I was working as a Physio at a British Gymnastics event when I got recruited to work at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) as a Venue Medical Manager (VMM). It was a chance job offer after someone had dropped out and I readily accepted it even with only 3 weeks to go. What an opportunity! They wanted me for 3 weeks as well but I couldn’t quite commit to that so offered 16days.
The Commonwealth Games have been held every 4 years since 1930 (except 1942 and 1946 due to WWW II). Although there are 56 members of the Commonwealth of Nations, there are 72 CWG associations who will participate. They are fully inclusive since 2002 with athletes competing with a disability.
In Birmingham, there were to be approximately 6500 athletes (and team officials) competing in 280 events in 20 sports.
It’s fair to say I hit the ground running. I was to be based at the NEC in Birmingham and manage two halls of sport – weight lifting and Badminton. The other halls were full of boxing, table tennis and netball and had their own VMM’s and volunteer teams although we all communicated regularly especially on the radio system as required. We were all managed by a cluster manager and I soon learnt the importance of balancing management and helping day to day but not micro-managing. Also looking after oneself was key; getting enough sleep was significant in order to keep showing up for 10days without a degradation of performance.
Everyone else had been in their VMM role for a week prior to my arrival which meant they had a good understanding of the job role, the supporting computer systems and the venue. I had 24hrs to learn it all. The organisation was incredible- the amount of work involved; the amount of teams of people from the athletes to the press, to the traffic, to the catering, to the workforce volunteers, to the security and finally to the medical. My first few days were full on especially as we had to bump in (unpack everything and get established) as well.
Day to day my role was responsible for supporting and directing a multi-disciplinary volunteer workforce consisting of doctors, nurses, first aiders, paramedics, physiotherapists and massage therapists for the fields of play (FOP) and athlete medical rooms. The NEC was open from 0700hrs to 2355hrs so there were two of us in the role in which I carried out the evening shift from 1400 to 2355. I was dreading this shift because I’m not an evening person but I adapted pretty quickly to the change although by the end I was missing daylight and fresh air A LOT!
The athletes arrived in the middle of my first week and were just training and getting used to their arenas. I did quite a bit of physio especially on athletes (and officials) that had travelled a distance to get here. Obviously, a lot of teams bought their own physios and so we were there for the ones that hadn’t. The Games opened officially on July 28th. I enjoyed my last hot meal for 10days (didn’t fully appreciate this at the time) as I watched the ceremony on TV with my fellow VMM’s. There was a workforce canteen based at the NEC but it was only sandwiches/ salads so I was fed well but after 10days I was keen for a hot dinner!
Then it was down to business.
I would wake in the morning, go for a run (even got two different park runs in!), have breakfast and then head into work. My hotel was about 2miles away from the NEC so everyday I ran in, past the airport runway, and out again- usually under a lovely starry sky which was a good way to decompress after 10hours under artificial lights and screaming crowds.
I arrived for my shift and had to go through security before reaching the athlete medical room. On arrival I briefed the volunteers; on the venue and FOP; the sport specific rules and responses required; the Medical Encounter System for notes; co-ordinating with the ambulance services; how to use the radio and the call signs; managing the equipment, medication and supplies; carry out pre-event training for FOP recovery extraction; etiquette; and general delivery of what was required.
The volunteer roles consisted of a team lead, team members, physios and massage therapists. I had some fantastic volunteers and some excellent team leaders which meant I could walk between my halls with confidence that the FOP was in good hands. They ensured there was a plan in place for breaks and rotations. Sometimes it was a balancing act between the international federation (IF) doctors and our doctors!
Once the athletes had been treated I had the goal of ensuring the volunteers got the most out of their shift and as a team we built up some really good comradeship.
Between my two halls VMM role I also fitted in assessing and treating some of the athletes. We were sometimes quite short of physios or had physios not used to working in a sports environment so I would treat the athlete in front of them so they could learn. There was also sometimes a request for a female physio to treat a female athlete so I obliged.
I enjoyed both roles and had some great feedback from my volunteers on my reputation in organising a good shift and the atmosphere I created for the team. It made the long hours worthwhile.
Everyday was the same but with some variation. There was a polyclinic located in the Games Village which I had to take an athlete to after she hurt her back weight lifting. The polyclinic had more doctors, physios and equipment such as an x-ray machine and an ultrasound scanner. I got the opportunity to sit in on the consultation and fully appreciate the medical journey that was available to the athlete. Language was not often a barrier but in this case it was. I found myself having to use google translate for anus and urine! All in a days work!
I had to locate our spinal board after an athlete took it to hospital with her. Liaison with all agencies as well!
Weightlifting was my first sport to finish and I had to ‘bump out’/ pack up the athlete medical room. It was a case of boxing everything up – things that hadn’t been used could go back to the supplier and things that had been used were to be picked up by logistics and issued out.
After that I took on another hall of sport- table tennis. I was pleased to get to watch sports I’m not involved in. During my time at the NEC I took a walk around all the halls to make sure I got to experience and see all the sports in action- badminton, weightlifting, para power lifting, table tennis, boxing and netball. The crowds really made the atmosphere electric and there were memorable climatic moments.
I was so impressed by all the volunteers – not just medical ones. They were a sea of people in blue and orange helping, advising and generally showing a friendly face to all the spectators. The time donated and enthusiasm was truly remarkable and really demonstrated the best of Birmingham!
My last day was also one of bumping out as the Games had finished. I was tired and keen to travel home but was so pleased I had been given the opportunity to fulfil such a role and experience a Games.