Olympic double: Q&A with York grad participating in her second Olympic Games
published July 27, 2012
A former competitive swimmer and national-level swim coach, Yaganegi said she’s always wanted to be involved with the Olympics. She beat the odds (one of 40 girls chosen from a field over 1000) in Vancouver and says she is incredibly lucky to have been selected not once but twice as a part of the Olympic volunteer family.
Q: What was it like volunteering at the Vancouver Olympics?
I was a student at York at the time and I did have to take some time off but I had the support of my teachers.
I flew to and from Vancouver multiple times leading up to the Olympics for casting calls, interviews and training. The casting call for the medal and flower bearer position was two days before my anatomy exam; I flew to Vancouver for 24 hours. On my out there I was trying to prep for my interview (you are supposed to know some Olympic history for example) and then on my way back I was studying anatomy.
In the end I did a bit of rearranging; I had to drop some courses and do others by correspondence. I even had papers to hand in during the Olympics—I was coming home at 2am and writing papers and then leaving the house again by 5am the next morning. It was a very busy schedule but I don’t regret it a single bit. It was the time of my life.
Q: What was the best moment in Vancouver?
I was honoured to be the medal bearer for Canada’s very first medal of the Games, the Women’s Moguls in which Jennifer Heil won silver. There were so many screaming fans that night, it was a great moment. I was also lucky enough to be a flower bearer for the Men’s Hockey. I was so nervous watching the last few minutes of that game I put my tray of flowers on the ground! Then when Crosby scored, it was amazing. Being a part of that medal ceremony was very special.
But I think one of the greatest moments for me was walking out in the Closing Ceremonies. For the first time, I was nervous, but also sad and excited. It was the last medal and it was all coming to an end. I couldn’t stop smiling I was so happy for the athletes and just so happy to be there as a part of it.
Q: What has it been like being a volunteer in London?
The Vancouver Games were special to me because it was home. London is different. Here I am the only girl from all of North America but everyone here is being so friendly, showing me the city and making me feel comfortable. It’s been a great environment.
I’ve been living here in London since April doing rehearsals—I even had my 24th birthday here. I had to do a quick flight back to Canada just before my birthday and when I came back for training, I’d been up for something like 70 hours—the longest I’ve ever gone without sleep. It was rainy night in London. The directors and other performers began coming into the training room and I wasn’t sure what was going on. They called my number, but I was so sleep deprived, I didn’t even notice. Then they started asking if there was someone there from Canada and started singing happy birthday to me! There were hundreds of people singing for me in the middle of the stadium, I’ll never forget it.
Just like Vancouver, I had to fly here several times for interviews and casting calls. For my medal and flower bearer casting call, I had three days notice. I bought a last minute ticket and the whole return trip was 50 hours. I barely slept or ate; I just did my interview and flew back.
These quick trips are part of the deal, you have to put in the time and effort if you want to be a volunteer and it is a long, long process, and a bit exhausting. (My friends say they never know where I am because I’m always in the air!)
Q: What will your role be at the London Games?
I’ll definitely be a part of a number of acts in the Opening Ceremonies. I’m still trying to fit in the training for the medal and flower bearer role so I’m not sure if I’ll be doing that this time. I can’t really talk about the Opening Ceremonies, but I will be in a few acts, some involving dancing, and a big group of us will be singing at one point.
Q: Can you give us any hints about the Opening Ceremony?
I can’t really talk about it but it’s not like any other opening ceremony you’ve ever seen. It’s different than Athens, Beijing and Vancouver. They are trying to be unique and to bring every aspect of British culture into it. Sitting in the stadium seats waiting for my turn to go in rehearsals, it’s been so cool to see all the different things that will be a part of the show. Between now and the Opening Ceremonies we are pretty much working 12 hour days rehearsing and I can’t wait to see it all come together.
(Watch Yaganegi and fellow performer Kanna Mihara talk about the Opening Ceremonies in a July 26 interview on BBC.)
Q: Would you volunteer again at Sochi or in Rio?
The timing of Vancouver and London worked well for me with school, but I’m starting grad school this fall so I have no idea where I’ll be in two years. To be honest, this is probably it but I really don’t like to think this is my last Olympics. I would love to be a part of the Olympic family again in Russia or Brazil, maybe even some Games in the future as part of the IOC.
Also, the Pan-Am games are in Toronto in 2015 and I’d like to be more than a volunteer. It will be in my hometown and it would be such an honour to help organize it and be a part of it.
Being a part of the Olympic family twice has been such a fantastic experience. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my parents—they believe in me, trust me and let me follow my dreams. They are my number one supporters.