The Winds of Change

It's been six years since London 2012.

(Before I continue, I just need to say... that's insane. Who let this happen?)

London was the first Games I was ever involved with, and it'll always hold a special place in my heart for that reason. But beyond that, it'll always hold a special place in my heart because it's easily the best thing I've ever done.

When I was deciding where I wanted to study abroad, it occurred to me that if the Olympics were going to London, I should go to London. And if the Olympics and I were both going to London, I should weasel my way in. I lucked into a contact at LOCOG who pointed me in the direction of becoming a London 2012 Ceremonies volunteer, so I filled out an application. I spent weeks stressed out of my mind, collecting bank records and driving around Miami to find the office to get fingerprinted and spending literally hundreds of dollars to get my student visa that would allow me to work in the UK. In the meantime, I applied for a study abroad scholarship meant for non-academic costs, telling the interview committee, "I'm studying abroad in London because I'm trying to work for free." (That worked.) Once I arrived in London, I had an interview with L2012C at which I said, "I'm studying abroad in London literally because I want to volunteer here." (That worked too.)

After I got my volunteer bib, I was like a kid in a candy store. I signed up for every shift I could get my hands on, prioritizing it over my schoolwork (which, let me tell you, was a massive first for me). I spent hours upon hours standing in the cold in an east London TV studio, sorting bibs and handing out Oyster cards and inputting performer information into the system and watching the Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies come to life before my eyes.

It's still the coolest thing I've ever gotten to do. By far. And maybe the coolest part was that... I did it. Me. And I did it solely because I wanted to. Sure, I hoped it would help me professionally. But I wanted to be a part of the London Games, so I did it. I freaking did it.

That's obviously not to say I didn't have help. My mom's friend Caron knew a guy at LOCOG that got the whole ball rolling. One of the L2012C staffers flat ignored the rule that said all applicants need a UK visa good for six months after the Games in order to be allowed to volunteer; mine expired almost two months before the Games, but they accepted me anyway. There was definitely an element of luck and good timing and having the right people around me and enabling me.

But what I'm really getting at is that I had this slightly impractical idea that got my heart racing, and I was able to figure out how to make it happen for myself. And I'm still really effing proud of that.

I don't really remember the last time I had that feeling.

Getting a job is nice, but a) your fate is still in someone else's hands, and b) it's a necessity to live. I've had good jobs, and gone to both Rio and PyeongChang since London, and that's not to say I didn't love those experiences, but... I don't know. It was someone else's decision. And that's not really a bad thing, but it's just... different.

I think the thing about London was that I made a life-changing decision. For myself. For no other reason than that I wanted to experience something that would change my life.

I want to do more of that.

I got really complacent at my last job (which I'm really not proud of). I wasn't super motivated to do much outside of work, and when my mental health started to go downhill, it was all I could do to stay motivated at work. And now that I don't work under the Olympic umbrella anymore, I need to get my fix elsewhere. My job won't be sending me to Games anymore, so I have to start changing my own damn life for myself again.

What does this mean? I don't know. Why am I sharing this? I don't know! Maybe it's to hold myself accountable. Maybe it's because I haven't felt this motivated in an incredibly long time. Maybe putting my thoughts to proverbial paper and out to the universe is a way of opening myself up to opportunity.

Either way, volunteer applications for Tokyo 2020 open in September, and you can be sure ya girl will be ready.

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The Hills Are Alive

The first thing you learn when working a Games: your bus schedule is your life.

The second thing you learn when working a Games: normal societal conventions do not apply.

Case in point: my first day in PyeongChang.

Two coworkers and I went to breakfast at our hotel in the morning and planned to catch the 10:10 bus to the Main Press Center (MPC). We'd been told the shuttle stop was "right out front," so we didn't think too much of it. But when we eventually headed outside, we couldn't find it. We had no idea where we were going. You wouldn't think it'd be that difficult, but our hotel was a ski resort bumped right up against numerous other ski resorts, so "right out front" were shops and a parking garage and numerous parking lots and there were buses everywhere and it was just really confusing, okay?

So 10:10 comes and goes. We find ourselves where we think the stop is, where there's a group of men in Team Germany getup checking the schedule. They too missed the shuttle, and we collectively realize that the next one isn't coming until 10:40.

Team Germany decides to walk to the MPC. "It's just down the road," they say, starting in that direction.

My coworkers and I shrug and follow them.

Three American women decided to trudge several snowy miles along the side of the highway in the mountains of Korea with a group of German men they'd met literally 30 seconds prior.

Reading that as a normal citizen of normal society, that's insane. Like, literally insane. A disaster waiting to happen. But at a Games? To borrow a quote from the great High School Musical, we're all in this together. Lost? Someone else probably knows where they're going. Strangers? Just friends you haven't met yet.

The walk ended up being about two miles and took 45 minutes, so it would've been far more logical to just stay and wait for the next bus. But honestly? This walk with our new German friends is one of my favorite Games memories ever.

The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and walking let us stop and take pictures and see more than we got to from behind a bus window. Our new German friends were so incredibly friendly, and were vigilant about making sure none of the girls slipped on any icy patches. The sky was blue, the day was beautiful, and we arrived at the MPC for the first time pretty sweaty and with an adventure already under our belts.

At a Games, you really just have to roll with the punches. You miss buses, you make friends and you laugh as your plans fall apart around your ears.

Later that morning, my friend and coworker texted me that he had a feeling that we were going to have some great stories from these Games.

My response? "Um, wait until you hear about my morning."

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From PyeongChang With Love

My second Games reminded me of my sophomore year of college.

When I returned to Miami for my sophomore year, I was totally pumped. Freshman year had been awesome, and I expected sophomore year to be exactly the same. Same place, same people, same awesome.

And then it was different.

Sure, I was on the same campus and hanging out with the same friends. But I was living in a different building with a different room configuration, going to different classes... I had to adjust. For whatever reason, I wasn't prepared for that. There was nothing wrong with my new sophomore reality, but I was jarred and uncomfortable all the same. The first few days were bizarrely not what I expected. But I got over it, settled into life on the opposite side of campus and was just as sad to leave when it was over as I was the year before.

Fast forward seven and a half years.

I was #blessed to be asked to work a second Games with U.S. Paralympics on their communications staff. To say I was excited about it would be an understatement. Rio was the absolute best, and I'd be working with a group of awesome people I already knew and liked, so I went to PyeongChang with sky-high expectations.

For the most part, those expectations were met in kind, but... everything was different. Nothing was bad -- seriously, this Games was so smooth and there's nothing that I'd change if I could (cold notwithstanding) -- but for whatever reason, I wasn't as over the moon as I was in Rio. It felt very different, and I don't think I was expecting that.

I think a big part of the problem were those sky-high expectations. I went into Rio knowing nothing and just sort of hoping for the best. But I went into PyeongChang knowing how incredible my Rio experience was. For six months, I used PyeongChang as a talisman, a beacon of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel that would make an overall unhappy year and a half of work worth it. And I expected to be blown away.  If I'd gone in with no expectations, I absolutely would've been.

That's not to say there weren't some legitimate struggles. I was cold for literally two weeks straight. I wasn't prepared for the cold to be as much of an issue as it was, but oh man, it was. Being outside for any length of time meant being cold to the point of distraction, which really put a damper on two of the most important events for me: the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Wifi was intermittent and hard to find. The food was often great but very foreign, sometimes very odd, and definitely took some getting used to. And PyeongChang isn't nearly as iconic a city as Rio is, so I never really had that "holy crap, I'm HERE" moment. (I had that moment when I was in Seoul after the Games. I cried alone in the back of a cab. But that's a whole other story.)

But all that being said... buses ran regularly and on time. The venues were all really great. The volunteers could not have been friendlier and more willing to help. I stayed in a condo that had heated floors. (A whole apartment! With heated floors! My literal dream!) Korean barbeque is life-changing. I got to see an American win a medal in biathlon. (Biathlon!) I'd been looking forward to the sled hockey gold-medal game for four years and that, my friends, managed to exceed anything I'd ever hoped it would be. I got to see each sport at least once. I got to work another Games with one of my best friends. There were moments spent crying watching medal ceremonies, cracking up as plans fell apart in the pouring rain, shrieking with laughter crammed four across in the back of a taxi, wandering wide-eyed through downtown, trying not to breathe while putting on mascot heads, making new friends from Kazakhstan and seeing old friends I'd met in Brazil, and really just living my best life. Even on the days I came back to my condo and was so cold and tired that all I was capable of doing was lying on my heated floor for a few minutes. (That happened... more often than I'd care to admit.)

Every now and then I'll look through the photos I took or reread parts of my journal, and I'll get misty-eyed and nostalgic. We've reached the point where I've gotten over PyeongChang's different-ness.

Was it Rio? No. But it was so, so great. So great.

Gamsahamnida, PyeongChang.

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I'm sitting out on my patio. (Patio? Terrace? I used to call it a balcony, but my dad the construction man explained all the different terminology and concluded that calling it a balcony is incorrect. I don't remember which is correct, though. It might be terrace.)

It's warm -- shorts weather -- and breezy. It feels like summer.

It's May of 2018, but if I close my eyes, it's August of 2016. Late morning, around 11. I have a bowl of oatmeal with berries on the little table in front of me, and I left my phone inside. On purpose. These late morning hours are the only time I have to myself for a few weeks and you can be damn sure I'm going to enjoy some peace and quiet. When I'm done with breakfast I might go inside and watch some Olympics coverage before I go to work, but when your job is to cover the Olympics, you find that watching the Olympics before going to work isn't always what you want to be doing.

There are a few mornings spent watching fencing and rugby, for sure, but most of them are spent outside on the patio/terrace/balcony, slowly eating breakfast and marinating on things in silence. Sometimes I ponder the state of the Mets (pretty trash). I'm heading to my first Paralympic Games in Rio in a few weeks and as it gets closer, it's finally starting to feel real and exciting and wow, that's sure going to change my life, huh? Occasionally I long for the days I used to spend summers outside having fun, and not stuck behind a computer in a large, freezing concrete room.

And then, of course, I go inside, throw on some Team USA (or otherwise sponsor-friendly) clothes and leave for work around 12:30. My shift starts at 1, just in time for shit to hit the fan at approximately 1:05. I work until 11 (which means at least 11:30, natch), go to bed around 2 am, and wake up and do the same thing again the next day.

But those lovely mornings were mine.

It's hard to believe they were almost two years ago.

Now it's 2018. I worked those Olympics, and then another one. I went to those Paralympics, and then another one. The Mets are still trash (or trash again). I don't work for the USOC anymore -- and I'm not even all that sad about it, which is the strangest part -- and today is my last in this apartment.

It's not as dramatic as it sounds. My contract at the USOC ended -- after four years of temping, it was finally time -- and I'm moving to a newly-renovated apartment in the same complex. In fact, in the building I'm staring at right now. It's about as low-impact a move as could possibly exist.

And yet, I'm nostalgic. Wistful, if you will. This is the first apartment I ever lived in 100% by myself. It's seen some good times and great people. It's also seen me cry in bed and mope on the couch all day because I couldn't muster up the energy to care to do anything else. It was sometimes my office, and sometimes my sanctuary. But whatever went on in here, it was where I called home during an incredibly significant chapter of my life. That chapter is over now, and tomorrow I get the keys to a new place and get to start a new one.

I should probably go pack first.

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