Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The experiences of a volunteer at IW, and meeting Roger and Mirka

I'm home and getting back into the groove of normal life, so I am going to attempt to share some of the incredible experiences I had while volunteering at Indian Wells.

My friend and I got to the site the Saturday before play began to start our first shift as drivers in VIP Transportation.  We really didn't know what to expect.  We knew we would be driving some players, coaches, chair umpires, but that was about the extent of our knowledge.  We didn't know even what our perks were out of it, other than we didn't have to buy tickets until the final weekend.  We discovered in the orientation, run by the tournament director himself, that our benefits included having access to the lower portion of the stadium in several of the sections on the side the players boxes are on.  We would just flash our credentials and then we could go find any open seat starting at row E (not that I didn't sneak down a little lower when I could, mind you).  If the ticket holder came, we just went and found another seat.  Let me tell you, once you get to sit down there and watch the best of the best play close up, it's very difficult to go sit at the top of the stadium again!  
First match watching courtside - Monica Puig
One of the other perks we received from volunteering was on the days we worked we got $16 worth of credit for meals, which was very helpful.  One of my favorite parts, though, was that we had access to some of the regions that the average person can't go.  Though I couldn't get into the actual player area, I could see into it easily and could see them either doing exercises or just sitting and eating at tables in the player eating area (in fact, I got to see Roger Federer walk into the player eating area, see Juan Martin Del Potro for the first time, and give him a big hug).   
Roger and Delpo talking in the player area

It was interesting to watch the tournament build up, since we got there so early.  When we first got there a lot of the players weren't even there yet, and others were just starting to practice.  So over the next several days it all started to come alive, and that's when it really got fun.  Our transportation trailer was located in the player parking lot where those who drove themselves parked and where others were dropped off.  I would often stand outside the trailer just watching the view to see who would walk by.  Other times players, coaches, chair umpires would just walk into the trailer to ask for a ride.  For example, Martina Navratilova walked in one day, which is just a little surreal (I wasn't the next one up to drive, though, so someone else gave her a ride).  Often I would walk right past prominent players.  I saw Serena when she first came on site, watched her get out of her car and into a golf cart.  Many of them were so much better looking in person than on TV.  For example, I walked past Matosevic and he was actually quite handsome.  Stan Wawrinka looked great close up, as did Berdych.  There were so many I saw I can't even list them all.  I saw Sam Stosur so many times.  In the beginning I knew Federer wasn't even there yet, as he was playing the exo in NYC, so I had more freedom inside of not being uptight hoping I would see him; I just enjoyed seeing all the other players.  Once I knew he was there, then I was always on the lookout, probably a bit of a stalker.  :)

As far as my actual job, I worked eight 6 hour shifts over the two weeks.  We had a great trailer we would sit in waiting for our turn to drive, which was just a sign up list, so it was just random and by chance who we ended up driving.  I drove all different kinds of vehicles - suburbans, vans, SUVs, and had to get used to each one.  A lot of the time I was going to a hotel to pick someone up or drive them back.  I only did one airport run.  On that one, the slip they gave me said I was picking up Juan Martin and that was all it said, so I wasn't actually sure if it was Del Potro or not.  So I stood outside the airport with my BNP Paribas Open sign and suddenly I saw him come out.  I ran up and told him where I was while he went in to wait for his bags.  When he finally came out and I went up to talk to him, it felt absolutely crazy to go stand right next to him and just talk casually.  He is incredibly good looking in person.  I talked to him a bit while we were driving, asked him a couple questions, but then he started talking to the person he was with in Spanish.  The embarrassing part was when I got a bit lost and had to pull over and try to figure out where I was going.  I felt bad because I knew he was anxious to get to his hotel.

Some of the other notables I drove were Nick Kyrgios and team (Nick didn't talk to me at all - it was pretty early in the morning - though he did with some others), Pablo Andujar, who was very nice, Daniel Gimeno Traver a couple times (I'm not sure if he really even speaks English).  I think there's another player I'm missing, but I can't remember at the moment.  For me it was more fun to drive coaches, chair umpires, line judges, or just people who worked with the ATP/WTA because they tended to be much more talkative.  One of my very favorites was driving Kevin Anderson's coach.  We were waiting for a while for another person to show up, plus we got stuck in traffic, so we ended up having quite a bit of time.  We chatted about everything from Kevin's career, our kids, my tennis game, weather where each of us is from, etc.  I also drove Jelena Jankovic's coach right before she was going to play Sabine Lisicki, who he had also coached, so that was an interesting conversation.

The chair umpires and line judges were fun to talk to because they travel all around the world and work closely with all the players, so we had some great conversations.  I also drove some ATP officials.  One thing that was so cool to me was the reaction some of these people had when I brought up Roger's name.  These are people who work closely with him and know him both on and off the court.  When several of these people started talking about him, it's like their tone of voice would soften in admiration as they talked about what a great person he is on and off the court, how much he has brought to tennis, and how much the tennis world will lose when he retires.  It's one thing to hear this from people who are fans, but to hear it over and over from people who work closely not just with him, but with many other players, meant a lot to me and just confirmed all the more why he is so loved.

One of Roger's practices
He only practiced on site a couple times
Now to my most exciting moments - talking with different members of the Federer family.  I had hoped and actually prayed for a couple different things before the tournament started and during - that I would get a picture with Roger and that I would have the opportunity to talk with Mirka.  Both wishes were granted and I couldn't be more thrilled.  I had tried to "make" it happen to get a picture with Roger without success.  He is so surrounded by people it seemed almost impossible.  Without going into the whole story, we ended up being over by the player area at a time we normally wouldn't have been.  All of a sudden, there were Roger and Michael Lammer (who he played doubles with in the tournament) standing by themselves by a golf cart.  Now, it was specified during our orientation that when we are wearing our volunteer outfits we are not to go up to the players and ask for autographs or pictures.  However, I was dressed in normal clothes.  Technically I probably still shouldn't have asked for a picture there since I was in the privileged access section, but the way this all happened, it was if this was being set up specifically for me from above, so I just had to.  So I went running up to him and said "Roger, can I get a picture?"  He said sure, so I stood by him and started to do a selfie.  Instead he said that Michi could take it for us, so he snapped a few pictures with my phone.  Then Roger said we should make sure they turned out, which I thought was very sweet.  There were two that turned out really well.  Since I didn't want to take anymore of his time I said thank you so much and left.  Looking back I wish I had said that someday I would love to talk twins with him, since I also have a set of twins, just to see what he would have said.  But my heart was pounding so hard and I couldn't think straight.  It all happened fairly quickly, but the experience of looking right up into his face and have him look at me and talk to me was something that will always stay with me.  And looking at my picture makes me so happy!

Dream come true
As far as talking with Mirka, I had been given the hallway player access pass to go use the bathroom.  As I was coming out of the bathroom into the hallway I saw Tony Godsick carrying one of the twin girls and then his daughter with the other one.  I waved to one of them as they went out the door.  Then I looked and right beside me was Mirka.  She had a beautiful lacy white shirt on and looked just great.  I had already planned out what I would say to her if I should be so fortunate to get to talk to her.  So I touched her arm and said "Hey, I just wanted to tell you what a hero you are to me.  I have a set of twins, so I think you are just amazing traveling the world with two sets."  She said thank you very much, as we were walking along together, and then added that it was just nature that she had two sets of twins.  I said I know, but she is traveling the world with them.  She said thank you again, then turned to go the direction she was going where I didn't have access to.  I was so happy I had been able to tell her that; I hope it meant something to her too.  I also had a little conversation with Papa Federer and I helped him find his seat.  He was very sweet.  Then I smiled at Lynette, who smiled back at me.  Would have been fun to talk to her too.

Okay, this is getting really long, but I thought we were going to have to sit up in the higher area of the stadium for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  We did sit up there Friday and Saturday and after being so spoiled sitting down below, it was really rather frustrating with everything so cramped, and obviously the view just not the same.  On the day of the final, though, one of the friends we met in our trailer had gotten some free tickets with incredible seats by doing a favor for one of the CEOs.  As she was there by herself, she wanted us to sit by her.  We were happy to oblige!  Even though Roger lost, it was an amazing experience to get to sit so close where I could see every expression on his face when he walked to the back of the court and watch his spectacular movement as he played as hard as he could, fighting back to take the 2nd set after being down a break.  Let me tell you, the crowd went crazy when that happened!  The support of the crowd for him is always heartwarming.

So to sum if all up, I totally loved volunteering.  It really didn't even seem like work, and the experiences I had driving all different types of people (oh, the last person I drove was multiple grand slam champion Roy Emerson and his wife), having access to so many areas that the general public don't, and getting to sit way down in the stadium, was just wonderful.  I have so many great memories to look back on, and I hope to do it again next year.

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