September 22, 2016
By Megan Flynn '17
Cody Hollerich has been an Olympic hopeful since high school, but he doesn't have a racing bike, track spikes or swim goggles.
In August, he made it to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games — not as an athlete, but as a volunteer.
Hollerich was selected to volunteer for the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, which brought over 50,000 volunteers to the Olympic host city to do everything from escorting athletes to their events and giving directions to international diplomats. Hollerich was responsible for managing schedules and transportation for Olympic VIPs, including athletes, their families and heads of state.
"They needed a little bit of everything down there," said Hollerich of the Summer Olympics, which ran from Aug. 5-21. "It's like if the Super Bowl lasted two weeks. They had every possible position to fill."
The application process for his position was a long one. Out of 50,000 volunteers, only about 20 percent are from outside the host country. Hollerich, now a senior at Saint John's University, applied for the position while still in high school at Cleveland (Minnesota) High School. Three years, several interviews and a crash-course in Portuguese later, he found himself working in the Olympic family lounge in the Velodrome, the track cycling arena.
"Where I was placed was super lucky, because I study international relations," Hollerich said. "It was a great opportunity to meet people from all around the world. You'll never make connections like that anywhere else."
Making connections became even more of a part of Hollerich's Olympic experience than he expected. Part of his job was to escort medal presenters from winning countries to present winning athletes with their medal. Hollerich said the most memorable of these medal presenters was Prince Tunku Imran, Prince of Malaysia.
"He had a very royal personality," Hollerich said. "He's not used to being told what to do, and I got to kind of tell him what to do and where to go. He was a nice guy, but definitely used to having things his way. I'll definitely remember escorting him. It's a pretty cool thing to be able to say I did."
Hollerich said one of his favorite parts of being in Rio was interacting with people from all over the world. Volunteers in the Olympic Village have a tradition — everyone brings pins from their home country and spends their time at the Olympics trading them with people from all over the world. He didn't know about this tradition before he arrived, but said that many people were generous enough to give him a few pins to help him get started trading. Hollerich said this was a great way to connect with people who didn't speak the same language.
"The most challenging thing about the whole experience was the language barrier, trying to figure out who you can talk to and how to communicate with the people who don't speak the same language," Hollerich said. "Trading pins was an easy way to interact with people from anywhere, because you don't need many words to do it. My ID lanyard is covered in pins from all over the world. It's become my prized possession."
Hollerich says this won't be the last step on his Olympic journey. His ideal career is working for the International Olympic Committee, and he's working toward that goal during his senior year at SJU. His senior thesis will examine how host cities are selected and the impact of hosting the Olympics on each city. He says the inclusivity of the Olympics is what has kept him motivated for work for the International Olympic Committee since high school.
"The reason I like the Olympics is because they cause interactions between people that might not have the opportunity to meet otherwise," Hollerich said. "It's such a friendly environment. The competition is in the sports, not in the stands or between the fans. We don't speak the same languages or have the same religions, but everyone still wants to win. We all have that much in common."