In the last Olympic update from Towcester Gamesmaker Tony McMurray he talks about his pride at helping to ‘make a difference.’
Earlier this year Tony’s wife Sharon ran her first Silverstone half marathon, and then Tony ran the London Marathon in April. In the third leg of his triple Olympic fundraising challenge Tony has spent 12 days volunteering at the London Olympics. He will be donating tips collected as a LOCOG driver during the Olympics towards this year’s fundraising for The Alzheimer’s Society and the Towcester Gateway Club.
My final week at the London Olympics was a memorable one in so many ways.
On the last Thursday of the Olympics I finally managed to get inside the Olympic Stadium as a paying customer. Having spent the previous 10 days wandering around the park in between shifts I had marvelled at this enormous amphitheatre from the outside. My tickets in the ballot had thrown up the triple jump final where I had hoped the British hopeful Phillips Idowu would be competing for gold. My disappointment at his failure to proceed to the final was more than compensated for what I was to experience that evening.
Firstly there was the 800m, the event so much associated with LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe. Having watched Coe’s 1.41.73 world record on TV in 1981, I was overwhelmed to see the Kenyan David Rudisha, the quiet man of athletics, smash through the 1.41 barrier for the first time in history, and the first Athletics world record of the London Games. The stadium was electric, unlike anything I had experienced at any sporting event before. This was the warm up act, Mr Usain Bolt provided the Main and the Dessert when he ran close to his world 200m record, and won his second of three Gold’s of the Games.
The night of adrenaline fuelled excitement reached its climax while leaving the Olympic Park. As a former national junior champion in the long jump in the 80’s some of my university friends were well known sporting personalities. One such friend was a javelin thrower who went to Barcelona 1992 and introduced me to Tessa Sanderson. I was over the moon to bump into her 20 years on and she obliged me with a photo.
Back to the volunteer driving and my continued movement of predominantly South American passengers, Colombian’s, Mexicans and Brazilians followed. (The Brazilian female beach volleyball team were still absent from my manifest)
On one trip I collected the head of the Ghana football federation from Wembley. The trip was a lively one back to Park Lane as his daughters shared their views on all things London, Britain and the major discussion point, ‘should Camilla become queen.’ I let them do the talking on that one!
Much of my last week was ferrying passengers to and from the Olympic venues and Games hotels in and around Park Lane and like taxi drivers there is down time travelling to a pick up. One such journey on Saturday evening was during the 5,000m final and Team GB’s very own Mo Farrah’s attempt to join that elite club of the long distance double. As I cranked up Radio 5 and Farrah came into the last two laps I had to park up. Passers-by could hear me shouting at the top of my voice as Mo became the darling of the GB Team. If you were one of those passing by on Saturday evening my apologies, I was just joining in with the rest of the country in celebrating another GB success.
My most interesting passenger of all came when I was called to World Square, the area alongside the Olympic Stadium. As the cars in front of me steadily went down and I moved closer to the front I finally collected what I found out to be one of Canada’s Olympic heroes. As a former decathlete, Chris Lori competed in four winter Olympics in bobsleigh and won multiple world championship trophies spanning the 80’s and 90’s.
After some initial banter it became clear that despite the Atlantic Ocean separating us, almost 10 years difference in age, and differing sports backgrounds, we actually had a mutual friend. I had shared a house at university with a guy who later went on to complete in the GB bobsleigh team and then manage them, Chris knew him from competitions. We then spent the whole trip sharing stories, strangers only moments earlier my Gamesmaker shift had brought me into contact with a Canadian sports star who I immediately clicked with. Sport has the power to do that.
As I write I have just returned from my 10th and final Shift. On arriving at the Olympic Park this afternoon there was a notable lack of atmosphere. The Army were still there, being as professional as ever but gone were the hordes of people with differing ascents and colour of national identity. Logos had already been changed to Paralympics ready for the 29th opening ceremony. There was a clear sense of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ about the place. I popped into a few shops on the way in and one retailer recognizing me as a volunteer shook my hand and said how uplifting the experience had been with such a buzz in his shop each day. He was keen to keep the Olympics going by talking to me about it and bemoaned the fact that come Monday morning things had gone back to the way it was before the Olympics had started. Lets hope his story is not repeated across the country in the coming weeks and months.
On arrival at the fleet depot for the final time I was presented with various thank you gifts. Certificates from both the IOC and LOCOG, an Olympic Baton made of aluminium and a 2012 Olympic badge to be worn with pride. This was to be my shortest of shifts, no passenger’s just moving the cars to Dartford in readiness for the change in livery and the 2nd instalment of the Olympics starting on August 29.
Reflecting on my time at the Olympics I would liken it to entering a sporting Disneyland every day. When I got off the train at Stratford each day I was entering a world where people smiled at you, where everyone around you wanted to help you, where litter was nowhere to be seen and where being patriotic about your country was not frowned upon. In the early days of my shifts I, like many fellow volunteers, reluctantly travelled to East London in our bright uniforms, conscious of standing out in a crowd. As the days progressed this reluctance turned to pride. The glance on the train, the head turning at the petrol stations, I was so proud to be associated with a group of people who had contributed so much to the success of the London Olympics.
On the evening of the closing ceremony I sat at home watching on TV along with 26 million other satisfied Brits. As the volunteers continued to be praised by both officials and TV presenters I started to get tweets, Facebook and text messages applauding the work of the volunteers, friends and family were pleased to say thank you to someone they knew who had volunteered.
As Seb Coe so eloquently put it in his closing remarks on Sunday evening: “We will never forget the smiles, the kindness and the support of the wonderful volunteers, the much-needed heroes of these Games”. In years to come I will be proud to look back on the summer of 2012 and say “I was there, and I helped make the difference”.
Donations to Tony and Sharon’s charities can be made at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/TowcesterTeaRooms or can be taken into Towcester Tea Rooms.