Local Man Recalls Efforts in Olympic Transportation
Jon Gilbert of Castle Dale spent the entire Olympics and Paralympics in transportation. Gilbert said, "When they put out the request for volunteers for the Olympics, I decided to apply. I am retired from the power company and I wanted to help out and get involved. I sent an application on e-mail and about a month later I had a notice for an interview.
"They did a background check and since I was going into transportation they checked my driving record. I took some training called 'Just in Time Training,' around the first of January. I went up to Salt Lake on Feb. 8 the day before the opening ceremonies. I stayed with my mother who lives in Midvale and rode Trax uptown every day. We were based out of the Little America Hotel which they called the Olympic family hotel and the Grand America Hotel.
"We met each day at the motor pool at 600 South and Main. We checked in and were assigned to a vehicle. We were searched and all the vehicles were searched before we took them out and also on our return. Police officers checked under the vehicles with mirrors.
"We drove officials, family members, news media and people with accredidation. They could request a vehicle. We drove cadillacs, buicks, suburbans and 15-passenger vans. They were all really nice vehicles. We took people shopping and to the medals plaza. We took people to the venues. I took people to Provo, the E-Center, Kearns, Park City, Soldier Hollow and Deer Valley. I drove people from almost every country you could think of. I drove some Russian officials who were upset that the other two gold medals in figure skating were awarded. Everyone was really nice and caught up in the Olympic Spirit except these officials.
"One day I took an English official to Snow Basin. He was one of the doping officials. He collected samples from the downhill skiers and had to stay with them all the time. I drove him up by the University of Utah to a lab where they were tested. A few hours later he came out of the lab and I took him back to the hotel. He dropped some pins on the floor and I picked one up to give back to him and he said, 'keep it, how many more do you need. How many wives do you have?' It was pretty funny.
"I transported Canadians and they were a lot of fun. I had a hoot with them. We were joking that since the Canadian women beat the U.S. women. The Canadian men should let the U.S. men win. But they told me they could have their women beat up our men. At the venues there was a drivers lounge where we could wait and there were closed circuit televisions where we could watch the event. While I was waiting in the car I would listen to talk radio I heard more Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura than I needed. We also played bingo or read while waiting for people who needed rides.
"I took a Greek girl to Park City and on the way up there she received a phone call from her boyfriend in Greece. He was worried about her and called to see if she was dressed warm enough. The temperatures really weren't that bad, but he was concerned about her.
"I spent six weeks up there and had 33 driving days. My most memorable experience was with a paralympian named Joseph Tompkins from Juneau, Ala. He had lost his legs in an auto accident. He took 6th place in the downhill and slalom. He was driving a cadillac with hand controls and I had his family in the 15 passenger van. After his race we had left Snow Basin and were on our way to Park City in a blinding snowstorm. There was a car pulled off the side of the road with a flat tire and the first car to stop and help her was Joseph. Even though he had lost the use of his legs and was in a wheelchair he was the first to stop and help. His parents told me that's how he was. That was really overwhelming to me.
"There's a hill by the Park City factory outlet stores where people can go tubing. Olympic athletes had signed the tubes there. Joseph also signed one of their tubes. He was a great example. The funnest thing for me was meeting the people. I hardly heard a complaint from anyone. I have nothing but respect for Mitt Romney, he did a fantastic job. I didn't trade pins like a lot of them, but I did end up with quite a few.
"I took some German athletes to their German house in Park City. A couple of them had won medals that day so they were all partying and celebrating. They invited me in to have red cabbage and brown bread. I stayed with them and then took them back to the German house in Salt Lake. I really enjoyed them. The Russian athletes were fun loving and laughed and teased except when their trainer was around then they were stoic.
"Things ran pretty smoothly I never felt uncomfortable even in the snowstorm. I really enjoyed my experience and wouldn't trade it for anything. They expected you to be there every day and I went three weeks without a day off. They gave the volunteers gifts after every 6th shift. We received pins, thermos, leather wallet, closing ceremony packets, paperweight and a watch; they were very generous.
"We ate daily at the Grand America cafeteria. The meals were great we didn't have to eat those box lunches that many of the volunteers did. The fireworks for the closing ceremonies was the most spectacular, it lit up the whole mountain. I went up behind the university to watch them. It was just beyond belief.
"I went to the opening ceremonies for the Paralympics and there was so much going on, so much to see. I'll remember my Olympic experience forever. The whole city was involved with it. The streets were packed and everyone had the Olympic spirit it was a totally enjoyable experience," said Gilbert.