The experience of a Games ‘hostess’ with the Australian team

Everyone really does win – By Erin O’Neill

July thirty— first was a day I shall never forget. Never could have imagined how it really turned out! I stood in front of the mirror, added the last few details to my uniform and thought to myself, a few weeks ago I would never have imagined myself in such a costume. The colour scheme was unbelievable. I wore a flaming orange blazer and skirt, which was accented by the pink t-shirt with the insignia sewn on the centre of it. That was not all though. I also had turquoise shoes and matching purse not to mention the fiery pink hat. The uniform was almost complete, the scarf with the pink, orange, and turquoise added a finishing touch to the outfit.

You might be wondering by now who I am and just what happened on that day. I was a hostess for the Torontolympiad for the Physically Disabled. My team was Australia and it was my privilege to greet them at the airport and welcome them to Canada. There were two other hostesses with me, Anne-Marie and Fran.

We met in the lobby of our residence only to be disappointed as we glanced out the window. The day was horrible! The sky was grey with no hope of clearance on the horizon. The rain had not come yet but we were sure it was soon to arrive.

Excitement and fear were building up within me by the time we arrived at the airport. A three hour delay on the bus only added to this trauma. The OK finally came and out we went to the runway.

Now I was really scared! What was I going to say? How was I ever going to greet them? These were just a few of the questions that went racing through my mind. Just as they were being unloaded from the plane rain began to fall. Saying it came down in buckets was to say the least! It came down by the gallons! When the bus was finally loaded, I swallowed once, stood up and introduced myself. I said ‘”Hi, my name is Erin O’Neill and I am one of your hostesses for the next few weeks during your stay in Canada. Welcome to Canada!”

The rest of the day went just about the same! The team was exhausted after their twenty-two hour flight and when we arrived at the university they had to go through their medicals so it must have been about four o’clock in the afternoon when they were finally settled across campus in their residence called “Bethune”. I was never so relieved! There were so many names and faces, I just couldn’t remember them all! I thought to myself, the days will have to get batter. They can’t possibly get any worse!

The, next day was a relief! The sun shone brightly and seemed to put a whole new perspective on things. We met the team manager and his wife, Kevin and Marie Betts for breakfast that morning and later met the whole team at a meeting. Everyone was much happier and I knew then that it was going to be two weeks I would never forget.

The next few days want smoothly, between running errands and getting to know the team – ordering a ramp for the step, getting extra pillows, irons, kettles, and just about everything you could imagine.

By Opening Ceremonies I knew everyone quite well. I felt proud to march onto the field with the Australian team. It was very exciting marching out while the audience thundered with applause. I walked with the Australian escorts Darryl, Ian, George and Warren. After fireworks, speeches, and the lighting of the. flame, the games were officially opened.

During the next ten days so many things happened that every minute was filled with excitement. During the days there were events to watch and many jobs to carry out, Anne-Marie, Fran and I cheered the athletes and showed them that we were with them all the way. The feelings that were exchanged between the Australians and the. hostesses during the games showed that we won with the winners, we lost gracefully with the losers but most of all we created the friendship that we had set out to do the day we met them. The days were filled with medal presentations, events, laughter, sorrow, and also some crises.

When Eric Russell one of the Australians denied one of his gold medals in protest of the teams backing out because of South Africa’s participation in the games, troubles did arise. I believe Eric was right when he stated “We have enough of a common bond in our disabilities without governments bringing politics into it.” However everything did work out for the best in the end.

The nights were filled with just as much excitement as the days. There were many things to do. We played cards, talked, danced, laughed ourselves hoarse in the beer tent, attended many formal functions and enjoyed our new friends. Ethnic night was a party at the Australian Councillor General’s home. It was a beautiful evening! The Australians certainly know how to have a good time! There were many other affairs we were invited to also — the Lions Clubs invitation to dinner and a dance and many more.

Those ten days seemed to rush up to a finish sooner than I had expected. Closing Ceremonies was a very touching but chaotic hour. The organization of the teams at closing was poor but the speeches and songs were very moving. I had come to know the Australian team so well in the past twelve days that it seemed I had known them for years. The thought of my new friends going home seemed hard to accept but we had three more days before it would be a reality.

The final two days ware filled with sightseeing and many memories. We went downtown Toronto for lunch, shopping, and a trip to the C.N. Tower which filled one of the days. The other day we spent at Niagara Falls where we joked and laughed and made the trip an extra special one. We viewed the falls took pictures and sat and reflected on the experiences of the past two weeks. That night -was the time for tears! The team presented us with gifts and keepsakes with love. There were speeches by Kevin Betts, Darryl, George, Ian and John Kidd who was the team captain. We received a gold medal, place-mats with Australian artifacts printed on them, a stuffed Koala, Australian money, key chains, crests, pins, shirts, and many other beautiful keepsakes.

Saturday it was back to where we had started, but this time it was good-bye. As each one left to board the plane there were kisses and tears. I shall never forget what Bobby McIntyre said “Erin you sure have changed from that quiet young lady that sat on the bus the day we arrived.” When the final good-byes had been said it was back to the residence to pack and go home.

When I arrived at the residence just sat and thought about the last two weeks. I remembered watching the athletes compete with the determination of not allowing their disabilities to stand in their way of achievement. The slogan of the games rang in my head “Everyone Wins!” I really had won! I won friendship and gained satisfaction out of an experience I was never to relive. I may never see these people again but I have the next best thing! I have pictures and memories that will live and be cherished in my heart forever.

September 8, 1976

Erin O’Neill, one of the Australian Team ‘hostesses’ for the 1976 Games, wrote about her experience with the Australian team.