PyeongChang 2018: Unforgettable experience11.04.2018
IPC volunteer writer Louise Wood describes covering her dream sport
A few years ago on a whim I applied to become a volunteer writer with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Considering I had no experience as a journalist or reporter I expected a polite no. To my surprise they decided to give me a chance! Armed only with my laptop and an unhealthy obsession with biathlon, I started a journey that took me to the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
As the writer for Nordic sports, my responsibility was to write a story a month about biathlon and cross-country skiing. It went well, then got better when I received an email asking if I would like to cover both sports at PyeongChang 2018.
After jumping up and down for joy for 10 minutes, I politely replied that I would. I then found myself tasked with covering 38 events in nine days of competition!
"It was a little bit overwhelming in the beginning, but once I got going, I loved every minute of it. There were some especially memorable days like when I found myself sitting about four seats away from the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, when he came to watch the cross-country sprints."
Not only was I excited about the Paralympics, but also about returning to South Korea, a place I used to live many years ago. After a 24-hour journey from Scotland, the exact same one I made all those years before, I arrived in PyeongChang tired but happy.
I started work the very next day meeting the team, collecting my uniform and co-ordinating with my partner in crime Janet who was covering Nordic for social media.
The days consisted of watching all the races, usually six a day, and then reporting on the action for the IPC website. Previously I could take my time with stories, having a week or more to interview athletes and write the articles. Now I had an hour and half!
It was a little bit overwhelming in the beginning, but once I got going, I loved every minute of it. There were some especially memorable days like when I found myself sitting about four seats away from the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, when he came to watch the cross-country sprints.
That was a good day.
I got to witness one of the most exciting days of racing from very close quarters. I saw the photo finish of the men's sitting and I actually knew USA’s Andy Soule had won the gold medal before he did. Next his teammate Oksana Masters flew past me on her way to her first gold medal. In the men's standing sprint I got to see Kazakhstan's Alexander Kolyadin winning his country's first ever Winter Paralympic medal and yet another photo finish between Canada's Mark Arendz and Finland's Ilkka Tuomisto which turned out to be a dead heat.
Speaking of heat … it was also an odd day. The temperature soared to around 20 degrees and I got sunburnt... at the Winter Games!
Another highlight for me was meeting some of the athletes who I have only known via email like Arendz and Germany's Martin Fleig who both went on to win their first Paralympic titles in biathlon. Seeing people I have interviewed and followed for some time achieve their dreams was pretty special.
I had breakfast in the same place as biathlon bronze medallist from Canada, Brittany Hudak, and we talked about how much we love biathlon. I also met Scott Meenagh who is also Scottish and is the first British athlete in Para Nordic for 20 years. We had a nice chat about, you guessed it, biathlon!
I had one day off and had intended to watch the Para alpine but it was cancelled due to the weather. Instead I took the advice of Mr. T and went to support Great Britain at the wheelchair curling. They lost. Next I went to lend my support to South Korea in the Para hockey semi-final. They lost. I also went to have a look around the Paralympic Village.
My favourite moment though was watching South Korea's Eui Hyun Sin win his country's first gold medal at the Winter Paralympics. It was really emotional for him and with my connection to South Korea, it was for me too.
Overall it was a fantastic experience and something I will never forget. It turns out volunteering does pay after all!