Olympic Blog: A Sea of Blue

Barbara Ferry, the director of National Geographic Libraries and Information Services, is in Vancouver with her family to watch the Olympic Games, and spoke with some of the volunteers on hand helping to make the games happen.

Everywhere you go in Vancouver you’ll find hundreds of volunteers in light blue jackets who are directing ticket holders, clearing out snow, or getting the venues ready for competition. And despite the rainy, miserable conditions, I have yet to meet one who is not kind, helpful, and patient with the many questions from Olympic visitors. Many volunteers are from Canada – 95 percent according to CNN.com – others are from the U.S. and around the world. 

One morning at 6:45 a.m. when we were riding a bus between Whistler and Creekside, about a dozen volunteers – one from as far away as Germany – climbed on board as we traveled the route. Some volunteers are retired, but most of the ones I spoke to had agreed to work for free for at least 14 days, taking personal vacation time in order to have the privilege of wearing the blue jackets and colorful backpacks. Volunteering does allow for a great view of the competition: Charles Cullinane of Boston, Massachusetts skis the slopes every day “painting” the blue lines for the racers before they arrive (he also touches them up between runs). On his back is six gallons of food coloring and a hose. It’s “like you are spraying your lawn,” said Cullinane. “It can get heavy,” he added. After the Olympic racer passes, you’ll see these line painters behind other skiers smoothing out the course. Cullinane flipped open his hands and showed us how his gloves used in painting the ski slopes had been dyed blue to match his jacket. He seemed as proud of them as he would have been if he’d won a medal.

Photo: Barbara Ferry

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