Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Road To the Games

It was 2008& Les granted me the wish of going out the Kentucky Horse Park on the Sunday following the Derby. While there, in what I call Disneyland for horse people, we took a riding tour of the park and our guide pointed out the area they were about to start construction on new venues for the upcoming 2010 World Equestrian Games (WEG...and no, not Wicked Evil Grin!).

When they explained what the WEG was, I was intrigued and wondered how I might finagle myself a way to get to come back to Lexington which was quickly becoming my new favorite place in my new favorite State!

In 2009, we returned to the Derbry and the Kentucky Horse Park with Jaime & Bonnie and the construction was well under way. We were told that they expected teams from more than 50 countries in eight events and that thousands of volunteers were going to be needed to make things run well. The light went off over my head and I knew at that moment I would like to come out and work as a volunteer. I promptly went home and signed myself up to be on the list to get updates about how to go about volunteering.

The process took pretty much the whole year when you include the sign up time and the checking back in and such. On my end, though, I had marked the entire two weeks off my calendar(s), professional, social and otherwise. As we approached the volunteer processing point updates were coming out about lodging and the responsibilities of the volunteers to pay their own expenses. I'd counted on the latter but the notes circulating about volunteer lodging being available for $50 a day, bunk house style and hotels starting at $150 a night, I realized that I was going to have to come up with a better plan so I placed an ad on Craigs List in Lexington for affordable lodging during the games and introduced myself briefly.

I received approximately 25 responses to that ad and had some really incredible offers. A few empty-nesters & even an offer to stay at Thoroughbred Farm for $35 a night but two truly amazing offers came stay as a no cost!! wow.....I was so encouraged by the warmth the community of Lexington and Kentucky in general had for this VERY HORSEY event. I'm sure it's part of what made it even more special for me and became more of an incentive to come out and participate.

I ended up hitting it off with one of the free room offers, Kitty. We immediately became Facebook friends and over the last year I have gotten to know her a little more by reading her updates ...and she mine. We had a much in common and it seemed like a good fit. When Les & I came out for the Derby this year we arranged to meet Kitty for lunch and I half wondered if she'd regret her decision but lunch was great and we seemed to have a friendship already. She was fun-loving & smart & that made me feel even better. what a very generous thing to do...and her reasoning was that it was like helping their local event by giving me a way to come and volunteer.

By early May, I'd had an obstacle laid before me that I hadn't expected. The company I sublease my shop from had lost their contract with the State of Washington and a new company was taking over Practical Testing for licensing and we had no idea what they were going to do or if my business (renting kits to individuals taking their Practical Cosmetology, Barber, Esthetics & Manicure licensing exams) would be viable any longer. In fact the original changeover date was set for September 1st and at that time I wondered how I would be able to leave with all that change. I let Kitty know there was an outside chance that I might not come if things took a more challenging turn but that I would do anything I could to be able to. I had little idea that the new company would eventually throw me a bigger curve ball and move the changeover date back one month to OCTOBER 1ST!!!!!!! Right in the middle of the games!!!!! There was very little interest flowing my way and I really thought my business was going to close at one point. I knew I had to find a way....any be able to go to Lexington for the games and even made a contingency plan to move out of my shop on 9/16 and put everything in storage for a month & figure it all out when I got back. That's how badly I wanted to go!!!!!

In that week before my planned move-out the new company insisted they loved my business and wanted me to stay as a service to their new clients, but that only left me with less than 10 days to plan for coverage by my assistants. Some how, some way, I was going to make it work!!

By early summer, the selection process for volunteers was in full swing (kinda sounds like I was competing, eh!?) . There were applications to fill out now that registration was open online & interviews (a few of them, actually!) and a formal volunteer offer-letter that was sent to me. I had been recruited to the Promotions & Marketing team and would have activities that supported the sponsors by promoting their brand. Examples I was given was shooting tshirts into the crowds at events during down time or handing out give-aways at the venues. That seemed like a dream job to me! Meanwhile I still had to pass a background check & settle all those things at home. Then I got an email about 2 weeks ago that they had estimated that they'd need up to 7,000 volunteers and had run short so they were re-assigning me to a new team and a new offer would come in a few days. What if I was going to be in the parking lot? Was that the games experience I wanted? Not exactly, but I eventually convinced myself that it would get me there and I'd get to spend my off time at the games so it would certainly be worth it. The offer did eventually come and it was as an Operations Coordinator which meant I'd basically be set up in an information booth. I was sent to a fantastic website called Shift-boards where I was able to select not only my volunteer days but specific locales so I was able to get a nice mix of Main Arena, Equine Village & Trade Show shifts. Plus I scheduled an appointment to pick up my credentials and, it seems they thought of everything!

It was about this time that my phone decided to die. Now I had been having issues with it for a few months but I knew that communicating with my shop, customers and perhaps the new testing company would be anything but smooth if I had an unreliable phone. To make that even worse, we were not due to get new phones until 10/1 and my scheduled departure date was 9/25 at the time. Les was able to get them to agree to give us an extra two weeks but not a day more and the Saturday before I left I actually got a new phone ... a Spiffy new phone that was going to allow me to talk to my customers, book their reservations online & stay connected better than I had been able to before....and take photos/videos and update my facebook...which could make for some fun while I was away! Thank you Les!!!!!

Another huge Thank You goes out to Allison from SAFE, who stepped up and offered to take over the chore volunteer schedule...not just while I'm gone but permanently!! That took a HUGE load of my plate and alleviated one of the worries about how things were going to get coordinated if I was away. Whew!!!!

Through all that chaos, Les & Corey informed me that they were going to Chicago on Thursday 9/24 to watch the Seattle Sounders (Soccer) play the Chicago Fire and had added an extra day to fit in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Since I was going to have a lay-over in Chicago, they suggested I come a day early & at least go to the Cubs game. Somehow that turned into them leaving on Wednesday night and pushing me to leave on Thursday evening...which they decided I was better off to come on an earlier flight and on the day I was to leave. That made for some hurried packing the night before/morning of my new flight & yes, things didn't go exactly according to plan but I got to Chicago (well before my suitcase so I stopped at Target to pick up a few things on my way to the hotel Thursday night), saw the Cubs, hung out with Les, Corey, Barb & Phil plus the Emerald City Supporters (The support group for the Sounders) before I left for my flight to Louisville Saturday morning the 25th. I left the guys still sleeping and took off, navigated my way across town to Midway Airport thanks to the GPS function on my new phone (thanks again Les!), dropped off the rental car, located my missing bag & made the early flight!

On my drive to the airport, it kind of sunk in that I was really on my way to the World Equestrian Games (I tell everyone it's like the Olympics for Horses/Horse people!). I started to get all giddy!! As we approached Louisville I actually got a little emotional...kinda like I was coming to visit an old friend...or home!?!?!? I tease Les that we are practically residents here with the number of trips we've made during our marriage and strangely enough every single one of those trips was about horses. Even in the years before I returned to riding, Kentucky was pretty much my only horse adventures. This place is very special for me and here's the message I got when I got off the plane...that just pretty much sums it up....

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