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2002 Olympic volunteer reflects on experience

Port Clinton native volunteered in 2002 Winter Olympics.

MAUMEE, Ohio (WNWO) - A lot of athletes dream of making it to the Olympics. But if you can't play, why not volunteer?

"I started skiing when I was 16," said Rick Popiolek, who volunteered at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

If you ask Rick Popiolek his favorite Winter Olympic event, it's an easy one.

"I still say the men’s downhill and women’s downhill are number one," said Popiolek.

So you can imagine the long time skier’s excitement when he found out his post for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

"I was doing the men’s downhill,” said Popiolek. “We stood at a location, I was at the midpoint timing light."

Popiolek said he applied to be a volunteer on a whim.

"It’s kind of neat, I know on the downhill course how it’s set up and how they do it,” said Popiolek.

After a lengthy interview process, early morning wake up calls and daily security checks, he was right there in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I had to stand there and make sure no one walked in front of me,” said Popiolek. "Shoveling snow, adjusting fences, all that stuff."

Volunteers are just steps from some of the greatest athletes of all time.

"Alberto Tomba, and I did actually meet him down at the base and everything," said Popiolek.

Olympic volunteers make up a pretty small and exclusive crowd.

"The thing that amazes me about Rick, I know nothing about skiing, he can talk about skiing all the time," said Stephen Toon, a friend of Popiolek’s.

It has given Popiolek, and those around him, a completely new perspective of the games.

“He just knows so much more about it, when he gives you detail about what they go through it’s amazing," said Toon.

Popiolek said he doesn’t think he will do it again. Despite the unforgettable experience, it’s a lot of work.

"I shoveled so much snow, it's not fun anymore," said Popiolek.

Popiolek still likes to hit the slopes and follows the Olympics.

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