Warwick massage therapist Lou Ann Botsford received the opportunity of a lifetime when she was selected to travel to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics with the U.S. Men’s Ski Jumping Team to assist the athletes with her skills as a massage therapist.
Having returned from Russia, things haven’t slowed down at her practice, as she only had a few minutes in between appointments to talk to a Beacon reporter about her experience on the other side of the world.
Botsford admitted she was initially nervous about going to Russia, given the travel alerts and some of the negative publicity that preceded the Games, but she soon found out she had nothing to worry about once she arrived.
“The travel alerts were disconcerting, but the level of security was unlike anything I’ve seen,” she said. “You didn’t have to look for security; they were there and present, they were there to protect us.”
Botsford said buses and vehicles were screened before entering Olympic venues and she said the level of Russian security detail was similar to what you see at airports.
“We took a train daily; the train security was very thorough,” she said. “I was impressed with the level of security and felt safe.”
Botsford said the reassurance of the thorough security detail allowed her to embrace the unique opportunity.
“It was an amazingly positive experience,” she said. “Once I realized how wonderful it was, I was able to embrace the feeling of being there, see the sights and meet the people.”
Botsford said she found the people to be very welcoming and friendly.
“There was a goodwill feeling wherever you went. I felt good about being there and made new friends,” she said, adding she now has a new Russian Facebook friend. “There were helpful volunteers everywhere; they were pleasant and welcoming.”
Botsford gave an example of the welcoming hospitality she experienced while over there.
“Our host gave his ticket to the Slovakia vs. Slovenia hockey game to one of the ski jumpers’ father, who had tickets to one of the games but missed it because his wife had both of the tickets and went into the venue ahead of him, so he couldn’t get in and missed the game,” she said. “The host insisted the father take his ticket, saying he just had to experience a hockey game – it was pretty amazing.”
Botsford said it was a unique experience to be one of the few Americans in a Russian café watching the USA vs. Russia hockey game.
When it came to working on the athletes, Botsford said there wasn’t a lot of pressure on her.
“When I worked with the team in Lake Placid, it was the entire team but only four of them went to Sochi,” she said. “The smaller numbers required less of a demand on me compared to working on a dozen athletes.”
When asked what she enjoyed most about the experience, Botsford said it was being part of a team and representing her country.
“These athletes spend their whole lives, or most of their lives, preparing for that [Olympic] moment; giving a small part to support that effort is what I enjoyed most,” she said.
Botsford said something else that impressed her was the cleanliness of everything.
“The country put their best foot forward and really came through,” she said. “The people were happy, the events were great, it’s a beautiful place to be. It’s worth doing for sure and I’m glad I got to see it.”
Botsford said she was able to see the Black Sea, the Olympic Torch and Olympic rings, and even some palm trees, which she said was an unusual sight at the Winter Olympics.
“It surpassed anything I could ever have imagined,” she said.
The U.S. Men’s Olympic Ski Jumping Team consisted of Nick Alexander, who finished 34th in the Normal Hill Individual event, which featured 61 entrants at the start; Nicholas Fairall, who finished 50th in the qualifying round of the Normal Hill Individual; Peter Frenette, who finished 45th in the Normal Hill Individual; and Anders Johnson, who finished 47th in the Normal Hill Individual. Overall, the team finished 10th (out of 12) in the team event.