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Originally published Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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Local Olympic volunteers have long been 'training' for these Games

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will be supported by an army of 25,000 volunteers, most of them Canadian. Kerry and Katrina Thompson, of Seattle, are among the few Washington residents who have landed volunteer assignments.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The luge. That's Kerry Thompson's sport.

It's fast. It's exciting. It's a tiny sled careening down an icy chute at 90 miles per hour.

No way would Thompson, 68, want to be the person lying feet-first on one of those narrow sleds. She just wants to be close enough to see it — maybe feel a whoosh of air as the sled passes.

And it looks like she'll get that chance. After all, one might say she's been training for these Olympics since the 1950s.

Thompson, of South Seattle's Brighton neighborhood, will be working as a volunteer at the 2010 Winter Olympics, guiding spectators around the Whistler Sliding Centre, where the sledding events will be held.

Her daughter, Katrina, of Beacon Hill, also will volunteer at Whistler. She'll be a "print distribution supervisor," in a media center where reporters from around the world will get copies of event results.

Although this is their first Olympics, both are serial volunteers.

"My parents instilled in me the importance of volunteering, or giving of oneself," Kerry said. "All my life it's been a way for me to do activities I thoroughly enjoy, see interesting stuff and meet wonderful people."

The earliest volunteer work she recalls: At age 10, she taped Braille labels onto cans of food she and her fellow Camp Fire Girls on Capitol Hill collected for a local blind couple.

Lately, she's been working two days a week at Seattle-area food banks and volunteering as an usher at the Paramount Theatre.

She has passed that sense of obligation to her children. Katrina's volunteer résumé includes four days in Louisiana in 2005 helping relocate evacuees from the New Orleans hurricane that shared her name.

"I thrive on situations where you're part of a huge logistical undertaking," said Katrina, a computer consultant.

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Volunteers are the unsung heroes of the Olympic Games. They work out of the spotlight, but they will outnumber the athletes and coaches in Vancouver and Whistler by more than a 4-to-1 ratio. The 25,000 Games volunteers were selected from a pool of 75,000 applicants from 140 countries.

Because these are Canada's Games, and because nearly all volunteers had to secure their lodging, all but about 1,250 of them are Canadians, and only about 200 come from Washington state.

If they hadn't had a family friend who'll let them stay at his Whistler condo, the Thompsons say there's no way they would have been chosen. Even so, the process took months, including a thorough background check by Canadian authorities.

Working the Olympics is a dream come true for both mother and daughter. "Ever since my son, who is 46 now, was a tiny baby, I've watched the Olympics on TV," Kerry said. "I've never been able to go because it's so expensive."

Winter sports always have appealed to the Thompsons. Once when Katrina was young, she and her three siblings sprayed water on a snowy hillside to fashion a small luge run near a rented Lake Wenatchee cabin.

A couple of weeks ago, when they traveled to Vancouver to pick up their uniforms, credentials and training manuals, they felt a palpable excitement and sense of teamwork, partly because the workers processing them were volunteers themselves.

"And everyone was like, 'Where are you from? Where will you be working?' " Katrina said.

Kerry, now retired, said the nearly 20 years she spent as a University of Washington parking guide helped give her the skills the Vancouver Organizing Committee was looking for in her Olympic post. She's working through a 45-page manual instructing her on a variety of tasks, such as validating tickets, checking backpacks and working near the luge track to ensure spectators don't reach out over it.

She'll turn 69 on Feb. 17, one of the days she'll have off while she's at Whistler. She hopes to get a ticket to the luge finals, where she can just be a spectator.

In 48 years of marriage, this will be the longest Kerry has been away from her husband, David, 71. He suffers from dementia and lives in a Seattle care facility, but Kerry sees him daily.

Katrina will be away from her 1-year-old son, Lewis. But he's used to being at home with Katrina's partner, Jennifer, because Katrina often travels for work.

On the day he turns 2 — Feb. 22 — Katrina and Kerry will drive down for the celebration, then return to their Olympic posts.

Katrina, a soccer player since age 5, says becoming part of the Olympics "is a combination of things I love, volunteering and a world-class sporting event. There's nothing else like it."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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