Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My incredible experiences volunteering at Indian Wells

I just returned from volunteering for the third year at the Indian Wells tennis tournament in VIP transportation.  Each year has been different and each one has had some great experiences, but this year some incredible dreams came true that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

I told the person in charge of our department even before I got there that I would love to be one of the group to go pick up the Federer clan at the private airport, but didn't know if it would actually happen.  It turned out I was working a shift at the time they came in and I nervously awaited the decision of whether I would be one of the chosen ones.  Thankfully my desire was honored and I got to go!  When we (four suburbans and drivers) got to the airport it was extremely windy and we were slightly concerned.  Eventually they landed, however, and we drove our vehicles over by the plane as Roger was walking down the steps.  I quickly got out and went over to him and he thanked us all for coming and shook our hands.  I then had a moment with him by myself as he waited for his family to come out.  I told him congratulations on Australia and that I was still so excited and he said thanks, he was too.  The rest of the family emerged then and it was fun to see the kids in person.  As all the luggage was being loaded in the vehicles and car seats strapped in, I eventually ended up standing by his mom, Lynnette.  At that point Roger came up to Lynnette and me and said he felt like he was going to throw up on the plane (I only share that because he also told it to journalists).  The ride was so bumpy and it had only been a quick 30 minute flight from LA, which made it all the worse.  I mean, how many people can say that Roger Federer told them he thought he was going to throw up? 😁

Mirka also thanked me for coming and shook hands with me.  I told her it was so great to see her and she thanked me and smiled.  I would have loved to talk with her more but she ended up riding in another vehicle with three of the kids.

Eventually everything was loaded, the kids were settled in, and Roger got into a vehicle with one of his girls.  I told Lynnette they could ride with me, so she got in the back and Robert (or Robbie, as she calls him) in the front.  She looked over at the vehicle Roger was in and said that he didn't look very good, looked very white.  Poor guy!  We then had a half an hour drive to the house they were staying at near the site.  It was lovely to have the opportunity to just chat with his parents!  We talked about me having twins, where I'm from, weather there and where they live, a bit about Australia, how they wanted to play golf while they were in CA (Robert jokingly said they were there for the golf, not the tennis 😀).  I also took the opportunity to tell them what a great job they had done raising their son.  They kind of brushed it off, saying you never knew how kids would turn out, but I said I didn't agree and that a lot of it came from the influence of the parents.  It was so great to get to spend that time with them; I felt like friends by the time it was done.

When we got to the house, in a gated community neighborhood, I asked Roger how he was feeling and he said much better.  I said good, I was hoping he wasn't getting sick and he said no, no.  After everything was unloaded Roger thanked us once again and I told him I had enjoyed talking with his parent, and he said good.  It was a wonderful experience all around and I felt incredibly blessed to have that time to talk personally with Roger, even though just in little bits and pieces, to see his family close up, and to spend that time with his parents.  I was glowing for a long time after!

Over the course of the tournament I drove several people who I enjoyed talking with, such as Kyle Edmund's coach, Shelby Rogers' coach, Taylor Fritz's wife, baby and mother-in-law, which was really fun, Jan Struff, Giles Muller, plus many others.  Some of the other notable experiences unrelated to matches was seeing Tommy Haas at a concession stand where we were both using our credential credits to buy a salad (I was surprised he had to go do that himself as the TD).  While we were standing waiting for them I went over and talked with him and we chatted about several things, including what could be added to make things cooler for the fans and predictions for the Roger/Rafa match (he gave Rafa the slight edge - glad he was wrong!).  It was really fun to get a chance to talk with him!  I also got a quick hug from Robbie Koenig as he was running by, which was special, and he had seen some of my twitter posts.

I didn't watch a lot of Roger's practices this year since the crowds were horrendous, and after I had already had the opportunity to interact with him personally I didn't feel so desperate to have to see him up close.  Often, though, I would try to catch a bit of practice and then go out by the grassy field where the players enter and exit, but in the credential section so I could see him closer up.  One of these times I was actually on shift but had taken a quick break after one of my drives to go get some ice cream.  He was coming out at that time so I stood there for a bit watching.  It just so happened that a video was being filmed at the time, which I didn't realize, and when I watched it later I found that I was in the video (at around 40 seconds in).  

One of my twitter friends kindly took a snapshot of the part I was in, which I absolutely love because it looks like Roger was looking right at me and giving me a thumbs up (even though that wasn't really the case, but I'll pretend he was 😊).

Now onto the tennis matches.  As volunteers we are able to go into the lower bowl in stadium 1 until the final Friday.  This year they limited the areas volunteers were supposed to sit in, but I often went down further anyway since there were always some empty seats close to the bottom (I know, I'm being a rebel, but sometimes you just have to break the rules! 😃).  Most of Roger's matches I was behind the chair umpire on one side or another, except for the Rafa match when I was kitty-corner on one end.  Watching Roger play close up is an incredible experience.  The way he moves on court so quickly yet so gracefully, the way he hits the ball with his whole body, plus just being able to watch him between points and his reactions.  Often I would not really be watching the ball because I just wanted to watch him.

Each match had amazing shots and was a unique experience.  In his match against Steve Johnson I was up a little ways from his box and after the match I went down farther to take some pictures.  His dad was standing there and I reminded him that I had driven him from the airport.  We chatted a bit about him losing his glasses and then I asked him if I could get a picture with him.  It turned out so well and I was really excited to have it.  He was very sweet!

It was disappointing that Roger didn't end up playing the match against Kyrgois, with Nick being sick, because it surely would have been a great match and I feel Roger would have won, with the way he was playing.  However, he wanted to come out and speak to the crowd and the interview he gave was so much fun, including the song by the One Handed Backhand Boys:

As he moved further into the tournament to the point where volunteers had to purchase tickets, I simply couldn't help myself from spending much more money than I had planned on.  Once you have experienced the close-up matches it's very difficult to go back to the nosebleed seats.  So when he won the semifinal I once again rushed to the ticket booth and bought a ticket in the lower bowl for the final, though close up to the top.  However, when I went in for the women's final I went ahead and went far down and sat in the 3rd row the whole match.  The match was a really good one and I was very happy for Elena Vesnina.  

I was hoping I would be able to stay down low for the men's final.  Eventually someone came who had the ticket for the seat I had been in, but there were several seats in row 2 that hadn't been occupied the whole time, so I took a chance and climbed over the seat and ended up getting one of the cushy ones, compared to the hard ones I had been sitting in, that had a cooler underneath with several bottles of cold water (much appreciated on such a hot day).  I felt incredibly spoiled!  I was a row behind Stan's team so many of the people around me were cheering for Stan, but I went ahead and yelled for Roger anyway.  

Seeing him play that level of tennis against such a tough opponent from so close was an absolute thrill, and then to have him win was such a joyous experience!  Being there for the trophy ceremony and all the pictures and interviews after, I just couldn't stop grinning.  I would have liked to get an autograph (there were so many people even though I was so close) or another picture with him, since mine is two years old, but I mustn't get greedy and keep wanting more and more.  

Thanks for reading such a long post, but I wanted to share some of these special moments.  The things I got to experience were ones that most Federer fans would give anything to have, and I feel extremely grateful and blessed.  They will be in my heart for the rest of my life.

No comments: