The wildly successful Vancouver Olympic Winter Games shone a welcome spotlight on Canadian athletes, who landed a record-setting gold medal haul and a created feeling of pride from coast to coast.
But the Olympics are not just for athletes. An event of this scale on home soil brings opportunity for many.
Tens of thousands of Canadians were able to participate in the Games either as volunteers or through the many jobs they created.
For Minto native Brittany Weber, the games provided a chance to see the country, in once-in-a-lifetime fashion.
Brittany, daughter of Mark and Patti Weber, of RR 2, Clifford, is a graduate of the Georgian College Advertising program. Through her employment with Toronto-based GMR Marketing, she applied to join the RBC Torch Relay team as a brand ambassador/entertainer. Brittany’s team rode on the RBC truck, which passed through communities along the route ahead of the Olympic Flame. Singing, dancing and waving to the spectators, their task was to pump up the crowd just before the torchbearers arrived in each town. It was an exhilarating experience at every stop along the route, which was designed to pass within an hour’s drive of over 90 per cent of Canada’s population.
“In Ontario especially, every little small town was packed,” she recalls.
Weber joined the relay in St. Johns, Newfoundland on November 11 and travelled with the flame right to Vancouver in time for the opening ceremonies, Feb.12. After arriving, she had a week off to enjoy the Games, including the chance to take in a men’s hockey game between the Czech Republic and Latvia (Tickets for the games involving Canada were hard come by and very expensive, she notes.)
She was also at a medal ceremony for women’s freestyle skiing, at the moment mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau won the first-ever gold medal by a Canadian on home soil.
When the historic acheivement was announced at the ceremony, “The whole BC Place just went nuts. It was really amazing.”
There were many exciting moments along the route to the games, as the relay wound it’s way through Candian centres large and small, passing by more of the country’s attractions than one could hope to see on the longest of vacations. Brittany was present for the runs of numerous celebrities who carried the torch, including NBA basketball great Steve Nash, country songstress Shania Twain and even the ‘governator’ himself, Arnold Schwarznegger. However, her greatest thrill came December 6, in Magog, Quebec, when she was given her own chance to carry the torch.
While the 12,000 torch bearer spots had been assigned in advance, team members were on notice as contingency runners in case someone couldn’t make their appointed spot. Brittany was the first member of her RBC team to get the opportunity.“I found out the night before at 11 p.m. and I ran at six a.m. the next morning. It was pretty amazing. I was very excited,” said Brittany, who was allowed to keep the torch she carried as a souviner.
Although the good times were many, the relay tour was also demanding. The participants generally rose before sunset and stuck to a very precise schedule, until around 7 p.m. each evening. The relay ran seven days a week, with only four off-days during the Newfoundland to Vancouver stretch. Each torchbearer’s run was timed to the minute. Any delays were made up by shortening scheduled breaks.
“Sometimes it was five in the morning and you really didn’t feel like singing and dancing and then you’d come into a town and go, ‘Oh, look at all those people,’” she said, noting the enthusiasm quickly returned with the sight of another crowd filled with patriotic fervor.
While the Vancouver Games were blessed (or cursed, depending upon your sport) with warm, sunny weather, the relay travelled through the full gamut of the Canadian winter clime. While the snowiest day on the trip was December 28, when the relay passed through Mount Forest, Brittany and her friends learned the true meaning of cold when the relay hit the prairies.
“It was minus sixty in Manitoba. It was just freezing,” she recalls shivering at the memory of the crew singing through frost- covered faces.
For Brittany, the three months on the road created enough memories to last a lifetime, perhaps none stronger than the final day of the relay.
“At the end, it was bittersweet, because it was over. It was very emotional. We had become like a family and the torch was our baby – we had to keep it going,” she said, adding that she would jump at the chance to participate in another Olympic experience, if one ever came her way.
“I’d do it again in a second. It was amazing. I got to see every corner of the country – at seven kilometres an hour.”