Going for the Gold: Benny Vaughn talks about volunteering at the 2008 Olympics, PART THREE
MM: Since China is so far away and about 12 hours ahead of us, wasn’t it difficult to adjust to such a massive time difference?
BV: When we got there, we had a day-and-a-half before we had to start working, so that gave us a little time to get organized and adjusted. But when we initially got there, there was so much going on, you just had to strap on your helmet and go. On average, the people who work on our crew take about three months to fully recover once they return home. I got back and took a week off. I would have taken longer if I could afford to, but I can’t. It takes two or three weeks just to get over the time zone difference. It’s about one day of recovery per time zone, and I was 13 time zones out, so it was about two weeks for my circadian rhythms to get back on track.
MM: How does it feel to work with these incredibly talented athletes when they are competing in what’s undoubtedly a highlight of their career?
BV: You feel incredibly proud because you know what they’ve gone to get there. I feel like I’ve helped them get there—doing my part from my department. Psychologically, I think you have some of the same emotions they have. If things don’t go so well, like with the dropped baton, everyone is feeling pretty sick. You get that transference of energy—you see their sadness, their dismay, their despair—you feel it too because they come right back to your area. After the dropped baton, those guys didn’t go to the buses and ride back to the village; they came to the massage area.
MM: Since none of the therapists or other support personnel are getting paid, it seems like it would be an assignment only a few people would be interested in or financially able to volunteer for.
BV: Everyone on these crews, from the doctors and the trainers to the massage therapists, are totally committed professionals. That’s the only way you could get anybody to do this. Think about it—you’re gone for a month and not getting paid, so if you have a private clinic, like I do, you’re not making any money … But that’s how you get committed people—because there’s no pay, no real glamour—and it’s not like you get to lounge around all day watching the events. So it’s kind of like a self-screening process. The no pay is what does it right away—people willing to do it for free are typically extremely devoted to their profession.
MM: What was the most memorable moment of the Games for you?
BV: I gave my massage table, carrying case and med kit to the Cuban physio before I left. I had a table that Oakworks had fitted for me for another event, and I brought that with me. So at the end, I gave it to the Cuban physio because he didn’t have anything. He was almost shedding tears over that. I had decided that I was going to gift this table to someone at the games, and I saw him in the massage room during the decathlon. He had an athlete from Cuba, who ended up with the bronze medal, which is incredible. We were all doing massage during the event, and I glanced over at him and he was working on a table the Chinese had supplied for him. I looked over, and he sort of nodded at me, so I nodded at him back and felt this bit of a connection. He didn’t speak any English, and I don’t speak Spanish, but at the end of the event, I got one of the chiropractors on our crew who spoke Spanish and told him I wanted to give the guy my table. Then I gave all of that stuff to him to take back to Havana. The Cubans didn’t have very much, but they are a proud people, and they get the most out of their athletes with a third of the equipment and support we have in America. For me, that was the best moment of the whole trip.
For more on Benny Vaughn’s experience in China, visit his blog, Olympic Massage, at www.massagemag.com/massage-blog/olympic-massage.