Flying the flag at the opening ceremony

Today was one of the proudest days in my swimming career, which is amusing seeing as I didn’t actually get in a pool.

At a special team meeting before the ceremony I was named Australia’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony, along with my team mate Pat Donachie.

The day started out ordinarily enough, I painted my nails green and yellow accessorised with glitter and little heart shaped Australian flags (every trip I do Australian themed nails and this is my best effort yet if I do say so myself!).

Then at 3pm our whole team gathered for our traditional pre competition team meeting which is really motivating and ends in everyone getting in a huddle for the singing of the national anthem.

The highlight was Paralympic Gold medallist Brendan Burkett joining us via web cam to recite the team poem “a swimmers dream” which he has traditionally done the day before competition for the past 10 years. Brendan “Beava” is also a sports biomechanist and has travelled with the team as sport scientist since he retired from competition in 2000. This is the first time in 10 years he has not been with the team- hence the skype hook – up!

Beava even joined us in singing the national anthem, with his arms outstretched as if he was joining the huddle- very funny- especially with the delay in transmission!

Our head coach BK gave a speech about the history of the team and then said he wanted to speak about two of our team mates. He then spoke about me and how we did our first international trip together 11 years ago in 1999 to the world wheelchair games in christchurch, and how I have grown as a person and an athlete since then. He said how happy he was to see me compete in Sydney 2000 and go on to medal in athens and Beijing, and how one of the best things about Athens for him was seing me go offf travelling afterwards. He then spoke about Pat and how he hung in there and kept competing when athletes with an intellectual disability were banned from the paralympics after 2000, to finally still be here now the ban is overturned. He concluded by saying congratulations for keeping our swimming careers going for 10 years, saying it shows persistance, and that he is in awe of us.

Then he said “we had to chose two flag bearers for this meet, so we hope that marayke you will carry and Pat you will push.”

What a suprise and an honour! Unfortunately for me even though this was an exciting day I woke up feeling more sore than yesterday and the pain hit a peak round about the time of the team meeting. So the tears in my eyes were a mixture of pride and pain!

Fortunately one of the first people to come over and congratulate me was our team doctor Jeff so I was able to book an appointment to see him in half an hour. I spent the half hour doing my hair for the opening ceremony with green and gold ribbons- this proved a silly move.

The doctor checked the range of motion in my neck and upper body and said it was restricted. He suggested I add panadol to the anti inflamatories I am already taking. then he got dave, the physio, to treat me. Dave promptly poured massage oil over me (including in my nicely done hair) and proceeded to massage and treat my neck. This reallly freed up my neck but by the time it was finished my hair was messed up and full of oil, and I had a huge headache from the treatment- I popped one of those panadol immedialely!

Then I quickly raced back to my room to get ready. First up was green and yellow eyeshadow that I bought especially for the occasssion before I left home. Then a few minutes to re-do my hair, put on my tracksuit and be out to the bus for 4.30. Downsairs the whole team had a photo on the lawn outside.

Because there are so many countries staying at the hotel we had to leave 3 hours early so each country could be scheduled to catch a bus and get dinner.So even though we werent hungry the first thing we did when we got to the pool was force ourselves to eat dinner.

All the nations flags were lined up in the hallway, so Pat and I took the opportunity to pose for some pictures with our security guard Dan playing photographer.

The pool complex was unbelievably hot so after dinner the team headed outside to sit on the lawn until it was time to move in for the ceremony. The next hour flew by with a hilarious team game of charades- I totally embarrassed myself trying to act out ” the secret” and “Harry Potter”.

Around 6.30 we made our way into the pool which was flood lit so the water was purple. The team took their seat on pool deck and Pat and I headed off to the flag bearers briefing. we all gathered in the hallway with our nations sign carriers -ours was our team host miriam. They explained that we would be splitting the group in two and marching down both sides of the pool.

It was REALLY hot so we drank lites of water and kept our jackets off till the last moment. We posed for some photos and discussed the logistics of carrying the flag ( we were hoping to walk side by side so we could both hold the flag, but it turned out there wasnt enough space so Pat had to push me). Then it was time to go and we headed off down the hallway to the doping control room where we waited to march out with the flags. Amazingly my mum was sitting in the grandstand about 2 m away and was able to get some great photos. I had decided not to tell her I was carrying the flag and let her get a suprise- so it was a really nice moment.

When our turn came it was rather sudden and we weren’t exactly organised. Pat had to push me up a steep ramp and down another without crashing into any of the signs or tripping on the electrical cords on the floor- all while I held the flag out straight like a jousting pole so it didnt hit the doorway. There was a minor mishap when I lost my balance and nearly tipped the end of the flag into the pool ( that flag is big and heavy and I have no truk muscles). We settled in for our march down pool deck then all the flag bearers stood in formation for some speeches. I passed the flag to Pat so he could have a turn of holding it.

After our turn was over we marched back off pool deck and re joined the team to watch the rest of the ceremony- an amazing display with synchronised swimming and a dancing mascot joining the usual speeches and athlete and officials oaths. There were even indoor fireworks to herald the arrival of the IPC and Dutch flags which were flown down from the rafters by two soldiers on a flying fox.

Since the ceremony it has been lovely to read the many congratulatory messages on facebook.One that is especially meaningful is from my friend and former rival Margaret McEleny from GB who retired after Athens.

“I’m so happy for you it is such an honour and your deserve it. I had the honour of leading the GB team at paralympics in Sydney and it will stay with me forever. goodluck for your swims xoxox”

And then it was back to the hotel and time for bed. I had to sneak in quietly and try not to wake my roomie esther who didnt come to the ceremony because she had to race again the next day.

What an exhilarating day! Day one of racing tomorrow!

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