Paralympics Rio 2016

Step out of your comfort zone, and amazing things can happen.

The 2016 Paralympic Games were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 8-18. Mark and I were fortunate to be selected as volunteers and I will share the highlights of our experiences with you. You'll see the beautiful beaches and mountains, the opening and closing ceremonies, the Paralympic village, Paralympic venues, athletes and events, but most of all, I hope you'll feel the spirit of the people that we met along the way. -Nancy Miller, Miller Prosthetics & Orthotics

During the volunteer application and process, I ended up assigned to "Work Force Ops", and was scheduled for a month, and my shift was 6 am-3 pm. My assignment was at the Paralympic Family Hotel, and began 12 days before the games began on August 27th. Although Mark was also accepted as a volunteer, he didn't get an assignment until he arrived. Mark planned to be in Rio during the ten days of the games.

I accepted the one-month volunteer roster. To my delight, the Paralympic Family Hotel was in Barra da Tijuca, and across the street from the beach. I was lucky enough to find a one-bedroom apartment on that was next door to my work assignment. In my apartment search, I also met Claudia Hack. Although I didn't rent her spare room, we became Facebook friends.

I traveled to Rio solo since Mark wouldn't be there until September 8th. After an overnight flight, a few busses, and no English speakers, I finally arrived in Rio on Aug 25th around noon. I was greeted by the aparment owner, Fabio, who had been very helpful in all of my preparations. The Barra Palace apartment had a balcony with an ocean view. It was amazing! Here are some shots of the place.

After getting the lay of the land, I found a small local market and stocked up on some food. I ate dinner at a small Italian Restaurant on the beach across the street from my apartment. The boardwalk is scattered with small restaurants called "Kioske's". There was also a Paralympic Logo across from my place.

Dinner on the beach, across the street from my place.

The sun rose over the mountain around 6 am every morning. My favorite part of the day was drinking Brazilian coffee on my balcony watching the sunrise. By 7 am every morning, the sun was already strong. My balcony was a magnet, I could stay there for hours. But once the coffee kicked in, I was ready for anything!

Bom Dia from Rio!!
Sunrise around 6 am
Coffee on the balcony - my favorite part of the day!

Day 2 in Rio - I had to travel past the downtown area and airport to Cidade do Samba to get my credentials and uniforms. Unfortunately, I didn't use Uber yet, so I took a two-hour scenic bus ride along the coast, and then a new tram called the VLT. When I arrived, the line was so long it wrapped around the building.

The line waiting to get my credentials and uniform

Almost everyone around me was from Brazil, and only spoke Portuguese. I finally met someone in line who spoke English. His name was Curry, and he was from China. After an hour wait, the volunteers got pulled out of the line and brought to the front. Evidently, there are employees and other contractors who were in line to get their credentials for the games. The process to was pretty organized. Volunteers get a great uniform packet. It included 3 shirts, 2 pants that zipped into shorts, 1 jacket, 3 socks, 1 pair tennis shoes, belt, canvas bag, and a water bottle. Another volunteer in line pointed out that my credentials didn't look right, so I had to go back to the help area to get it adjusted. Curry and I ended up going through the process together and connecting on "Whatapp" - an app that is similar to Facebook Messenger, but you just need the person's phone number. It turns out that most international travelers use that app to communicate.

My new uniform!

I headed back to Barra after a quick stop in the downtown area to look for a currency exchange. That night I met my Claudia, my Facebook friend that I almost rented from. She picked me up and we went to a restaurant in trendy area in Barra. All of the restaurants in that area had indoor and outdoor seating. Claudia and I had a lot in common, and knew we would be great friends. She works at SporTV and ended up knowing many people at the restaurant. I met Roger who was a former Olympic soccer player and sports broadcaster, and Domitila who hosts a morning sports show. They said they were both kite surfers, which is something I saw on the beach the day before. They said they were going kite surfing the next day and invited me to join them, but I had to work - it was my first day.

Meet Claudia Hack - she quickly became my new best friend in Rio!

I found the Paralympic Family Hotel, my work location, the night before. It turned out to be right next door to my apartment! That night I met Nathan, one of the managers. He said I could come in at noon on the first day since they were slow. That was much better than 6 am! So I used the sunny morning before work to finally explore the beach across the street. Within a few steps I found a giant sand dollar. It was a good omen for the trip, and turned out to be the only shell I ever saw.

The one and only sand dollar I found - and it was giant!

Volleyball nets line the beach in Rio. Along with volleyball, people play "Foot Volley" which is a combination of soccer and volleyball. They also use the nets for a Paddleball game. That morning I found "VoleiBOM" - Escola de Voleibol. Beach Volleyball Lessons, 3 days a week. So I jumped on the court to be placed in a class and signed up!

Are you kidding - A School for Beach Volleyball? SIGN ME UP!!!

I made it to work at noon, and was trained by a super-energetic manager, Luciana. Our team was responsible to check-in the employees and volunteers and to distribute meal tickets, and occasionally give gifts to keep the employees and volunteers motivated to come to work that day. Most of the volunteers and employees were from Brazil and spoke very little English. The team was great, but I wasn't exposed to the athletes or any other countries, so one of the managers, Nathan Yamada, worked with Gustavo Buna and placed me on the International Relations and Protocol Operations Team. But I worked for three days in "Work Force Ops", and worked on my Portuguese!

Luciana shows off her new Keating Pin!
Work Force Check In - Nancy's first role in Rio
Nathan Yamada- Manager that helped relocate me! Gustavo Buno - Manager that took me on!

After work on day 1, I made my way down to the kite surfing section of the beach, and tried to find Roger and Domi. It was super crowded and I was just about to give up when Roger spotted me. I ended up meeting more of their friends, including Gabby, who turned out to be a kite surfer and world traveler at only 22 years old. I had a great evening with new friends in a cool section of the beach.

Kite Surfing Beach
Kites on the beach, and surfers in the water
Live Music at the Kite Surf Club
Nancy, Gabi, Domitila, Friend, Roger
Kite Surf Club

I was off on Sunday, August 28, and explored Leblon and Ipanema beach with Claudia. We were fortunate to park at her friend Helena's house, we couldn't find a spot on the street. On the beach we met more of her friends, and I played my first beach volleyball game. I also met her son, Rafael. For the Olympics and Paralympics, a country may have a "House" that showcases their country, and acts as a meeting place for their athletes and families. Germany had a house on the beach that sold German food, and had presentations on the stage.

Leblon Beach

German House on the Beach - sold German Food and had a stage for presentations.

Volleyball net - kid sized!

My first beach volleyball game with Claudia's friends

We met up with Helena later that evening at a spot across the beach developed by the brand, "Asics", with the Olympics in mind. We had a bite to eat, and I experienced Brigedero, which is a delicious chocolate ball desert, and was on my "list" to try in Brazil. We took a few pictures on the famous Ipanema boardwalk, which is famous for it's pattern. "The Girl from Ipanema" in the well-known song is actually alive and well, and I believe made an appearance at the games this year.

Sushi Snack
Famous Ipanema Sidewalk Pattern

Monday and Tuesday (Aug 29-30) I continued to work in Work Force Check-in. Fortunately, I received a new job and a new schedule, starting on Thursday, September 1. My new job was in International Relations and Protocol. I would be working in the lobby of the Windsor Ontario, which was attached to my current location. I met with Marina Cardoso, my new manager. I was able to change to the afternoon shift so that I could fit my beach volleyball lessons in! woo hoo!

Marina and her Keating pin!

Due to the schedule change, I had another day off on Wednesday, Aug 31st. And I packed it full! I called my friend Curry, from China. We decided to go to see Christ the Redeemer Statue, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, after my first volleyball lesson.

First day of Volleyball Lessons!
Christ the Redeemer Statue on Corcovado Mountain
Fan Rui, Curry and Kaitlin

Thursday, September 1, 2016. Working in my new role was a much better fit. As the Paralympic Family Help Desk, we worked on cell-phone contracts, distributing opening and closing ceremony tickets and other general questions about the event schedule. I worked with employees and volunteers from Brazil along with a volunteer from China and Russia. I also got to meet the organizers from every country, which provided a much better volunteer experience.

My new work space - the Paralympic Help Desk
Yay! My Access and Word Merge skills came in handy!
Helena, from Rio - my favorite volunteer buddy!
Lunch was provided for the days you worked. The coffee was great, but the cups were tiny! Most people use sugar, no cream and only have one cup. I would drink at least 3 cups, black.

More before and after work fun! I was able to use my landlord Fabio's bicycle, so I finally got to explore the boardwark. I found a pier at the beginning of Barra beach - a place that Mark would like to fish. Another common food is bolinhos de bacalhau (fried cod balls). I thought I was ordering something healthy at the end of my bike ride - oh well. Also common is cold coconut water, served right out of the coconut.

Pier at the beginning of Barra beach
Pier at Posto 1 - Barra da Tijuca
Cool dog on an electric skateboard - check out his sunglasses and watch!
bolinhos de bacalhau - fried cod balls
Coconuts and my bike at a beach kioke
Goaiaba fruit. You had to spit out the small seeds, not so easy to eat.
Meat stand at the Sunday Market
Peppers and spices
Not the greatest

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 The games were getting closer, and the transportation started to line up outside the hotel. I also had the privilege to meet Sir Phillip Craven, the President of the International Paralympic Committee - aka, the man in charge of the event.

The games are getting closer, and the transportation started to line up!
Paralympic Family Hotel on the left, my apartment on the right
Gustavo in action at the help desk
Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee and Nancy

The Opening Ceremony was Wednesday, September 7th. All of the affordable seats were sold out - I was told there was a good chance I would get tickets through my department. I held out and was rewarded with great seats and access to the Paralympic Family Lounge. We were also invited to go in the nice busses and were able to avoid public transportation. Helena and I were in heaven! I'm a huge dancing with the stars fan, and Amy Purdy was performing at the ceremony!

Yay! I got a free ticket to the Opening Ceremony - best seats in the house!
Helena and Nancy on the bus - notice her t-shirt!
Paralympic Family Lounge area at the Opening Ceremony
Wheelchair Ramp Jump through the hoop!
And the ceremony begins! Fireworks at Maracana stadium.
Dads wearing kids in special suit, carrying in flag.
Special suits to give kids a chance to play soccer
Marcia Malsar falls with the Paralympic Torch. Marcia became the first Brazilian athlete ever to win a Paralympic gold medal in 1984.
She gets up and the crowd explodes!!
Team USA!!!
Amy Purdy
Amy Purdy's dance partner is a robot.

Friday. September 9, 2016. Day 2 of the Paralympic Games. The day Mark arrived in Rio.

I was able to arrange for Mark to work in my same department - International Relations and Protocol. After traveling 25 hours to get to the apartment, after a quick rest and lunch, he had to travel back toward the airport to get his credentials and uniform. His job would be at the Tennis Venue.

Mark finally made it to Rio! Here's a shot of us on our balcony.
I introduced Mark to Claudia that night at dinner!

Saturday morning - Mark joined our volleyball class. Turns out there was also a surfing competition set up right next to our nets!

Mark's first day at beach volleyball class!
Surfing Competition
Volleyball drills
Coconut water reward became our post-class ritual.

I found out that Ottobock, one of our Prosthetic vendors, is a very big sponsor for the Paralympics. In fact, they set up a workshop in the Paralympic Village, and sponsor technicians throughout the events to help athletes repair their prosthesis or wheelchairs. Because Mark and I volunteered directly through the Paralympic Committee, and not Ottobock, Mark was unable to assist the athletes with their prostheses.

I was able to arrange a tour with Ottobock at their workshop in the Paralympic Village. It was very high security, we had to be cleared to visit in advance, and they kept our passports while we were visiting. Touring the village was something the employees that I worked with didn't even get to experience.

Saturday. September 10, 2016. Tour of Ottobock's Workshop and Paralympic Village

We met a German athlete, Felix Streng. He won a Bronze medal for 100 meters.
Mark, Christin and Beate in the Ottobock Workshop
Wheelchair repair in action
Team USA employees
The athlete's apartments on the right and row of flags
Work-out facilities

After the tour, we headed over to Olympic Park for the first time. We had tickets to Cycling!

Nancy and Mark overlooking meeting area in Olympic Park
Check out the foot made especially for the bike
Favorite Australian Fan!

Sunday, September 11, 2016. We both had to work, but not until the afternoon shift. So, we made our way to Copacabana Beach on the subway so we could watch the Women's Triathlon. When we arrived at the venue, we were escorted to the Paralympic Family Lounge. That's when we learned the power of our credentials! There was a fantastic lounge set up on the beach that provided a great viewing area for the event.

Lounge at Copacabana Beach for the Triathlon
Not a bad place to watch the race!
Team USA before the event!
USA Women getting ready for the ocean swim.
BP is a big sponsor of the Paralympics, and we met George Bauernfeind in the lounge area. He gave us a lot of information about our athletes in the race.
Protecting the area
Swimmers exit the ocean swim here
Congratulations to Martin Schulz, who won the Gold Medal in the Triathlon for Germany on the previous day, September 10. Each medal also makes a different sound for the blind athletes.

We were going to leave before the race ended, but it turns out that the USA Women were sweeping the race! We had to stay. It was awesome! Also, this was the first year the triathlon was an official sport for the Paralympics.

Allysa Seely, Gold, Hailey Danisewicz, Silver, Melissa Stockwell, Gold

I headed back to Barra to get ready for work. Mark went straight to the Olympic Village for his first day at the Tennis Venue. I headed out to meet Mark one night after work, and I caught some wheelchair tennis, and then later we caught a Wheelchair Rugby Game.

Wheelchair Tennis
Mark and his team at the Tennis venue
Mark's team at the tennis venue
Gustavo, Nancy, Helena, Renan, Marina, Lan and Julia
I met Melissa Stockwell in the BP Lounge
In the lobby of Windsor Ontario
Wheelchair Rugby
Crazy!! They even flip each other over.

We arranged our day off for Thursday, because rain was moving in for Friday. We fit in another event - Canoe Sprints, and two tourist attractions, Christ the Redeemer Statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain. What a great day!

USA kayaker: Kelly Allen

Then we caught an Uber to the catch the train to go up to the top of Corcovado Mountain to the Christ Redeemer Statue. The train went straight up the hill, through the rain forest. At the top of the mountain, we ran into the USA Tennis Player that Mark had been watching all week!

The train that goes through the rain forest straight up the mountain
Tennis Champ!
Cool Train Ride

From there we took a bus to Sugar Loaf, another cool mountain on the beach. There are two mountain peaks with cable cars to take you to each one. At the top of each, there are a few shops and restaurants. Can't beat the view!! Believe it or not, we ran into more people we knew. The IPC President from Ireland and his wife. Then, at the restaurant on top, we met a family from Scotland who had a son competing in the swimming event!

Wheelchair Tennis Players from "Polska" aka Poland
Our new friends, The Mullens, from Scotland! Their son in swimming in the Paralympics!
Andrew Mullen - Great Brittan - Silver
Medal Ceremony

The best part of Rio was the people. Everyone we met went out of there way to help us. I met a wonderful new friend, Eunice. She lived very close to me, and spoke English very well. We met when she translated for me at a shop in my apartment. Turns out she volunteered for the Olympics, and had a therapy dog. We also keep in touch through Whatsapp.

My new friend and neighbor, Eunice! She also volunteered for Olympics!

The next day was a long day at work for Mark - his tennis events kept running over. Friday night we were invited to the German House - they had an additional place about ten miles from our apartment. Helena was friends with the NPC President, and he invited her and her friends to the party. We took him up on that, and my whole department plus Mark and Claudia went. The food was fantastic, and they even brought wine in from Germany.

Friedhelm Julius Beucher, German NPC President and Mark hit it off quite well.
Geman medalist in Kayaking
Grafiti on the dance floor

Mark's time in Rio was winding down. We fit in a great sushi restaurant and more beach volleyball. I met another friend, Eunice, who lived a few apartments down. We also had another group shop with Sir Phillip Craven.

We were treated to Canjica for Mark's going away Volleyball treat.
Mark, Alex (Professor), Cynthia (Owner), Nancy
Sir Philip Craven and our team!

The athletes were amazing. I wish we could have made it to all of the events. Here are extra photos of athletes and events from friends or posters we found.

Deopending on the sport, blind athletes may have a guide.
Sitting Volleyball
Wheelchair Basketball

Although I had tickets to the Closing Ceremony, I was fortunate to receive another ticket gift - and again, prime seats and lounge access! And yes, another cushy bus ride!

At the closing ceremony, Helena introduced me to her friend, Daniel Beniston, who is the managing director for KingdomSports. They were the manufacturers of some official Rio wear, such as scarves and bandanas, along with arranging travel packages and selling tickets for the games. He knows the games inside and out. He told me he produced too many bandanas, and said he would donate some. I mentioned our Prosthetic Users Group and he said sure! I made my way to his place and left with a box of bandanas from Rio!

Daniel Beniston from Kingdom Sports and Stephanie Wilson a 5x Olympic Volunteer. Both from Australia
Thanks for the donation Daniel!

The games were over, Mark went back to the states, and the clouds moved in. The day of the closing ceremony, September 18, was also my last day at work. I was originally schedule through the end of the week with my first assignment. So, I had 5 days in Rio! I went on a bus tour through the downtown area, rollerbladed on Copabana Beach and shopped for my friends in the Prosthetic Users Group.

Museum of Tomorrow - Downtown Rio
Museum of Tomorrow - Downtown Rio
Great place to shop for t-shirts. About 45 minutes from my place
Fun to shop here!
Thais, another volunteer and her sister, spotted me shopping at the markets & helped negotiate prices!
Met Tamiru Kefyalew, who won a Silver Medal in 1500 meters for Ethiopia.
Copacabana Beach!
Took a lunch break here after rollerblading and shopping on Copacabana Beach

Because I worked on the day of the closing ceremony, and missed the Volunteer Party downtown, I was invited to the employee/volunteer thank you party in Athletes Village. Wow - there were so many people there. I think I was the only American, and one of the few who weren't from Brazil. I met up with my friend Tais who arranged a shirt exchange with me. Later I found my team, and hung out with them until piling in a car for the trip home.

Line waiting to get in to party for employees and volunteers
Wow - now that's a big party!
Party in Paralympic Village - filled with volunteers and employees of the games
I met up with Thais to do a uniform/keating shirt exchange!
Nancy and Thais!
My team!

Friday was my last day in Rio, but I didn't leave until 10 pm. The weather finally cleared, so I decided to fly! I went hang gliding! Wow - was it cool! Mark would have joined me, but there was no flying during the games due to National Security.

Sao Conrado Beach and Pedra Bonita
Suited up and ready to Hang Glide!
Wow - those buildings look so small from here
Kites lined up, getting ready to launch!
We landed safely! Thanks to my awesome "Jajao" pilot, Renaldo Pereira da Silva
Sunset from Sugarloaf Mountain

Thanks for watching and we hope this gave you a taste of Rio and the 2016 Paralympic Games! - Mark and Nancy Miller

Miller Prosthetics & Orthotics

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