BY CRAIG GILBERT
The Canadian women?s softball team learned an important lesson on the way to a silver medal at the Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo this summer.
Mounds of military mule manure can be helpful in practising hitting.
Wendy Hampson was one of three Laurentian University employees to take part in the 2003 Pan Am Games in the Dominican Republic in late August. Hampson served as an certified athletic therapist for the Canadian health-care team.
Laurentian media-relations officer Paul de la Riva, who was one of two people on the mission staff who speaks Spanish, was one of five press attaches for Canada?s mission team.
Robert Schinke, a sports psychology professor at the university, was the team psychologist for the boxing squad,
Hampson said the experience was a learning one for her and the host country, which is located next to Haiti.
There were some major oversights in the planning of the games, such as space for practices and adequate amounts of water for the athletes.
?It was like wilderness survival down there,? she said.
Hampson said the softball team had to practise on a slum-like baseball diamond with 18 inches of grass cover, chickens and lizards running around the infield, government mules tethered to a cement block in the outfield and a truck driving through the whole deal as its operator pleased.
Every time the team wanted to practice, the coaches had to move the cement block to a corner of the field, minding the treats the chickens, lizards and mules left for them, so as to avoid any unfortunate diplomatic incidents involving baseballs and government livestock.
The field was 100 metres from the competition site and 300 metres from the main gate of the central Olympic area, which occupied three city blocks. The juxtaposition of the dilapidated field and the athletes? complex highlighted the large dichotomy between the developing country?s rich and poor.
?We would be driving down the road, and on one side of us there could be a rusted, beaten up old car and on the other, a Lincoln Navigator,? she said.
?We had to pass people living in abject poverty everyday in our air conditioned buses...They spent a lot of money to make us feel comfortable.?
Many locals were upset with the amount of money, not to mention electricity, being funneled to the games.
?We had a fair number of power outages at the beginnings of games,? Hampson said.
?I heard power was being rationed in other parts of the country just to keep the games running.?
Medical supplies were also hard to come by.
Hampson said there weren?t enough splints for broken bones, and the local ambulances were stocked with little more than a cot and a steering wheel.
Hampson brought discarded splints from other sources and she and other health-care team members made more from cardboard boxes they found.
And at the risk of playing up the ?don?t drink the water? mantra attached frequently to Carribean or tropical locales, the Canadian Medical Clinic ran out of Immodium.
?A lot of people got sick.?
To top it all off, Hampson said it took her a week and a half to impress the importance of cold water to the event managers.
When she asked for water at many venues, she was directed to a cooler with only 10 or so bottles in it. The presented problem to the therapist who was responsible for the women?s softball team, which carried in the region of 20 players.
Another concept she had to impress upon games workers was the importance of keeping the water in the bottles, rather than dumping them all into a cooler full of ice that couldn?t be proven sanitary.
?I don?t speak Spanish,? Hampson said, ?but I learned the word for ?cold? and I learned the word for ?water? and I
managed to eventually get my message across.?
Fully 10 per cent of the Canadian mission team at the Pan Am Games in the Santo Domingo has ties to Laurentian University.
Basketball players Diane Norman and Shawn Swords are both former Voyageurs, and former sports administration professor Benoit Seguin was still at Laurentian when he was selected to take part in the games. Jacquie Vurke is an LU human kinetics grad.
De la Riva said one of the main reasons he was chosen to go to the games is that he speaks Spanish. All mission team members, he said, had to be fluently bilingual, but the main language of the games was Spanish.
Often he fell into a de facto translator role between team members and game officials.
De la Riva said each attache was assigned six sports as their major priority. In athletics (track and field), boxing, soccer, water skiing, karate and tai kwon do, he was responsible for making coaches and athletes available to the media for interviews, as well as managing the ?mixing area,? where the media scrummed the athletes and coaches directly.
He was also responsible for preparing some interviewees with less experience with the media than others by coaching them on what to say and how to act.
He also had to co-ordinate phone interviews with team members from across Canada.
De la Riva said each sport had its own ?media rhythm.?
In athletics, for example, a runner may be available for an interview right after a race, whereas in karate the athlete
may not be able to speak until a series of matches is over. In soccer, interviews obviously wouldn?t take place until after the game.
De la Riva described the experience as exciting and intense.
Both he and Hampson said they worked in the region of 18 hours per day, for three weeks straight. De la Riva said the Pan Am Games are second only to the Olympics in Canada, and are even more important to Latin America countries Brazil and Mexico.
Despite starting at 6 am most days and working through to 11 pm or midnight, de la Riva didn?t feel stressed or overtired at games? end.
He said as soon as he stepped off the plane he was ready to go back and do it all again.
To that end, de la Riva has applied for a similar position on Canada?s mission team for the Olympics in Athens next year.
He may have an advantage there: Canada?s chef de mission for the Athens Games, David Bedford, is - you guessed it ? a Laurentian sports administration grad.