Port Alberni residents head to Olympics — for all sorts of jobs

Kennedy Lavertu of Port Alberni has been chosen as a flower retriever for figure skating events at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. - Photo submitted
Kennedy Lavertu of Port Alberni has been chosen as a flower retriever for figure skating events at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
— image credit: Photo submitted

Ed Ross will never forget the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Ross, a Port Alberni aboriginal youth ambassador, was one of about 400 First Nations dancers who performed in the opening, beneath four towering welcome figures.

“It was an experience of a lifetime,” said Ross, comparing it only to the birth of his daughter. “It was an intense two weeks of training.”

Ross is one of many Port Alberni residents who are living once-in-a-lifetime experiences at the 2010 Winter Olympics. They’re greeters, paramedics, bankers, food and beverage workers, and flower retrievers.

Ross didn’t know he was going to be in the opening ceremonies until he got to Vancouver. He had originally been told he was one of 300 youth from across Canada hand-picked to attend the Vancouver 2010 Indigenous Youth Gathering.

“They were really secretive about it,” he said, adding that they stayed at a wilderness camp near Squamish.

“I’m filled with pride,” he said. “I was very humbled. I do what I do because that’s what I was taught. I don’t look at myself as a huge figure in this community.”

Natasha Solda is having the time of her life in Whistler, working for McDonald’s in the athlete’s village.

Solda is assistant manager of the Redford Street McDonald’s in Port Alberni. She is the sole Port Alberni employee to earn a spot on the McDonald’s Olympic team.

“She’s doing really good,” said Natasha’s mom, Cindy Solda. “I think for a 20-year-old that experience will always be there with her.”

Natasha shares a six-room condo in Whistler with employees from Ontario, Winnipeg and England. She has gone skiing and ziplining, and has immersed herself in the nightlife.

“The company has treated her really well,” Cindy Solda said.

Natasha told her about 300 people go through her McDonald’s location every hour.

“Does she recognize anybody? She doesn’t have time,” Solda said.

Solda’s colleague on city council, John Douglas, is also at Whistler. A paramedic when he is not handling council-related business, Douglas has been working at the POLY clinic alongside doctors, nurses, chiropractors, pharmacists, lab technicians — whoever would work at a mini hospital, he said.

“It’s basically a hospital in a tent,” he said.

“VANOC provides this service for (athletes). They come in for physio...but a lot of them come in because they haven’t had their teeth done so they see a dentist, or they need glasses so they see an eye doctor.”

Douglas said he met one practitioner who is at his fourth Olympics. “He was telling me some stories,” he said.

Another person from London, Ont. told him that he paid his own way to Whistler just so he could volunteer at the Games.

Douglas is one of three paramedics from Port Alberni volunteering at the Games. He said earlier controversy over paramedics volunteering at the Games is “a non-issue.”

Colleen Sawyer, manager of the Port Alberni branch of RBC Royal Bank, will serve a different clientele between now and early March. Sawyer was selected as one of four managers to run RBC’s banking operations at the Games. She heads up the Main Press Centre branch.

“We will be serving approximately 10,000 to 12,000 accredited media persons from all over the world and to me that’s where the fun is,” Sawyer said last September, when she found out she had been chosen out of 6,500 candidates.

“Meeting and welcoming people to our part of the world is a special privilege and what an opportunity to create some wonderful memories.”

Dolly McRae and her daughter Annie Watts were invited to bring their award-winning cookbook Where People Feast to a First Nations event at BC Showcase, in Robson Square last week. Now, they’re slated to do a cooking segment on the Today Show.

“Annie and I spoke to many of the media and gave out a lot of info about our cookbook,” McRae related in an e-mail. “One person purchased 10 for visitors and others purchased cookbooks for themselves.”

Preparations are being made for their upcoming Today Show appearance.

Kennedy Lavertu has known for about a year that she would be participating in the Winter Olympics. Lavertu, 11, is one of 30 flower retrievers at the Olympic figure skating event.

“It doesn’t seem real even now,” she said.

Last February the team did a trial run at the Four Continents Competition at the Pacific Coliseum. “Last year I got to see most of the Olympic contenders and be on the ice with the likes of (Canadian champion) Joannie Rochette, Yuna Kim, Mao Isada, Patrick Chan and my favourite, Vaughn Chipeur,” Lavertu said.

The reality that Lavertu was going to participate hit her mother Karen one morning while she was watching a television news report on the Games.

“I looked at Kennedy and said ‘you are going to the Olympics. This is huge!,” Karen Lavertu said.

Tim Pley, the city’s fire chief, strategically booked his holidays in February so he could go volunteer at the Games.

Sherry Harrison applied a long time ago to volunteer at the Olympics. An avid curler in the ladies’ league and a coach to the juniors, and mother of figure skater Eric Streichsbier, Harrison asked to volunteer with skating, curling or speed skating.

“My son is a figure skater and I’m a curler. I guess ice is just a draw for me,” she said before leaving for the Games.

Harrison was excited at being chosen to volunteer. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I don’t think the Olympics will come back to B.C. in my lifetime.”

When the dragons danced in Richmond’s O-Zone celebration site on Feb. 14, Gwen Hayhurst and Nancy Vanderbasch from Port Alberni were among 150 Taoist Tai Chi Society members from all over the world who made it happen.

The longest Chinese-style dragon in North America helped kick off Chinese New Year.

Sherri McKinnon, an English instructor at Vancouver Island University and also head of Port Alberni’s twinning society has a special reason to go to the Games. McKinnon, who lived in Japan for four years and has taken groups of students on exchanges to Abashiri — Port Alberni’s twin city in Japan — will cheer on one of her former Japanese students competing in speed skating.

Joe Maika, vice-president of the Port Alberni Cycling Club and a pro mountain biker with Team Whistler, is working at the athlete’s village.

Coulson Flying Tanker’s Hawaii Mars waterbomber will provide some entertainment to Olympic event-goers on Tuesday, Feb. 23 as it performs water drops over Burrard Inlet.

Every time a Canadian athlete ascends the podium to accept a medal, they’re stepping on a little piece of Port Alberni. The podiums have been built using Western Red Cedar from Clayoquot Sound, donated by Iisaak Forest Resources in Port Alberni.

Do you know someone from Port Alberni who went to work or volunteer at the Olympics? We’d love your photos and newstips. E-mail us at or call us at 250-723-6399.

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