to have committed close to three months of volunteer work by the time the Olympics are over.

"It is really important for people to remember that when you are talking about the Olympics, or any of these events, that they are absolutely impossible to run without a huge cadre of volunteers," said Jewett.

"All these people are paying their travel expenses to get here, they have to take time off work, so they are not earning a wage while they are here. We try to provide some meals, so they get breakfast and lunch but they are on their own for dinner, so that is why we are asking people to open their homes and help out - because there are a lot of people giving things up to make sure that these are the best Games ever."

Jewett is highly trained in outdoor emergency care and has run the Mountain Safety Teams at Whistler Blackcomb, overseeing 20 staff and up to 100 volunteers.

VANOC needs 25,000 volunteers in total; 10,000 of those will work in the Whistler venues. Of those volunteers about 50 per cent are people with special skills, such as Jewett.

"They are absolutely vital to the project," said Donna Wilson, VANOC's executive vice president of human resources. "Less than 10 per cent of the workforce putting on the Games will be paid. So the Games are put on by volunteers. They are mission critical for the project."

Volunteers are needed for the whole Games period, and in some cases for the months leading up to and after the event.

Generally volunteers will work a minimum of 13 shifts, with a normal day being 8-10 hours including breaks. Volunteers must complete and pass an RCMP background check, as well as any other relevant security clearances to be considered for a volunteer role. Interested volunteers can apply online at For more information or assistance with the application call 1-866-925-VOLS.

VANOC already has 60,000 applications and while it is still accepting them, Wilson believes they already have enough general applicants. What is needed now are more experts in technology, sport and people with beds in the Sea to Sky corridor.

Over 10,000 have already been interviewed. More than 600 have been trained out of the Squamish volunteer centre.

"We are about half way there," said Wilson. "We will have another 15,000 interviewed by the end of the summer. The assignment to Games-time roles will be at the end of April and... (they will be) ready to start job-specific training in the back half of 2009."

Keeping the women's alpine course safe takes a cast of hundreds of volunteers. Within that group will be Jewett's team of highly trained patrollers, which she will ski into place on the course each morning. Local sports medicine specialist Dr. Karin Kausky will work with Jewett, along with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Alex Brooks-Hill and multi-disciplined paramedic Bruce Brink.

If an injured skier needs to be removed from the course, the team will use a Helicopter External Transportation System (HETS). From time down to helicopter lift-off is about 16 minutes, said Jewett.

"We are at the bottom watching on closed-circuit TV so we have the ability to replay the fall so that we can look at mechanism of injury and maybe give the patroller a heads up about our suspicions," said Jewett.

The course is closed during rescue.

"...Our patrollers don't go on until it is safe to do so," said Jewett. "It would be like someone stopping for a car wreck on a highway and stepping out onto the road without making sure the traffic is stopped."

During a training run at the 1992 Olympics, US racer Megan Gerety ran a ski slope stop sign and crashed with Norwegian coach Ole Magne while he was crossing the course. Nobody wants a repeat of that, said Jewett.

But the Games are about more than just her volunteer duties. Jewett's Whistler home will be packed with visitors and family coming to enjoy the event and she is waiting to hear whether her teenage son Max will be one of the forerunners on the snowboard cross course at Cypress Mountain.

"I'm looking forward to it not only as a community event, but as a family event... and hopefully also cheering Max on," she said.

"It is pretty exciting to have a member of your family, maybe not compete, but still have the eyes of the world on him, as they will be on all of Whistler."


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