Saturday, February 15, 2014

An Olympic Experience

I have a profound love of curling. Ever since I discovered the sport at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, I have been hooked. Months after the Olympics ended I found out that the 2012 National Curling Championship would be held just two hours away from me near Philly. I bought my tickets instantly and attended the event four out of the eight days it was there. It was a fantastic experience to speak one on one with some of the athletes who just a year ago were competing in the Olympics. It was there that I met Debbie McCormick and Nicole Joraanstad. I had arranged to get a photo with Nicole and Allison Pottinger, but sadly timing didn't work out. I did speak a number of times with Debbie throughout the week about the Olympics and her experiences with curling. It was a truly fascinating encounter with one of the Olympic athletes. I also was fortunate enough to befriend a few of the other competitors, including Steph Sambor that I have kept in touch with since then. The 2014 Nationals are once again being held in Philly and I even plan to finally learn to curl (embarrassing video to follow).

Debbie McCormick and I - 2012 Curling Nationals

Steph Sambor and I - 2012 Curling Nationals

Actor Wil Weaton at the Summer Bonspiel -
Photo courtesy of the Hollywood Curling Club
So here we are now midway through the 2014 Winter Olympics, and once again Curling's popularity is soaring. Even celebrities like Wil Weaton and 49ers Tight End  Vernon Davis are even getting involved. I am the Technology Coordinator at Tuckerton Elementary School in New Jersey. I have always used my Twitter PLN to get interesting ideas or projects off the ground. I have been doing Mystery Skypes with several schools around the country and now somehow wanted to connect our school with an athlete in Sochi. Naturally my first choice was to choose Curling since I was familiar with the sport, and already had a few contacts. One of the first people that I reached out to on Twitter was Terry Kolesar who is the Director of Communications for USA Curling. She was more than receptive to my idea and got to work contacting one of the athletes on my behalf. We agreed that the main team's schedule most likely would not allow them to participate but that Olympic team alternate Allison Pottinger might be able to accommodate our request. Within a day I had a response that she was interested! The only issue then was to work out the timing of our student's daily schedule, the daily requirements of Mrs. Pottinger and her Olympic duties, and finally that of the 9 hour time difference. The stars aligned and we scheduled a Skype chat at 10am EST/7pm Sochi time on 2/12.

An hour before we were to begin chatting I still had not had a Skype contact request on my end. Now we all know that feeling when you have a big presentation when a major component of your presentation is not working correctly. The panic started to set in and I fired off a quick e-mail to Terry. A few minutes later she responded and gave me the information of the USA Olympic Team's rep in Sochi who was facilitating the call. It was now 20 minutes before we were to begin chatting and I called the rep in Russia, and I got a voicemail. I think I now know what a mild heart attack feels like, but I left a message. Ten minutes until our call and another call to the rep when I finally got through. She said she'd contact Allison to see what was going on. Five minutes now, and kids are starting to file into the library in front of our big Promethean board. A quick e-mail from Terry and my heart lept, she was with Allison and they were setting things up! After waiting another few minutes and a failed Skype call, we were finally connected!

After our call connected, things went off without a hitch. My concerns with the connection in Sochi proved unfounded as we never so much as had a hiccup in our call. We had students from four different classes (two each from 5th and 6th during the Olympics. We heard cheers from the other Olympic athletes as they were watching their fellow countryman on TV in the other room. It was truly surreal.
grade) that were asked to prepare questions to ask Allison. They each took turns walking up to the laptop and asked Allison their question. Questions ranged from rules of the sport, equipment, to even personal questions about her family. Mrs. Pottinger was more than gracious with our students and was phenomenal with their questions. I had limited our students to a total of 20 questions so as not to keep her too long. At the end of our questioning, I asked the students to say thank you and was ready to let her go. To my surprise she responded, "Do you all have any more questions? I have time." I just laughed and we let it go another 20 minutes. It was truly a remarkable experience for the kids to speak live to an Olympic athlete

In the end our students gained some major insight into the Olympic experience, team work, and just how technology can bring them closer than they thought. On the other hand, I believe Curling (and Mrs. Pottinger in particular) gained some new fans.

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