Abu Dhabi residents among lucky few to be selected to volunteer at Rio Olympics

ABU DHABI // A Canadian couple who live in the capital will be checking off a significant item on their bucket list on Thursday when they arrive in Rio de Janeiro as official Olympic volunteers. Susan Ward and Norman Labbe — both 59 — are set to join the 50,000-strong army of helpers contributing to […]

ABU DHABI // A Canadian couple who live in the capital will be checking off a significant item on their bucket list on Thursday when they arrive in Rio de Janeiro as official Olympic volunteers.

Susan Ward and Norman Labbe — both 59 — are set to join the 50,000-strong army of helpers contributing to the running of the Rio 2016 Games ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony.

About 10,000 non-Brazilians have been selected from the nearly 250,000 total applicants in what Ms Ward called an arduous application process.

The two-year procedure involved hours of form filling, background checks, language tests, online courses and a group Skype interview.

“We were interviewed with five others from around the world and were asked to complete tasks together to see how we would work in a diverse group,” said Mr Labbe.

The long-time Abu Dhabi residents said the eventual success of their applications was in large part due to the experiences they gained from working and living in the UAE’s multicultural environment.

“Our time in the UAE has helped us develop a cultural sensitivity that we take wherever we go,” said Ms Ward, who moved to Abu Dhabi from Ottawa more than 15 years ago, with her husband joining her a few years later.

She said she would not only be representing her native country but also the UAE during the Games.

“I consider myself an unofficial ambassador for the country wherever I go,” said Ms Ward.

Her experience in the health sector, which includes being a part of the teams that opened up Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, and Mr Labbe’s time in health, safety and traffic fields with Abu Dhabi Police and the Environment, Health and Safety Centre will no doubt be utilised during the event.

But it is their love for and involvement in sports that has led them to Rio.

In addition to contributing his time to UAE’s ice hockey league, Mr Labbe has contributed his knowledge of traffic management to the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship since its inaugural year in 2006.

With Ms Ward also having volunteered for golf events in the past, Games organisers opted to utilise their experience for the historic return of golf to the Games after a 112-year hiatus.

“They asked us to select four events we were interested in and one of those events for both of us was golf,” said Mr Labbe, who was happy he would be sharing the experience with his wife.

Despite most of their time in Brazil being dedicated to volunteering, the couple will set aside time to cheer on their fellow Canadians and any participating UAE athletes.

“We’ve bought tickets to athletics, track and field and, wait for this, beach volleyball at Copacabana,” said Ms Ward.

Both are excited to receive their yellow and green uniforms but, aside from a few transportation vouchers, they must fund their entire journey.

“It wasn’t easy getting flights with everyone descending on Rio and we were fortunate to get an apartment through a Brazilian teacher in Abu Dhabi,” said Ms Ward.

“But that is what volunteering is about: giving up your time, finances or anything else.”

When asked if they were concerned about health issues such as the Zika virus or the political unrest in the country the couple said security was their main priority.

“We’ve travelled extensively and been to Brazil twice so I won’t be wearing jewellery in the street or carrying a handbag,” said Ms Ward.

But the lure of Rio, Mr Labbe’s favourite city, was too great. “To be part of the Games in such a vibrant city is an incredible opportunity that we both appreciate and look forward to,” he said.

tsubaihi@thenational.ae

Source: uae news

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