Tempe volunteers find friendship, new experiences in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO — Amidst the competing professional golfers and the fresh cut grass of the Olympic golf course, two friends from Arizona can be seen in their bright yellow Olympic volunteer outfits.

Neither volunteer knew one another prior to the Games but found each other through the U.S. Olympic Volunteer Facebook page.

When the volunteering friends, Serena Christianson and Rosario Mireles, found out that they were going to be volunteering at the same Olympic site — the golf course — they decided to get together and make a game plan.

“Before we came (to Rio), maybe like two to three weeks before, we would meet up to plan out our activities, what we wanted to do, what we wanted to see,” Mireles said.

After figuring out what each of them wanted from the trip, they decided to book their tickets and travel and stay together for the duration of the Games.

Now, as the Olympics come to a close, they share their behind the scenes view of the Olympics and what it is like to volunteer for such a huge event.

“To describe it, it’s incredibly cliche but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,”Christianson said.

Christianson works as a marketing coordinator at Taylor RyMar Corporation in Tempe and has used the Olympic experience to see a whole new culture. As a non-Portuguese speaker, she was able to see the value in facial expressions as a means of communication.

“I think what has been fun is finding what you have in common, that if you use facial expressions, you know that laughter is the same worldwide, a smile is the same, a hug is universal. It has been really neat to just somehow bond with people over those things,” Christianson said.

Christianson has been working and traveling alongside Laveen resident Mireles, who also described volunteering for the Games as one of the best decisions that she has ever made.

“I think just being able to say ‘I volunteered at the Olympics, I was at the Olympics,’” Mireles said of what she believes will be the biggest takeaway.

“Another perk is that here you get to see all of these events – you go, you meet people – it’s just incredible. I don’t even know how to describe it sometimes, just the feeling of being a volunteer at the Olympics is just one of a kind.”

Through the help and encouragement of friends, family and their employers, both women were able to make the financial commitment to the trip.

For lodging, the women chose to stay together with a host family from Brazil who lived close to the golf course where they would be spending most of their days volunteering.

Now at the Olympics, Mireles spends most of her day tracking golfers on top of a scores platform at hole seven. At hole nine, Christianson helps to keep fans back and quiet crowds.

Mireles said that their shift ends after golf is over, which luckily is not late into the night like what they have heard from some of the other volunteers. Both women believe that the perks of being a volunteer far outweigh the costs.

“The experience I’ve had in Rio has been amazing, it’s such a beautiful place,” Mireles said. “I don’t think I’ve ever really seen anything like it, and I really don’t know how I can describe it. I always take pictures of it and think ‘it’s not doing it justice.’ Someone has to experience it to see how truly beautiful it is.”

For those interested in experiencing the Olympics from a volunteer perspective, the two unanimously agreed that the trip is worth everything that they’ve put into it.

“If anyone ever wants to volunteer for anything whether it be the Olympics or World Cup or any kind of big event worldwide, I say go for it. I mean, if you plan accordingly, in my opinion, you’ll be able to make it work and the experience is so much more than you’ll ever spend on it,” Mireles said.

Both women have mixed feelings about the Olympics drawing to a close on Sunday.

“It’s very bittersweet going home,” Christianson said. “I think I’m sad to see it end but I do miss my bed and I do miss not living in a suitcase for sure. But the people here have been so incredibly hospitable towards us and very friendly, very welcoming and I will miss that. I miss this weather compared to the very intense heat in Phoenix but it’s a good thing, and I do feel like a changed person in the best way.”

Along with the new experiences and unique Olympic volunteer uniforms that included Olympic shirts, customizable pants, bright green shoes and bags that the women will each be taking back home with them to Arizona, they plan to continue to stay friends and are both open to volunteering at future events.

“I think we will remain friends. This is an experience that you just don’t forget and you want to remember it for a lifetime. So I think having someone there with you who has shared the same experience, it’s going to be great to get together and reminisce,” Mireles said.

As for volunteering for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Neither woman has ruled it out.

“We will have to see where I’m at in terms of jobs and living and just what happens, to be honest, Christianson said.