What an experience!!
I don't think words can really sum up the amazing two weeks I had in Worcester, working as a Team Liaison for Italy at the European Wheelchair Basketball Championships. Not only for being involved at an international event, but also for being part of a very passionate Italian team! For many players, this was a lifelong dream, an opportunity to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Italians made me feel very much part of the team which was illustrated on the second day already when I was handed an Italian shirt. I felt very proud being given this but of course it had to go in the wash at some stage. The moment I was seen not wearing the blu e bianco, I was asked why I'm not wearing it. Replying that it was in the wash wasn't a good enough reason and I was quickly told that washing could be done at night - advise I soon took on board :-) I felt very much embraced in being part of the Azzurri spirit already!
Originally I was appointed as Team Liaison for the Men's team, but on arrival I was informed that the ladies team's liaison wasn't going to arrive until late on Friday night. That meant that I had to work with the ladies team for a few days as well which despite being very challenging and demanding at times, I thoroughly enjoyed! I guess it's fair to say that the expectancy to qualify for Rio wasn't as high for the ladies and as heavy on their shoulders as it was for the men and despite not being one of Europe's strongest nations, they had a great team spirit and never short of a joke or two! It was thanks to them that my Italian got a bit of a kick start as a few of the girls were very quick to teach me some Italian. So much for thinking after the first couple of days that most of them couldn't speak any English!! It was a pleasure working with them, and even after Sonja arrived, they still embraced me as part of their team as well.
|It didn't take long to be embraced as being part of the team|
So, what is a Team Liaison and what was my main role some may be asking? In short and perhaps the easiest way to put it, my main purpose was to be the link between the team and the event organisers. Making sure that the team is always on time, whether it be for meals, boarding the coach, training, matches or anything else scheduled. I was also required to request changes in the schedule with regards to cancelling or changing training times, which of course has a knock-on affect on the rest of the schedule like transport and meal times and therefore we always had to bare in mind what impact this might have before even putting in a request. The biggest challenge would come in when the team doesn't get a request granted - luckily we managed to get over most of the humps but it's often difficult being caught in the middle.
|Staying on top of the schedule|
The role is very much about always being there for the team, acting promptly when given a request, having an answer at all times and delivering what's expected in order to make things run as smoothly as possible, occasionally going that extra mile like buying a surprise birthday cake or two, arranging unscheduled transport and being on call pretty much 24/7. In the end, it's all worth it!
There was no time to ponder on it though as it was back to business straight away. Italy were playing Israel for a place in the final play-off match for a qualification position in the afternoon. As was the case in the group stages, Italy won comfortably but unfortunately came up second best against Spain and in the process finished 6th, a heartbreaking one position away from qualifying for Rio.
There was an incredible sadness within the camp - understandably so. During times like these it's hard not to question yourself as to why we choose to have such a passion for sport because not everyone can win. Too often a defeat leaves somebody distraught. The reality however is, every single player is already a winner. I've never worked within disability sport before until this event but it's one of the best things I have ever done.
|Interview with Carlo Di Giusto|
|Showing their appreciation|
That evening was the first time they were allowed to socialise and Galliano, who also have his own restaurant, treated us to some wonderful steak. We all gathered around the kitchen and with a cold beverage or two for the first time, everyone were relaxing and enjoying a laugh, yet carrying inside the hurt of narrowly missing out on a trip of a lifetime by one narrow result.
|Incredible memories & friendships were made|
Commiserations Italy for not making it to Rio but congratulations for not only the fighting spirit you've shown on the court but also off it. Thank you for making me feel part of your team and the new friendships we've built. Until we meet again.......