Army of Irish volunteers bring experience to bear at LA games
They are marshalling the stadiums, serving the dinners and even directing the buses. A small army of volunteers from all over Ireland are using the expertise they gained during the 2003 Special Olympics in Dublin to help ensure the Los Angeles Games run smoothly.
While dozens of coaches and officials travelled with Team Ireland to help them win medals, more than 150 others signed up to help the local organisation.
They had to raise €4,000 each before being assigned a variety of duties at venues across the City of Angels.
Mary Shiels from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, landed one of the bigger jobs as team leader for Spectator Services in the LA Convention Centre where she is responsible for making sure that celebrity guests, families and fans are looked after.
Around 90 Irish officials are based in the Convention Centre.
"You forget about the work part of it. It's great fun and it's brilliant mingling with people from all over the world," she told the Irish Independent.
Shifts start at 6.30am, with some workers not getting back to their hotels until after 9pm, but Ms Shiels, who has volunteered with Special Olympics Ireland for 15 years, said: "We don't care because we're here to help."
Julie Dwyer from Mallow in Cork said everyone who helps out gets something back. As medical co-ordinator with Team Ireland, she spent her first two days in an LA hospital, first helping an athlete and then a coach who became unwell.
"It's calmed down since then and now it's more basic medical things. I'm making sure that everybody has got the sunscreen on and is drinking plenty of water," she said.
"Sometimes it's nice for me to be treating the athletes rather than a stranger who would be perfectly capable and nice but not familiar with the athletes."
Ms Dwyer admits she has "a vested interest" because her daughter participates in seven Special Olympics sports but added: "You never go back from any of these games without having got something out of it."
Schoolteacher Kim McCrave from Rathfarnham in Dublin only re-engaged with the movement last year, having volunteered as a once-off in 2003.
As a badminton coach, she has spent months preparing the athletes and said it was lovely to arrive in LA and be greeted by so many Irish people. "The support you get from your colleagues, friends and family, and to work with these athletes, it's amazing.
"It doesn't feel like a chore," she said, adding that there is plenty of fun for the volunteers in the background.
"You know the old saying with the Irish - 'there's always a party somewhere'. We all bring each other up. Sometimes you think 'oh I can't go on and the feet hurt' but the next morning you're back at it, cracking jokes and having fun."
Team Ireland includes participants from both sides of the border.