October 07, 2004

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It's amazing what is possible with a bit of motivation and flexibility. I had an amazing experience this past summer as a result of these traits.

I may not be an athlete, but this past summer I stood on the gold medal podium in Athens' Olympic Stadium. Wondering how? Read on.

My writing was published worldwide. Sprinter Justin Gatlin mentally prepared for his gold-medal race eight feet away from me. Perdita Felicien tripped during the hurdles and plummeted to the ground before my eyes, and I popped balloons with the athletes in the closing ceremony. No, this is not a dream. For four months I worked in Athens, Greece, first for the Olympic Village newspaper, and then for NBC Olympics during the Athens 2004 Olympic games.

It's amazing what is possible with a bit of motivation and flexibility. As all graduates know, being able to write countless exams and endure sleepless nights of studying to earn that much anticipated bachelor's degree are in themselves proof that we all encompass these qualities. Although I'm still seven courses shy of finishing my degree in communication, I had an amazing experience this past summer as a result of these traits. I learned a lot about my longterm aspirations and gained experience for my future career goals. And just as importantly, I learned what I do not want to do after graduation.

Although I won't often admit it, mothers always know best. In October 2003, I mentioned to my mom that I was ready to go on another communication co-op term after completing a placement with the federal government's Canada Research Chairs program in Ottawa.

My best friend Kristen had also just left for Australia on a six-month SFU international exchange and inspired me to travel the globe. All I needed was an excuse to justify delaying my graduation for an international co-op term - and my mom came up with the perfect solution.

I'll admit that I had two small advantages that helped me along in my self-directed search for a placement, the first being that I'm half Greek on my mother's side. My mom encouraged me to contact her cousin who worked for the Olympics (my second advantage) to see if there were any positions for me within the monstrous organization.

The warm Greek/European hospitality came through and I was soon filling out the application form for volunteers. I was willing to commit even though it meant going into debt. There was a solution though. My mother's cousin, whom I'd never met, told me to send my resume and she'd see if she could pass it around.

After numerous emails and phone calls from my end, the joyous news arrived a few months later. I had been assigned a volunteer position with the Olympic Village Pulse - the official Olympic newspaper that would be produced for the athletes living in the Olympic Village. In addition, my resume had somehow navigated through numerous individuals and to my disbelief I was offered a paid position with NBC Olympics to work in the Olympic Stadium during August. I had hit two birds with one stone. I was on my way to visit the country of my heritage and to gain amazing work experience that many people only dream of.

Now skip ahead many weeks and sleepless nights of anticipation and I arrived in Greece. I started working immediately and unlike other co-op positions, this one did not come with a job description and therefore I didn't know what to expect.

My supervisor explained that this would be the first Olympic Village newspaper to be published exclusively online - hence a worldwide audience. He also explained that our top priority was to publish one article for each country that was participating in the Games - all 202 of them!

The two and half months at the newspaper were both chaotic (in keeping with Greek tradition) and enlightening. Not only was I involved with researching and writing stories, but also with assisting in developing story ideas and acting as an unofficial English translator. For all of my tasks I was given completely unrealistic deadlines. “Welcome to the real world,” as my dad always says. However, four years at SFU had prepped me well and I accomplished it all on time. The realization of what I had done finally came when I saw my name and articles published in the first edition.

As with any co-op term, I learned many important lessons. However, as much as this may come as a surprise, the most important lesson was that now I know that I don't want to pursue a career in journalism. That's the beauty of a co-op position. Your job is only short-term and you can rule out or choose a career before you even graduate.

My story could have ended there, but the best part is just about to begin. August came and I headed off to work with NBC Olympics at the stadium in a much different capacity than my work at the paper - I was laying cables. For someone who is used to writing press releases and developing marketing strategies, this was a completely new realm. I was quite scared. SFU doesn't offer a cable-laying course, and NBC Olympic coverage is hardly the time to make a rookie debut. However, I was fortunate to have amazing supervisors who trained me properly.

For 27 continuous days I worked a total of 330 hours, most of them beneath the hot Greek sun. The work was physically exhausting: in the first week alone we laid miles of cable around the stadium. They had me climbing through small crevices, hovering 30-feet above the ground on cable ducts and connecting cables that I had never even heard of before.

So how did I manage to survive, not quit, and end up loving my job? It's all about having a positive attitude and being willing to learn the ropes, or cables as the case may be.

My supervisors were impressed with my eager attitude and as a result, I was placed with their camera man who stood at the start line for all of the sprint, hurdle, and relay events. I was even on the track for both the opening and closing ceremonies.

Of course I made a few mistakes, which in one case required me to run to the opposite end of the stadium and fix a cable within 20 seconds (I'm sure that if I had been timed I definitely would have made the qualifying rounds.). But the amount of knowledge and skills I developed surpassed any of the negative aspects of the job.

My Olympic experience also involved a bit of strategic planning. Ever since Vancouver won the bid for the 2010 winter Olympic games I've wanted to become involved with the planning process. What better to have on my resume than the experience of working on a previous Olympic games.

As you can see, motivation, flexibility and networking were the skills that helped me accomplish my goals. My experience this past summer generated new objectives for me to achieve and also opened my eyes to cultural differences in the workplace.

What I'm most proud of though, is that I pushed myself to accomplish something that I never thought was possible. And as a result, I will go down in Olympic record history as the only SFU co-op student to have a placement with the Athens 2004 Olympics. And with 2010 just around the bend, I'm sure I'll be seeing many students signing up for that opportunity.

John Grant is a fourth-year communication student who is currently completing yet another co-op work term handling marketing and communicaton for the SFU co-op education program. He hopes to get involved with the 2010 Olympic games.

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