For the first time since it was built, the seats at West Kelowna’s Royal LePage Place arena were nearly filled to capacity as the community took in post Olympic Torch Relay celebrations.
Emcee Stuntman Steve Francis said hosting the torch relay and the Light the Way after party at the arena were definitely highlights in his life.
He said the crowd, estimated at more than 1,500 people, was electric and the fans were amazing as they chanted, “Go, Canada, Go!”
“That was off the hook. Amazing,” stated Francis.
The screams were nearly deafening as the torch was carried through the crowd gathered in the Mount Boucherie Community Complex parking lot.
Cancer fighter Jonathan Neitsch, chosen as the Vancouver Olympic Committee’s (VANOC’s) torchbearer in West Kelowna, was given the honour of carrying the Olympic flame on to the stage. And when he hoisted his torch high above the stage for all to see, the crowd went wild.
Francis said it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
“I mean being in media I’ve had the chance to meet prime ministers and presidents. Meeting Sen. John Glenn was one of the highlights of my life. But that night was just awesome––so inspirational and uplifting. It’s something I’m going to take to the grave I swear to you.”
However, for Francis, the Olympic party is not over yet, so to speak.
He’s been chosen as a 2010 volunteer and he’s off to Vancouver on Wednesday morning.
He credits his wife, Alana, for encouraging him to apply.
“She reminded me that her brother volunteered in Calgary and then he told me what an amazing experience it was.”
A few months passed after he submitted his application, and then about 15 months ago, he received an email requesting the first interview. He underwent two more interviews via email and phone and was then called for a fourth face-to-face chat with International Olympic Committee and VANOC officials in Vancouver in November 2008.
He was asked if it was overwhelming or intimidating being in front of the panel.
He laughed and said, “Absolutely. All those emotions.”
There were some follow up calls in December and then he was asked to go down last February for a final meeting, where he was asked to volunteer for the Biathlon World Cup in Whistler as a part of the final screening process before becoming an Olympic volunteer.
“It was a precursor to get a real life snap shot of what was to come for the Olympics. But, all I knew about biathlon was that they skied for a long time and carried a rifle and then maybe shot a deer or something,” he joked.
However, when he volunteered at the world cup, escorting athletes between the racecourses and press conferences, Francis said he gained a real appreciation for the sport and a respect for the athletes.
“I was just inches away from them as they competed on the course. I was amazed at the training, the discipline, the endurance, patience and concentration needed for this sport. They have to go all out skiing and then slow down, concentrate and take their shot. If they miss, they have to do a penalty course. So there’s a lot riding on speed and accuracy. So they’re competing against the clock and naturally they have to be fast, but then stop and control their breathing after going for kilometres and kilometres, so they can focus on hitting these targets off in the distance.”
Francis said the sport was “contagious.”
On the final day of the Biathlon World Cup, the Olympic committee confirmed he would be a volunteer for the 2010 games.
Francis said he was absolutely thrilled, but he tried to downplay it a little, joking with the officials, saying, “Great, hey, yeah right on.”
With his departure date now fast approaching, he said he can’t wait to get down to Vancouver and meet the rest of his volunteer team.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been a year and three months. I can’t believe it’s less than days away when I leave now.”
Francis said he would be doing much the same thing during the Olympics as he did during the world cup event, escorting athletes from the racecourse to the media tent for interviews with NBC, CTV and the rest of the world press.
The experience will be a bit bittersweet though because his wife and 11- and 13-year-old daughters can’t come with to share the experience, and he’ll be gone for almost a month.
“So I’ll be spending a lot of time with the family this weekend. And, when I’m down there I’ve told them I’ll be sending lots of emails and pictures and telling them how much I miss them.”
Francis returns home to share his once in a lifetime memories with his family on March 1.
(For more pictures from the torch relay, see pages 2 and 7.)