Two people walk through the rain slicked streets of Sochi’s Olympic Park. One is visiting a forbidden land, the other has come home. And they’re both Canadian.
Buildings with names like Bolshoy and Iceberg rise around David Swaine, a police officer from Oshawa who made the trip to satisfy a childhood curiosity, “Russia has always been that forbidden land, as I’ve grown up it’s always been a dream of mine to come to Russia and when this opportunity came up I leaped forward and took it.”
He applied to be one of 25,000 Sochi 2014 volunteers, in a process that according to the organizing committee’s website, finished March 1 of last year. The mechanism of recruiting and training a volunteer force the size of a town is a complicated process. So it begins early.
Today he is fortunate to visit the site of Sochi’s coastal venues with a Russian-speaking companion, Lena Kharybina. The two easily make their way around security fencing, that seems to pop up at random, as needs arise around the moving pieces of an unfinished Olympic Park.
Born in Moscow, Lena smiles pleasantly and discusses alternative routes with the guards. Today they are trying to get to the tree-lined plaza across from Canada Olympic House, right outside Fisht Olympic Stadium.
“This is home so being here for the Olympic Games is incredible,” says Lena, who now lives in Toronto, “My family is very proud to see their granddaughter be a part of this.”
As she talks about her home, and family just hours away, she brings her hands to her heart. She is proud of Russia, but having lived in Canada for over 13 years, she has also developed a spirit of volunteerism.
“This is the first event that I’ve volunteered for, besides little things that I volunteered for back home for college. But never of this scale. I want to show people, especially back in Canada that you can go overseas, you can go to other places and make a difference,” she says.
They will both be stationed in the mountains, working for event services helping people enjoy their Games experience.
David says that there are about 2,000 international volunteers and of that group, he has been told eight percent are Canadians. That’s about 160 people who made the somewhat difficult and costly trip from Canada to Sochi, just to help out.
He is thankful his fellow officers at Durham Regional Police were on board with his Sochi plan, “My work is very supportive, my police chief was very supportive, I had to take off time but I had to have other people work for me. Everybody’s been so supportive because this is a once in a lifetime experience.”
He’ll have been in Russia almost three weeks before the cauldron is even lit. Seeing as much of the country as possible. Lena will visit with family she rarely sees. All the way across the ocean, two Canadians have managed to give their time for sport. And get a little back too, under Russian skies that, as they finally arrive at the plaza, open up and allow a touch of morning sun.