Whendie Backwell

British Volunteer at Rio 2016

Guest blogger for Consular Communications

Part of Stay Ahead of the Games

2nd August 2016 London, UK

Off to the Games…

“I’m off to work at the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio”

I have probably said that phrase (and thought it) a million times since I became one of the chosen Games volunteers in 2015, and every time it is immediately followed by me thinking – “Wow!”

I feel lucky and privileged, not to mention incredibly excited. Heck, I am about to embark on one of those ‘experience of a lifetime’ things.


So who am I? And how did I get to Rio?

I am a retired UK Police Officer. I served with Hampshire Constabulary for many years, and specialised in examining and investigating crime scenes and fire scenes.

Being a real life ‘Crime Scene Investigator’ (CSI) is not nearly as glam as it is on the TV. I still can’t work out how the stars of ‘CSI‘ manage to keep their hair and makeup looking good in a fire scene – I always came out looking like a chimney sweep!

The Olympics and Paralympics Games hold something very personal and poignant for me because in 2005, the day after the world was told that London would host the 2012 Games, I was called to work on the aftermath of the 7 July London Bombings.

It was a terrible deed done by the terrible and I saw things no human being should ever see. Yet out of that carnage I watched something incredible develop when the people of London rose up and showed the world everything good about the human race.

I saw fortitude, strength, kindness, bravery, and the most visible acts of human goodness from strangers. I learned things that can’t be taught, and I think I became a better person for seeing such astounding human traits.

So when 2012 came, and the world celebrated the Olympics and Paralympics with Great Britain, it felt for me that things had come full circle, and I don’t mind admitting feeling very emotional when Martine Wright, a 7/7 survivor, was selected for ParalympicsGB.

Seeing her compete was beautiful. She may not have won a medal, but she won something much greater than a medal that day. And then I sat with a friend in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium during the Paralympic Closing Ceremony, and at the exact moment London Mayor Boris Johnson handed the flag to his counterpart from Rio, I said the words “I have to go!”

Soon after, and together with a lovely lady called Katy O’Connor, I volunteered to be the ‘on the ground’ contact point between the British Consulate and the British Volunteers. Given my background, I feel well-suited to the role, and I’m really looking forward to working with our team of volunteers and the Foreign Office consular staff in Rio.

Ultimately, we want our volunteers to be able to fully focus on helping fans to enjoy the Games experience. Our job will be to ensure all of them are safe, healthy and have the right level of support and guidance they need, while encouraging community and camaraderie within the group.

In a foreign country and against the background of such a huge event, it’s important that effective support networks are in place. It will be a challenge, but one I’m really looking forward to.

Likewise, it’s important that British fans travelling out to Rio take steps to ensure they’re well supported and well prepared, and the Foreign Office’s ‘Stay Ahead of the Games’ is an excellent resource for this. From advice on how to stay safe, to tips on how to get around town, the campaign provides all the information and guidance people will need.

Both our British volunteers and ‘Stay Ahead of the Games’ are there to support fans and ensure they have an enjoyable visit, though travellers can play their part and make sure they’re ready for Rio!

So, with only a few days to go, our preparations continue!

4 comments on “Off to the Games…

  1. I was at the games in Rio,I was lucky to assist because the games were near Home
    Unfortunately my country didn’t get any medals. Fantastic job Paralympic volunteers.

  2. Thank you Rose…. it is great to be appreciated.
    I am sure you will agree that Rio 2016 was amazing beyind words.


  3. Thanks again Whendie, you are doing a really good job. As a volunteer I didn’t think about what if….. I just got caught up in the moment of the excitement of going to Rio. If Whendie hadn’t emailed me I would be none the wiser about this help and support for volunteers and more importantly my name would not have been on the list. I now feel rest assured that I and all the other volunteers are not alone. Whendie ‘Thanks you’ again and hoping to meet with you as we are both in the same stadium.

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