When the Sochi Olympics begin in Russia this week, a Cranbrook resident will be cheering on the supporters close at hand.
Valerie Ward is a volunteer for the Canadian Olympic Committee at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Until March 2, she is based at Canada Olympic House as a host for athletes, team members and their supporters.
“This is part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s commitment to the Olympic movement in general — having a place for Canadian athletes and their friends, supporters and spectators, team members, officials, anyone Canadian – a place to drop in to,” said Ward.
A teacher at Mount Baker Secondary School, Ward is taking time off work and paying her own travel costs to represent Canada as a volunteer. She’s doing it for a love of the Olympic movement.
“I am a big supporter of Olympism,” she said. “As a teacher, every time there has been an Olympics, I always find a way to teach the basics of Olympic values. I really believe in the movement. I believe in the Olympic values of striving for excellence and doing one’s best, and an equal playing field without drugs.”
In fact, Olympic values run in Ward’s blood. Her sister, Joy Fera, also from Cranbrook, represented Canada on the women’s rowing team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
“We grew up with older cousins who have been Olympic athletes, so it runs in my mother’s side of the family,” Ward added.
Her second cousin David Steen won bronze in the decathalon in Seoul in 1988, at a time when doping of athletes was widespread.
“He knew that he won that bronze cleanly – he pumped the iron, he worked really, really hard and that’s what was important to him and our family,” said Ward. “I will always remember that phone call that he had won bronze. It was special.”
The Sochi Olympics will be the sixth Olympics that Ward has attended. In 1976 she watched her sister compete in Montreal. In 1988, she worked at the ski school at the Calgary Olympics.
In 1996, Ward, her sister and nieces attended the Atlanta Olympics as spectators.
“My most memorable Olympic moment was when Donovan Bailey won Olympic gold in the 100m in Atlanta in 1996,” said Ward. “My sister and I and her two daughters were in the stands. I actually lost my voice that day, yelling and cheering for him. It gives me goosebumps to think about. It was just so exciting when he grabbed the Canadian flag and ran around the track. It was just phenomenal – it’s something I will always remember.”
In 2002 at Salt Lake City and in 2010 in Vancouver, Ward prepared the alpine ski courses with a ski racing group called the Whistler Weasel Workers.
Her biggest thrill at the Vancouver Olympics was watching the bobsledding.
“I went to watch bobsledding and I found it particularly exciting because the stands are really close to where the athletes finish their run, and it was like a United Nations of families and supporters of the bobsledders,” she said. “It was intimate – you were right there. It was just thrilling.”
Now Ward is preparing for a month’s stay in Sochi, and some of the intricacies of travelling to Russia.
“My hotel reservation is a five-page document. It says things like they will supply water and electricity – isn’t that nice to know?” she laughed.
She is conscious of terrorism threats in Sochi, but it won’t prevent her from going, Ward insists.
“I’m concerned, but it’s not enough to stop me from living my life,” she said. “You have to take that chance. We have to live our lives, and I’m not going to let the threat of a terrorist attack ruin something as important as the Olympics.”
Ward said she admires athletes not just for their physical strength but also their mental strength.
“At that level of competition, there is also that mental ability that can handle stress and changing situations so well. I have the utmost respect for that. Because anything can happen in competition and usually does, and how does someone rise above that and get beyond that?
“When you are looking at that fine tuning of the mind and the body, I always find that really encouraging to be the best that we can ever be, in whatever we are doing in our lives.”