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Growing up I really thought of the Olympic games being only as a second level interest, the first being the FIFA World Cup. Of course, it could be because I grew in a “soccer” country and so it only makes sense my interest fits this order of priority. In either case, when I learned that …   Read More

Growing up I really thought of the Olympic games being only as a second level interest, the first being the FIFA World Cup. Of course, it could be because I grew in a “soccer” country and so it only makes sense my interest fits this order of priority. In either case, when I learned that the Pan Games were being hosted at the city I currently live in, I had only but a slight interest in the event. Somehow the idea came across me to volunteer at the Pan Am games 2015 after I learned that I could be a part of one of the biggest volunteer force even put together in Toronto. Secretly I hoped I could also be helping the country I was born in, by assisting them in every way I could. To my surprise, after applying late in the volunteering application process, I was assigned to a different country. I was a little discourage, but decided to continue. As a National Olympic Committee Assistant, I had the luck to be embedded with one of the teams of Spanish speaking origin. Now that the games are over, I would like to share some of the lessons I learned having participated in this world event: [tweet_box]The athletes are there for the love of the sport, it is truly their passion.[/tweet_box]

1. The World is one.

pan-am-games-toronto The Pan Games Toronto 2015 hosted 41 participating countries, the majority of which speak Spanish as their first language, also included are counties where French and Portuguese are spoken. Despite of the variety of cultures, the atmosphere in the Pan Am Athlete’s village was one of a true community. You can feel the air of respect and community inside the village, although nationalism and competition does exist between the countries, you would often see the athletes of different nations talking to each other or sharing a meal together at the athlete’s village food hall. After all a regular athlete participates in several competitive events throughout the year, therefore athletes among nations do know each other. It is therefore very inspiring to see that hardly see any rivalry among the competitors. The athletes are there for the love of the sport, it is truly their passion. This in contrast with other sporting events organized by giant organizations, such as the NBA, FIFA, NFL or alike. There is little or no sense of huge money incentive to compete for the athletes at Pan Am. Many of the athletes and delegation staff earn only modest salaries, despite of this, in many of the delegations there is a sense of family dynamics and much respect. [tweet_box]Security at the venues inside and outside the Pan Am Athlete’s Village and all sporting venues was always very tied, indeed it often felt very much like going in and out of airport security. [/tweet_box]

2. We live in a dangerous society.

Security checks spectators outside of the Atos Markham Centre during Pan Am Toronto 2015 in Markham, Ont. on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Security checks spectators outside of the Atos Markham Centre during Pan Am Toronto 2015 in Markham, Ont. on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

The organizers of the Pan Games Toronto 2015 did not forget that we live in a world where terrorist organizations like ISL exist. Security at the venues inside and outside the Pan Am Athlete’s Village and all sporting venues was always very tied, indeed it often felt very much like going in and out of airport security. It did serve as a reminder of the world we live in, it is indeed a dangerous one, so it humbles you to see how fortunate as Torontonians are to live in this still relatively safe society. Indeed, there are many stories of delegates from many of the countries, who were very impressed by how safe walking in the streets of Toronto they felt. In many of the participating cities, this is not the case, there are stories of murders, thefts and kidnappings happen everyday and broad daylight. [tweet_box]It does become apparent now, as it is true for the athletes, that physical activity should form part of everyone’s routine.[/tweet_box]

3. Physical activity is so important.

FIRST USE FOR THE PAN AM TRACK SERIES BY KERRY GILLESPIE ONLY  - PANAMSPRINTERS  BASSETERRE, - JANUARY 13  -  Nikkita Holder, Shai-Anne Davis, Kimberly Hyacinthe, Crystal Emmanuel, Phylicia George and Khamica Bingham do intervals on the track after a rain. The Canadian Sprint group attends a training camp  at Kim Collins Athletics Stadium in Basseterre in St. Kitts.  January 13, 2015. Steve Russell/Toronto Star
THE PAN AM TRACK SERIES BY KERRY GILLESPIE ONLY – PANAMSPRINTERS BASSETERRE, – JANUARY 13 – Nikkita Holder, Shai-Anne Davis, Kimberly Hyacinthe, Crystal Emmanuel, Phylicia George and Khamica Bingham do intervals on the track after a rain. The Canadian Sprint group attends a training camp at Kim Collins Athletics Stadium in Basseterre in St. Kitts. January 13, 2015. Steve Russell/Toronto Star

Physical activity or exercise or “hitting the gym” are not all of the same. For the athletes physical activity is a necessity, if they want to keep the form needed for them to compete. It is not only because the average age among the athletes is around 25, but it is also their continuous and consistent training that makes them into a jovial bunch of people. Of course their discipline does not only look apparent in their moods, but also in their physical form. Physical activity is recommended for everyone, no just for athletes because it becomes part of a healthy lifestyle. It was not planned, but I myself had started a commitment to stick to a daily physical exercise routine, and for about a one month and half by the time I started my volunteering at Pan Am, I had but started to taste the positive results. I have therefore become first hand witness of the positive results in my self esteem, energy levels and mood felt only after a few days from starting my daily routine. It does become apparent now, as it is true for the athletes, that physical activity should form part of everyone’s routine. Unfortunately, many people -I was just one of them- disregard this fact and think of physical activity as a chore, task or homework. Perhaps it is because we sometimes refer to physical activity as “working out,” thus highlighting the idea that is work or something unpleasant. Truthfully, exercising daily does require a huge commitment and strong will, but it is possible to go beyond this initial hardship, I can personally attest to this. [tweet_box]It is better to be modest and poor, than to be rich and cruel.[/tweet_box]

4. Generosity and kindness is of most importance.

kindness-e1392593200980 As I had the opportunity to be part of two different country delegations during my volunteering at Pan Am, the first country I helped had Chef de Mission whose leadership style left a lot to be desired. In other words, the type of leadership for this Chef was rather ruthless, not only to his own staff, but even to the volunteers. This particular delegation ended up doing rather well, even winning a few medals to their count, this is in contrast to the country I ended up afterwards which resulted with no medals. It really was unimportant, because even though there was a lot of frustration and a little discouragement, the second team I helped was always able to smile. The Chef de Mission in this delegation was a very respected man, he led his team with respect and kindness, this is in much contrast with the leader of the first team I first helped. This man had the respect of everyone including the volunteers, to whom he even was happy to offer gifts, like jerseys and his country’s sports hats. He also invited the volunteers to Niagara Falls and to the closing ceremony to march alongside the athletes. I think this demonstrates that what is most important in life, that is generosity and kindness that goes a long way, more so than money or medals. These are but invaluable qualities that as a society we should nurture and aspire to. In short, the lesson was: It is better to be modest and poor, than to be rich and cruel. [tweet_box]It was really no different in this city, all the posters, ads and banners had the athletes imagery, the athletes were represented as almost God-like.[/tweet_box]

5. We are all on the same boat.

9 It was not a surprised that for the organizers of the Pan Am Toronto 2015 games used the imagery of the athletes for all of their marketing and promotional materials, it takes you back to the beginnings of the Olympic games when the Greeks created statues to represent the embodiment of the perfect athlete. It was really no different in this city, all the posters, ads and banners had the athletes imagery, the athletes were represented as almost God-like. The athletes, however, are just like any one of us, of course their lifestyles are really not near the average lifestyle, but inside they are people with worries, aspirations, dreams, hopes and many flaws. Externally, often they look like the ideal man or the ideal woman, many of them would be considered to be attractive, as some are tall and slender, but really they are like the rest of us. If there is one quality they possess that differentiate them from other people is that often they have already found their true passion, or that they were born to be. At least it seems they have or they believe they have, this alone can become a catalyst that define the rest of their lives. If we aspire to find our purpose, we too can be like athletes, we are definitely can if we work hard and are committed.

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