Mon, November 18, 2013

Olympic sand rakers are unsung heroes

By THANE BURNETT, QMI Agency




The unsung heroes of beach volleyball
 

LONDON - Your country calls for you to step up.

You are a typical teenage English boy.

And so you selflessly offer to join the cause and do your part in your nation’s most celebrated sporting event ever.

Fellow volunteers can find themselves guarding an elevator, or sitting at a desk at the bottom of some stairs somewhere or standing beside toilets because, well, someone should be left standing by the toilets.

But you are not these people.

You were chosen for a different task — another burden.

You are a typical English boy whose role in these Olympics is to show up at the storied Horse Guards Parade in downtown London.

It’s the unusual venue for the beach volleyball, and members of the Welsh Cavalry provide security; some of whom in May were patrolling the sandy paths of Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

But you are a teenage boy, and your particular mission is to sit on the closest sunny sideline benches of the beach volleyball court, watch some of the best, glistening bodies on the planet jump around in practically nothing and every once in a while, race out for 30 seconds to rake the sand that’s been mussed up by their bare and perfect feet.

And the soundtrack to your Summer Games are constant, pulsating dance tunes blasted out loud enough to be heard over the champagne- and beer-fueled onlookers who almost as much as the athletes, cheer down from the bleachers for you.

Some would say that being a ‘raker’ is the best and easiest volunteer job at these Olympics.

That if these teenage boys — and girls — weren’t volunteering, they should consider paying to rent their rakes.

But wait, small voices are raised.

You have it wrong, protest this new young union of rakers.

They say they are misunderstood. That they don’t have it so sweet. That it’s much harder than it looks from just about every perfect angle.

“People always think it’s so easy,” sighs sand raker Liam Barratt.

“But it takes 100 percent concentration,” assures fellow volunteer Jaden Cameron.

The boys are both 17 years old and come from South London.

It’s frustrating that there’s an image that sand raking is a walk on the beach, they agree.

“You have to work quickly, and it can be difficult if the sand is wet or freezing,” Jaden points out.

But then the question: ‘freezing during the Summer Games?’

Right, well not actually freezing Jaden explains. But make no mistake, it’s not always hot on the court.

First-time rakers are humbled by the effort, the young sand sorters say.

There’s not even time to notice if any of the skimpily dressed court dancers are checking you out, Jaden assures.

And sometimes you don’t know the crowd is cheering for you until after you sit down, Liam adds of the 30 seconds of rush.

But these brave rakers are willing to shoulder this hardship, because this is their nation’s time to shine.

They will commit themselves to smoothing out each grain of sand if that’s what it takes.

Because you are a teenage boy, and while they are often asked to do much, your country needs you to hit that sand running.

thane.burnett@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @thaneburnett