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Tempe woman volunteers at the Rio Olympics

LISTEN: Volunteering at the Rio Olympic games

TEMPE, Ariz. – Athletes, coaches and journalists are not the only ones making the best of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Thousands of volunteers like Tempe’s Serena Christianson play a big part in making the games a success.

Her road to Rio began on Facebook.

“In January of 2015, I saw a post on there … saying ‘we’re looking for volunteers,’” said Christianson. “I thought, OK! That’s exciting. Lots of emotions running through my head.”

After considering the pros and cons of such a huge decision, she decided to apply.

“Why not?” she remembers asking herself. Worse case, if anything happens before the games start, she could withdraw.

Christianson communicated mainly via email with the volunteer committee after that. She even did a video group interview with volunteer candidates from other countries. The day of the video chat, she recalled, the camera on her computer didn’t work.

“I really had to focus on being heard,” she said. “I was being asked to come up with a slogan for the Olympics as well as a theme song.”

While the other participants could see each other, they couldn’t see her. That was the first hurdle in making it to Rio.

On Jan. 18, 2016, an email came to her inbox with the subject line: “Chegou sua carta-convite para os Jogos Olímpicos!”

She had been selected as a volunteer.

A few weeks later she learned she would be stationed at the golf course at Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb in Rio de Janeiro.

She’s even more excited to know she’ll be volunteering with the golf athletes given the sport was last played at the Olympics in 1904.

Her volunteering title is called “field of play.”

This is the description the Olympic committee sent her: “Serena, your role is to receive athletes in the designated arrival area; remain visible to deal with any problem and answer questions; guarantee that the athletes’ areas are clean, tidy and prepared for the start of sessions. Watch over athletes’ belongings to keep them safe, deal with lost belongings, manage keys and lockers, provide clean towels and collect used ones. Guarantee that the athletes’ lounge and other areas are supplied with food and drink; report any breakages or technical problems.”

Christianson is financing her trip entirely on her own. She’s taking the time off, unpaid from her job as marketing coordinator at Taylor RyMar Corporation in Tempe. Her boss supported her decision to go, reminding her it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

She’s not going alone. Christianson met another Valley woman also volunteering at the games and will be traveling and staying with her.

Over the last five years, Christianson has been involved with Rotary International. Through her contacts at the organization, she connected with people in Brazil who offered her a home-stay option for part of her three-week trip. The Olympics helped her connect with other families to stay with for the rest of her time there.

Expecting an incredible and unique experience, Christianson hopes to come back home knowing she made a difference and met others with the same vision.

“The opportunity to connect with people from around the world who are putting aside every single difference in terms of opinion and finding what’s in common,” Christianson pondered, “that would be amazing.”

She’ll also be buying supplies for kids in a local school in Rio with funds donated to her by her Rotary Club.

You can follow her journey through Rio on Linkedin.

This was the fifth and final part of the KTAR series highlighting how Phoenix-area athletes, coaches and residents are representing in Rio de Janeiro.

You can read and hear the first piece here.

You can read and hear the second piece here.

You can read and hear the third piece here.

You can read and hear the fourth piece here.

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