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Life is an adventure for VANOC transportation event consultant

Richard Gray is up to the task as VANOC’s regional parking manager of departure hubs. Photo by Ken Barbour.

Richard Gray is up to the task as VANOC’s regional parking manager of departure hubs. Photo by Ken Barbour.

Take 5,000 cars. Put them all at the same place at the same time and you’re left with one gigantic traffic nightmare – unless, of course, you’ve hired Richard Gray to foresee a better result.

Gray was a typical boy growing up in Greensburg, Indiana. But while most kids his age were dreaming of future careers as cowboys, firemen or stock car drivers, then-9-year-old Gray had other jobs in mind. Early black and white television images of a past Olympic Games got him thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great to be a part of that.”

Through the airwaves the seed was planted and today, 53 years later, the Orlando, Florida resident is the regional parking manager of departure hubs for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC). And even though his home and family are at the opposite end of the continent, Gray said he wouldn’t miss this job opportunity for the world.

“I’m probably on the road about 25 to 30 weeks a year,” said the happily married father of five, who is spending seven months in Vancouver. “This job has been longer than the norm because my regular crew isn’t with me and I have to be more involved with the planning, hiring and training of employees.”

Gray’s route to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games has been a long and interesting journey. As a young man living in the United States, he did two tours of Vietnam with the 82nd Airborne and then spent the next 20 years as a state trooper in Indiana. For the past 10 years, the Purdue University graduate has worked as a self-employed management consultant for event planning, specifically in transportation, parking and logistics, and has covered a number of world-renowned events and major political conventions.

“Some of my past projects include four Superbowls, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States, the Daytona 500, the Ryder Cup, gold cup soccer, the NCAA men’s basketball final four, three previous Olympic Games and the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama,” he said.

The task of setting up transportation and parking for any one of these events is dizzying and it takes a seasoned pro to pull them off.

“The Obama inauguration had to be the most challenging event I’ve ever organized,” he said. “I flew into Washington on January 1 and had 21 days to plan how to move 120,000 people on one day. Fortunately, I had 800 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard at my disposal and my own team who I’ve worked with for years.”

In terms of mentorship, working for Gray just might be the opportunity of a lifetime. And it’s one that at least 140 Capilano University students and alumni are being offered.

As a VANOC community contributor partner, the North Vancouver campus of Capilano University will be used as a park and ride venue, streaming buses to events at Cypress Mountain. Capilano University was the first post-secondary institution to extend its reading break during the 2010 Olympic Games so that its students could experience the event in a meaningful way.

“By extending our reading break during the 2010 Winter Games, our students will have the chance to gain the kind of real-life experience that could not be taught in a classroom,” said Capilano University president and vice-chancellor, Dr. Greg Lee. “We are prepared to help the Olympic Games, our communities, and most of all, our students, through this exceptional opportunity.”

During the 14-day hiatus, Capilano students and alumni have an opportunity to work at the university’s North Van campus and at Cypress Mountain in a variety of parking-related roles. These include parking and permit attendants, supervisors, office manager and site manager.

“In an economic recession with a 20.9 per cent national student unemployment rate, this is a huge opportunity for our students to make money to pay for their tuition and help pay down their student loans,” said Capilano University’s student employability coach, Shoshana Somerville. “Along with a competitive salary, they will also receive warm clothing and have all their meals supplied.”

Applicants are encouraged to submit their resumes to Student Employment Services at http://www.capilanou.ca/ses as soon as possible to meet the first phase of interviewing that began on October 13. A second phase will be held in November and training starts on January 5.

“This a wonderful opportunity for our students to create a valuable network of useful contacts, which could open many doors in the future,” Somerville added. “And all students hired will earn a minimum of $1,000 over the reading break.”

Since joining VANOC’s transportation team on August 4, Gray spends his time driving between the various venues trying to coordinate a massive amount of traffic that is expected at the parking hubs.

“I estimate that we’ll have approximately 5,000 cars plus 72 buses coming through daily on the Capilano University lots alone,” he said. “That number grows substantially to about 25,000 vehicles a day when you factor in the lots at BCIT, Simon Fraser University and Langara, which are also being used as departure sites.

“Most of the heavy traffic will occur from February 12 to 28, when the international guests arrive,” he added. “Until then, it will only be Cypress workers and university employees using the lots.”

After he wraps things up on March 1, Gray plans a month-long visit home to see his wife, Joyce who is also a transportation manager, his kids and his six grandchildren. Then it’s off to the NCAA final four in Indianapolis, followed by the Coke Classic 400 in Daytona Beach.

“It’s an adventure,” he said of his job, adding, “What’s great about doing something like this is watching the final result. I’ve also made a lot of good friends.”

Being a transportation expert, Gray compared our drivers to those in Orlando, which is one of the fastest growing areas in the U.S.

“The folks up here are much more courteous on the road,” he observed. “And one thing I’ve really noticed is how fit people are. They do a lot of walking and biking.

“I don’t know if you take it for granted, but this is an amazing place to live. It’s just incredible.”

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