As I stood in the press grandstands to catch the Finals at the 2017 World Rowing Championship, I cheered proudly as Team Lithuania took home gold in the Men’s Quadruple Sculls Final, feeling as if a friend had just achieved greatness. I then googled “Where is Lithuania?”
It’s been said that you can tell who someone truly is by how they treat they treat the waiter. As someone who worked in and comes from a family in the service industry, that’s something I’ve always taken very serious notice of. Because of this, I have formed judgment on a first date, gained (or lost) respect for public figures, and become a Team Lithuania rowing fan.
I didn’t know anything about rowing before I was told I would be covering the 2017 World Rowing Championships in Sarasota. So when I found out that my Aunt would be providing food and service for many of the teams at their hotel-home with the catering team at The Polo Grill, I was excited to get some personal insight on these world-class athletes.
Of course, feeding training athletes on the cusp of some of the biggest competitions of their career, is an undertaking in and of itself. Caterers were all told that the athletes needed 6,000-calories each day, with multiple catering companies and restaurants spread over the many hotels.
All teams had to have plenty of cold cuts, cheeses, and bread with every meal. The Lithuanians were big cherry tomato fans and needed beef bouillon at lunch to replace all the salt their body was losing. The Russians couldn’t get enough of Nature’s Own Honey Wheat Bread and Skippy Peanut Butter, apparently very different than the peanut butter sandwiches they’re accustomed to in their home country. The athletes from all countries went crazy shopping at Target and couldn’t believe their variety and affordable prices! Seems that Target bullseye’s hypnotizing power works across many cultures.
While I was only expecting to recap of what it takes to feed a world-class athlete, but what I got was a reminder that kindness knows no particular birthplace.
The thing that impressed and intrigued me most was hearing about the athlete banter with the catering staff. Every encounter the catering staff had with the various teams they were serving was incredibly positive. This included teams from Japan, Romania, Russia, Argentina, and Poland, to name a few. All who made every effort to know quite a bit of English so that they could better communicate.
Mary had a particularly fond experience with Team Lithuania, as she did breakfast and lunch with them every day for 2-weeks straight. That takes a lot of work over a lot of days, but Mary and the team left each day with Lithuania feeling refreshed and appreciated. They treated her, and the rest of the Polo Grill staff serving at this particular hotel, with such respect, engagement, and gratitude.
Since Team USA wasn’t competing in the the Men’s Quadruple Sculls Final, I was happy to see Team Lithuania take the win and would like to think the Polo Grill’s excellent food and service could help fuel them along the way.
Even more so, I believe there’s something to be said about sharing meals with strangers and leaving them feeling like family. I was inspired that in a world that often feels so divided, we can all come together. To compete in a championship, to lift each other up, and to share a meal with a smile.
photos courtesy of FISA Igor Meijer