Becoming An Olympian During A Global Pandemic

Article by Guest Writer Jill Moffatt, Canadian Olympic Athlete

With the Winter Olympics taking place throughout February, I thought I would share what it’s like to be an Olympian during a pandemic, and the how important community support is. Thanks for reading along and joining me on my journey to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games!


Summer and Winter athletes have entered unchartered territory. A pandemic has forced the entire world to change, and for athletes who rely on strict and detailed timelines, it has become confusing, unnerving, and chaotic. Everything has changed for athletes, qualifying for the Games, the Olympic experience, and until the competition is done, there will always be the lingering worry of a positive covid test. Once I got on the plane for the Games, I felt this air of relief, but it wasn’t until I was at the start gates for my race that I knew it was really happening.

Although it has been dubbed the “pandemic Olympics,” becoming an Olympian is an incredible experience. It is surreal, it feels like you are in a movie and you are the main character. It feels like all the hard years of work have finally paid off – you’ve made it.

And becoming a Canadian Olympian is something that is hard to put into words. Pandemic or not, there is this feeling oftogetherness across the Canadian Olympic team and that you are a part of something bigger than yourself. When we are finally in the same place, you feel so connected to athletes you have never met. Suddenly, I became a teammate of Penny Oleksiak – the most decorated Canadian Olympian of all time. I chatted with her after she won a bronze medal in the dining hall, and it was just something you did as a Canadian at the Games. I made friends from across Canada because of the pride and sense of family that we have from being Canadian and having this shared experience. You know you are representing this legacy of phenomenal Canadians, and you want to show the world what Canadians are capable of – it really is the honour of a lifetime.

When I finished my first race at the Games, my competitor (and previous Olympic champion) from the Dutch team turned to me and said, “congrats on becoming an Olympian!” That to me encapsulates the magic of the Olympics and took me out of the competition for a second and allowed me to feel the gravity of what I had accomplished.


The Village 

I wanted to share a bit of the inside scoop – and my most asked about experience… the Village! At the Games, most of the athletes stay at what is called ‘the Athlete Village’. The Village has everything you could ever need. Living quarters, food dining halls (open 24/7), gyms, hair/nail salons, post office, clothing stores and more – and it’s all for the athletes and staff. When you arrive with the team, you make your way to where you are staying for the week. The village has tons of apartment buildings, and each country has their own space. The buildings are littered with flags and designs, with each country showing off their personality. Team Canada always brings this Olympic moose statue that sits outside, and for the Summer Games, we had our own outdoor space with TVs to watch the Games, chairs, and more. One of my favourite parts of the Games was walking around the Village and looking at each building and seeing how the countries designed their space.

In the Village there are a couple “go to” spots. 1) the Olympic rings. They have a statue of the rings in the Village and there is always a line up to get a photo. In Tokyo, my apartment balcony faced the rings so we could watch people line up all day and take pictures. The coolest place to check out is 2) the dining hall. It is everything you can imagine and more! You can find every kind of food, burgers,

 sushi, salad bar, halal, gluten free, vegan, Chinese, Caribbean, you name it, you could eat it there. Plus, unlimited ice cream… an athletes dream!

Aside from the Athlete Village, my favorite part about the Olympic experience is the pin trading… yes we trade pins, and yes it isexciting. Each country is given a bag of personalized pins, and the idea is that you trade your pins with other athletes. All athletes wear lanyards with photo ID attached to it so we have clearance to enter buildings and venues, so most athletes use their lanyards as a way to carry their pins. It is such a cool way to meet other athletes, and when I came home, I had pins from all over the world. It became my most treasured item from the Games. My favourite pin was one I traded with a Chinese gymnast… she was about half my size and probably half my age and it was so cool to connect with her in that way. I also traded pins with my rowing competitors which was very special. 

The Olympic Village and everything associated with it – pins and all – really creates this magical experience.


Community Support


The unique thing about the Games, is that it’s only 2 weeks out of every 4-year cycle. For some athletes it can be 2 weeks out of 8-years of hard work. The glitz and the glam of it is something most of us aren’t prepared for, and when it’s over you go back to real life. Community support is so vital for athletes because as amateur athletes, we aren’t in sport for the money. We pursue this crazy dream because we want to see how far we can go and how good we can get. For me, it’s about believing in myself and living with no regrets. I’d love to win a medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics, but I care more about the experience of putting everything I have into a dream. Community support allows athletes to do that. Community support shows athletes that they are more than results, and they are valued as people first. 

Coming home from a disappointing result at the Olympics was made sweeter by seeing how excited my community was that I represented them. I came home to an “Olympic party” at my cottage with everyone from the lake, chatted with school kids about dreaming big, and realized that being an Olympian is much more than the result you get. It’s about inspiring people to chase their dreams and believe in themselves. Support from Big Wheel Burger has made a direct impact on my ability to train for the Games and gives me that community support. Having Big Wheel invest in my dream is humbling, special and inspires me to go for it. I am excited to keep sharing my journey and give back to this community whenever I get the chance.

See you guys next month!


About The Author

My name is Jill Moffatt and I am an Olympic rower living in Victoria, B.C. Big Wheel Burger is supporting me on my path to the Olympics and in exchange I’ll be sharing parts of that journey with you! Follow along each month for behind the scenes stories and other things outside of rowing that I am passionate about.