As the countdown to Gay Games VII (GGVII) continues, the indefatigable Christee Snell, like the event’s 12,000 elite athletes and participants, is conditioned and positioned to take volunteer gold.

Snell, 49, moved to Oak Park from Salem, Mass., in 1990 to work with Lisle-based SCI Consulting. Even so, when queried, Snell stepped up to become the pro bono managing director for the 2006 Gay Games. For months now, the Oak Parker has been working with 40 staff and 50 key volunteers, mostly running on adrenalin, and loving every minute of it.

“I was asked to sit on the GGVII board of directors first, prior to becoming the managing director,” says Snell, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Chicago. “They actually wanted me to do it on a professional level, but because I was on the board, I felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give back to the community.”

Game organizers, she continues, are excited about partnering with Oak Park for many reasons, including its commitment to diversity and inclusion, as well as its convenient logistics: The village will use its small fleet of free shuttles to move people around town. Moreover, because Oak Park resides on the Green and Blue el lines, it is as easy to travel to events in Oak Park as it is to see play at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), or Northwestern University.

Beginning Saturday, GGVII staff and volunteers will be on line and working overtime, as many sports and cultural venues are open from 7 a.m. until dark. Thirty sports and four cultural events, including band and choral, will spread out over the city and suburbs, including volleyball at North Avenue Beach and Navy Pier. Soccer in Oak Park will run four days at OPRF High School and Barrie Park, with 40 teams, including athletes from Croatia and South Africa, plus numerous women’s soccer teams. The medal round will play at UIC’s athletic fields.

Badminton, a sanctioned sport, will play at OPRF High School’s fieldhouse including a medal round?#34;and run from July 17-20, whereas the preliminary rounds of tennis, will trade shots at OPRF High School, UIC and Northwestern University for five days. Tennis finals are slated for Northwestern in Evanston.

As event details queue, Snell says her biggest challenge to date has been convincing the general public that the quadrennial, eight-day international event is for everybody.

“This is as big as the Olympics, yet the competitive field ranges in scope from recreational participants to elite athletes who are both gay and straight,” she says. “For example, we have a swimmer who is going for a world record. That is the message that the general public misses. Because it is called the Gay Games, they don’t feel it is for them, but it actually is. It is all about participation, personal best and inclusion.”

Anticipating the coming kick-off, 6,000 volunteers are poised to fill slots at the five sports villages and hub, Snell says.

When the GGVII closing ceremony culminates July 22 at Wrigley Field, Snell says she’ll finally sleep and eat better, but her volunteer gig won’t end. She and her team must document everything for the Gay Games Federation to provide mapping for the 2010 Gay Games VIII in Cologne, Germany.

“There are already 300 sponsors for the Gay Games, including Gatorade, Kraft Foods, Nike and ESPN?#34;a lot of huge corporations that understand the economic impact of this. I think Oak Park understands that, too,” Snell says.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....