Written by Organizing Committee member Jennifer L. Pieper
At first glance, it would seem hard to make a connection between swimming phenom Michael Phelps and historic inventor Thomas Edison. But thanks to a group who loosely call themselves “The Village People,” it’s not as far a stretch as you might think.
In the heart of downtown Indianapolis lies America’s first “union station.” In the late 1800s, almost 200 trains transported visitors from all backgrounds to the heartland of America. Although he was eventually fired for spending too much time on what was called “his useless experiments,” Thomas Edison worked at the Indianapolis station in 1861 as a telegraph operator.
Fast forward to this October. Long gone is the telegraph machine, but the majestic atmosphere of Union Station remains. And for nine days during the 7th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), Indianapolis’ historic Union Station will be transformed into the Athlete Village. In the same place where Thomas Edison communicated via a telegraph machine, swimmers such as Michael Phelps, Jenny Thompson and Martina Moravcova will find it much easier to contact friends and family at an Internet Café as Union Station serves as a one-of-a-kind athlete village for hundreds of swimmers.
Surrounded by the breathtaking architecture of Union Station, it is easy imagine what it was like for the travelers in the 1800’s. Many came to Indianapolis to seek work and create their destiny. Today, they have traveled here in search of victory and a place in swimming history.
Providing the athletes with a place to eat and relax is the mission of the Athlete Village subcommittee of the World Championships Organizing Committee (OC). Supplying meals and a relaxing space to unwind is no small challenge for this fun-loving group that jokingly refers to itself as the Village People.
“Maybe that is dating us,” jokes committee chairman Charlene Hederick of her committee’s nickname after the ‘80’s pop icons.
“We hope that the athletes will leave Indianapolis thinking of it as a warm, welcoming and friendly place, and that the village was able to provide them not only meals that were geared toward their needs, but that it was also a place to relax and enjoy the sportsmanship and camaraderie of the championships,” said Hederick.
Access to the Village is available to athletes, coaches or delegation members who have purchased a specially designed package which includes hotel accommodations and meals. It is fitting that a place that brought travelers from across the country for centuries now will serve as a place to bring together swimmers from more than 100 countries. The location of the Village may have been one of the easiest decisions for the OC. Union Station is just one block from the swimming venue, Conseco Fieldhouse, and most hotels. The greatest challenge was creating a menu that serves the needs of athletes from around the world.
Satisfying the nutritional needs of hundreds of swimmers who may view meals very differently is no small feat. The committee contacted several swimming delegations, extensively researched the nutritional requirements of elite athletes and poured over menu selections.
“We realized, for instance, that breakfast isn’t the same breakfast everywhere. We know that for some, breakfast needs to include meats, cheeses and things like hard bread; not just pancakes and eggs,” said Jennifer Ross, Indiana Sports Corporation’s director of participant services. “Through research, dialogue and past experience, we are all working together to ensure that the meals are enjoyable.”
And just like the race cars that need fuel to circle around the nearby Indianapolis Motor Speedway, these swimmers need the proper fuel for their bodies.
“Swimmers are serious athletes. They train hard and it’s serious business to them,” said committee member Carol Hester. “We are putting together menus that are high carb, moderate protein and low fat. But every swimmer is different. They can be a superstitious lot where they eat something and have a great swim and they have to have the same exact thing to eat before their next swim.”
But even the most superstitious of swimmers or those who are strict vegetarians have nothing to fear because some of Indianapolis’ top chefs will be on hand from early morning until midnight to ensure that the swimmers nutritional needs are met.
And while satisfying the swimmers appetite is the top goal of the committee, it is equally important to provide the athletes with a place where they can relax away from the pool.
Big screen televisions will replay highlights of the competition and 20 high speed Internet computers at the Internet Café will give athletes a chance to communicate with family and friends around the globe. While these swimmers may be fierce competitors in the pool, they can also experience a more light-hearted competition by playing Xbox video games or enjoying a wide range of nightly entertainment such as a deejay, live music or special guest appearances. With more than 30 volunteers working at the Village each day, this relaxed atmosphere comes complete with the city’s well-known ”Hoosier Hospitality.”
Transforming one of the city’s most historic places into an international gathering place is something that is exciting to the Crowne Plaza Hotel’s director of catering Scott DeBerg. As part of a massive restoration project, the Crowne Plaza Hotel was built in the old train shed inside Union Station and even includes Pullman train car sleeping rooms.
“It’s so cool that the international athletes will be pretty much camping out here at Union Station. We’re excited to show off the history of the place,” said DeBerg. “This is a unique event all the way around….from the temporary pools at Conseco (Fieldhouse) to using a space like Union Station.”
And the uniqueness of the World Swimming Championships is something that Bill Munse wasn’t about to miss. Both Munse and his wife, Lamoura, serve on the committee and will take a week’s vacation to work at the village.
“We do these events because they are quite fun to do. The committee brings together different people with different backgrounds so it is a nice learning experience for us,” said Munse. “It’s a nice way to learn about different things and different people. It’s just a great way to give back to the community.”
You can bet that when Thomas Edison was tapping away at his telegraph machine inside Union Station, even in his wildest imagination, he would have never dreamed that one day the station would be filled with large TV’s, computers and video games. For this inventiveness, we have the Village People to thank.