FORT KENT, Maine — While the state will be well represented by its athletes in a variety of Olympic events, there will also be a strong contingent of Mainers working just as hard behind the scenes at the Vancouver Games.
Eight residents of northern Maine will leave this week to volunteer their time in and around the games’ biathlon venue in Whistler, British Columbia, due in no small part to their years working within the sport as part of the Maine Winter Sports Program.
“This is something I really wanted to do,” said Jeff Dubis, instructor of forestry at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. “For a long time I didn’t think it would be possible, but then everything just worked out.”
Dubis, who volunteers as chief of competition at the 10th Mountain Lodge, will be joined in Vancouver by Nancy Thibodeau, Paul Grant, Glenn Saucier and Darla Nesbit, all of Fort Kent; Kathy Mayo of Oxbow; and Tom and Donna Campbell of Stockholm. Biathlon competition begins Saturday.
Once in Whistler, the group will be working with a familiar face. Max Saenger, former director with Maine Winter Sports, is heading up the biathlon venue at the Winter Games.
“This is going to be a great trip, [and] knowing members of the U.S. Biathlon Team is fantastic,” Thibodeau said. “Experiencing this with them is really special for me.”
A number of the U.S. biathletes have trained at the 10th Mountain Lodge, including the country’s best hope for its first medal in the sport, Tim Burke.
“We will get to talk to them in the wax huts and we know so many of the Europeans from events held here, it will be fun to say hello from Fort Kent,” said Thibodeau, who will volunteer in the competition office. “So many of them still talk about competing here.”
This is Grant’s second Olympics. In 2004 the retired teacher volunteered on the biathlon range in Salt Lake City.
“I didn’t think if would happen again,” he said, adding his previous experience will come in handy as he volunteers on the range. “I’ll know how to manage my time a lot better.”
Dubis will be working in the stadium setting up for the competitions and knows he will face 12-hour shifts every day of the winter games.
“It’s going to be a great experience and fantastic to watch Tim Burke,” Dubis said. “He’s a real contender for an Olympic medal and one of the athletes we know so well.”
Due to security issues, training schedules and the pressure of competition, Grant said he is unsure just how much intermingling there will be with the athletes in Whistler, but he plans on cheering them all on.
“Last time I did this I was at the start line,” Grant said. “This time I’m working the shooting range, so I will see a different aspect of the competition [and] it will be amazing to see our athletes on the world stage.”
In the competition office Thibodeau is responsible for preparing the daily team captains’ meetings.
“Those all take place in the Olympic Village,” she said. “So I’ll be able to experience the games from that perspective.”
In addition, Thibodeau is looking forward to a reunion when she arrives on the West Coast.
“I’m really excited to be working with Max [Saenger] again,” she said. “It will be great to see him and see what he’s accomplished in three short years.”
Before leaving Maine, all the volunteers underwent a rigorous security screening and were awarded special passports granting access into the Olympic venue.
“Between the athletes and the volunteers, northern Maine is really on the Olympic map,” Thibodeau said.