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From Quinter to Sochi

4/23/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

It took Allison McFarland an eight-month application process, approximately 30 hours of plane travel and a Humanitarian Visa to become a volunteer for the Sochi Winter Olympics.

McFarland, Bethel College's chairwoman of the department of business and economics, was one of approximately 100 American volunteers among the 20,000 people assisting Russia's Olympic and Paralympic games. The Quinter High School graduate spoke at her alma mater Tuesday to share her experience with the 315 students attending from kindergarten through high school.

Linda Zeigler, superintendent of Quinter USD 293 and elementary school principal, introduced the Olympic volunteer using Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go" book to emphasize the possibilities awaiting in the students' own post-graduate future.

McFarland, a former athlete for the Quinter Bulldogs, said she stood a few feet away from Russian President Vladimir Putin and waved to him as he left a building.

She spent her three weeks in the host nation helping with crowd control, security checks, giving directions and general assistance. Her favorite part was meeting the coaches, athletes' parents and team staff because they would share their stories. Some Olympians even brought their own meteorologists.

One contrast between American and Russian culture was evident every day, she said.

"Americans are very concerned about organization and efficiency, and Russians are very willing to wait in line and just let things happen," McFarland said.

Regarding reports the conditions and infrastructure of the games often were unfinished and poorly prepared, she said the volunteers experienced the worst circumstances. Food was "challenging" or nonexistent, housing still was under construction, up to eight people could share a room, and dogs and horses wandered the grounds, she said.

"Athletes had it best, media had it next best, spectators probably were next, and way down on the bottom everything we had to eat or sleep or move was worse than anything we saw in the media," she said.

Working as a volunteer gave her a glimpse of the action behind the scenes. She saw curling, ice hockey, cross-country skiing and the biathlon.

"The best seat to the Olympics is in your own house, in your own living room," she said.

McFarland showed her audience the three-layer, multi-colored uniform she had to wear during her service.

Zeigler said the speech inspired the students to imagine what they can achieve.

"It's like it opens a window for the kids to see where they, too, can go from rural America and accomplish many things within our state," Zeigler said. "I just think it gives them a vision for their future."