During my stay, I met with thousands of athletes, journalists, and visitors. People could hardly believe that I had crossed 3 continents just to volunteer in the Olympics

By Aynul Islam Shakib

Back in 2015, I was woken up in the middle of the night by a buzz from my phone. It seemed like nothing special, at first glance, just another late night email verification. But the sender’s name, Rio16, was something I knew would make this night one of the most memorable moments in my life.
Few lines written in a rather formal manner were about to blow my mind away: “Congratulations! You made it to the team of volunteers for South America’s first ever Olympic Games Rio16.” A wave of excitement instantly washed over me! I couldn’t help but send a screenshot of the email to everyone who knew I had applied for the Olympics.
Although I’d been dozing off, the dream of making it to the Olympics wasn’t far from becoming a reality. When all the preparation for my departure was ready, the military coup had just happened in Turkey which riled up the world. I was also worried as I was supposed to take a flight transit to Rio.
“Cancel your trip to Rio and go somewhere else,” explained my father. Although there was no way to refute his logic, I still begged him to let me go back to Malaysia. I promised him that if the situation doesn’t get any better I will cancel my trip to Rio. Thankfully, by the next day, everything was back to normal when I was in the Dhaka airport. The coup was over, order was restored and the long awaited road to Rio welcomed me with arms wide open.
It was hard for me to believe that I would ever go to Rio; the city of Christ the redeemer; the City of Samba. It took a week for me to fully realise that I was indeed in Brazil, the country of the phenomenal Ronaldo. Everything felt like a dream. When I received an accreditation card with my photo on it, I stared at it in disbelief thinking to myself, “Shakib, it’s not a dream;wake up to this beautiful reality.”
The time I walked in the Olympic park was a moment I hold close to my heart. An architectural complex, the size of a mammoth, it accomodated 10 stadiums whereof each was incomparable with another. The venue where I volunteered was meant for Gymnastics. Final preparations were in full swing as only 11 days were left to the opening ceremony. Finding someone who could speak in English in Rio felt like a direct blessing from God. Luckily, I found someone in my team, a dentist from Brazil who lived in the US for 2 years now.
The volunteers were told that we would not receive free tickets for any match, but the committee kept surprising us every week.
As for the opening ceremony, one of the most memorable moments was when I saw the flag of my country waving among others and the speaker bellowed “Bangladesh!” The tiny green spot in a sea of colours made my heart flutter. Tears in my eyes; my voice hoarse from endless cheers “Bang-la-desh”, – it was hard to put my feelings in the right words. I said a little prayer wishing that one day soon our country would win medals as well!
My duty in the Olympics was to manage the traffic in the venue, i.e. every athlete had to pass by me to know the transportation arrival and departure time. Every one of them was a sports star in their respective countries and I felt privileged to be amongst a galaxy full of stars.
One busy evening, I was assisting the Russian athletes to get into their bus. Suddenly, a young Argentinean girl holding a huge poster approached and asked me for permission to take an autograph of an athlete who was standing next to me. I asked her whose poster it was and to my question she replied,”It’s Aliya Mustafina,” and then with excitement she said, “She’s going to win three medals. Mark my words.” Later on, Aliya did win 1 gold and 2 bronze medals. What an accurate prediction!
Meeting champions and spending time with them was the most incredible moments I enjoyed in the Olympics journey. I went to watch a game at the Water Polo stadium and saw Michael Phelps receiving a medal. I felt like I was part of history!
During my stay, I met with thousands of athletes, journalists, and visitors. People could hardly believe that I had crossed 3 continents just to volunteer in the Olympics. Some asked me how the Bangladeshi team was doing in the Olympics. “Nothing significant yet” was my usual answer, ” but I know for sure one day we will grab our gold too.
On the last few days, I came to know that a Russian-Bangladeshi athlete was competing for Russia in Rythmic Gymnastics. Upon googling her name, I realised I had seen her several times but I didn’t know her. I checked the event schedule and made my mind to catch up with her at any cost. I waited for her And finally she showed up.
“Are you Margarita Mamun?”
“My name’s Shakib and I’m from Bangladesh”
“Nice!” She exclaimed sweetly.
“I have a gift for you” And saying so, I pulled out the flag of Bangladesh and handed it to her. She looked so happy despite being extremely tired after her performance. After taking a photo, I told her that she had innumerous fans in Bangladesh and we all prayed for her success.
A moment later, I saw her proudly showing her friends that flag brought from her fatherland. The next day was during finals I came to know that Margarita had already won the gold medal. I was even lucky enough to take a picture with her gold medal in my hand. It was the most memorable day of my Olympics journey. I still can’t believe I touched the gold medal of the Olympics! It all felt like a dream to me.
When the last bus left the venue, I felt lonely, heartbroken, and sort of out of work. The team I worked with had become my family. I felt like I belonged there; working together, having fun at the swimming pool, jumping into the water from the 10-meter height and partying together. I could live this life perhaps forever.
I would like to thank Dr Beatriz and her family for making me feel like family in Brazil. Last but not the least, Osama Bin Noor deserves a special thank for mentoring me throughout my time there. Finally, there can be no greater moment for me than to proudly wave the flag of my country in front of the whole world and say that I’m from Bangladesh.