I had just gotten used to the routine at the preparation camp when it was time to leave. Again on reflection, I wish I was excited about heading to the Commonwealth village, but the nerves of going to a new place over shadowed any other emotion. We flew with Air Estonia from Manchester to Glasgow and when we arrived at the airport we were greeted by traditional Scottish dancing and music. It was a short coach ride to the village. You had to pass through airport style security every time you entered the village and your accreditation was constantly checked.
It never occurred to me that they call athlete villages, villages because that’s exactly what they are! I never imagined the space to be so vast. The place was separated into countries and all I remember is having to pass through the Australian and Welsh quarters before reaching England. The accommodation was made up of lots of houses with approximately 20 people per house. They seemed to be two houses joint together, as mine had two staircases side by side. It was a good 10 minute walk to the dining hall for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The dining hall was something else. It was absolutely massive and no matter what time of day, it was always bustling with people. The food and drink was available 24hrs a day with dishes to suit every taste bud. Despite it being a dining hall for athletes, the dessert counters were a firm favourite with everyone it seemed including me, although I managed to resist attacking it until after I competed. There were some heart sinking moments when they ran out of your favourite flavoured ice-cream, cookies or muffins. Surprisingly, I only put on 3 pounds in weight after 2 weeks of eating too much food. Other than the main dining hall there was casual dining, which served BBQ style food and there were also lots of recreation centres providing drinks and snacks.
Alongside the free food and drink, there was a free laundry service and more importantly a free salon. It only seemed polite to take advantage of the hospitality, so I ensured I got my hair cut, nails manicured and treated myself to a facial too. When telling a friend about the great freebies, she teased that I would come back fat and beautiful!
Another vital part of village life was pin swapping. Each athlete was given 10 pins of their country’s flag to exchange. I was quite late to the pin party and didn’t attach mine to my accreditation until after I raced. Logically, to me anyway, I pinned all of mine down one side of my accreditation so when I swapped I knew which ones were my England pins and planned to put the new ones on the other side. Apparently, this wasn’t how regular athletes proceeded resulting in a fair few comments about my pinage! I didn’t do too well at swapping pins, ending up giving most of them away with nothing in return. However, I did manage to get Australian and Nauru flags, which I was pleased about. I bet not many people got Nauru!
Living in the village was amazing. It was so surreal having the opportunity to speak to people from all over the world, as well as have casual conversations with world class athletes. They called it the friendly games and it truly was. As a para athlete I was lucky enough to have the chance to integrate with mainstream athletes and I didn’t feel inferior once.