Camaraderie is key for volunteer headed to 6th Olympics

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STATELINE, Nev. (AP) - A Lake Tahoe woman who is headed to Rio to experience her sixth Olympics went to her first Summer Games 20 years ago to watch the athletic competition but ended up getting hooked on the camaraderie and sharing of international cultures.

Louise Feller was in Atlanta as a spectator in 1996 when she said a light bulb went off in her head. "I said, 'I'd really like to see the other side of the Games,'" she told Lake Tahoe News.

The walls of the 67-year-old Stateline woman's home are now covered with posters, photographs and collages she's made to remind her of the time she's spent as a volunteer at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, London, Athens, Beijing and Turin, Italy.

She knows Rio is plagued with problems, from the polluted Guanabarra Bay to the mosquito-borne Zika virus that has prompted some athletes to skip this year's games.

But she's faced challenges before. When she applied for her first gig in Salt Lake City, she was told to secure her own lodging before even applying for the 2002 Winter Games. "I lived in a motor home for three weeks," Feller said.

She admits she wasn't totally prepared to spend her entire time at the 2006 Summer Games in Athens in a full walking cast after she broke her leg two months earlier in a bicycling accident near Lake Tahoe.

"All the bathrooms in Greece were downstairs," she said.

Feller is often asked to run errands for coaches, directors and athletes. In Rio, she has landed the dream assignment of working an information kiosk.

Flavia Fontes, head of the Rio 2016 Volunteers Programme, said volunteers are "indispensable for the success of the Games."

"They play a part in everything, helping and providing information to spectators, assisting heads of state and providing operational support at the ceremonies," Fontes said.

Feller said her favorite Games were in Turin in 2006. She was assigned to the speed skating arena where she met Apolo Ohno, the U.S. short-track gold medalist. But what she remembers most was staying in a small apartment with an Italian restaurant on the corner where she ended up becoming friends with many of the locals.

"I went to dinner there every night. They started making it for me (before I arrived)," she said.

Feller recalls being struck in Beijing by the way volunteers had difficulty picking a free pin from her collection.

"They'd have a hard time because in China they're not used to choosing," she said.

Feller said the overall experience allows a person to be a part of something larger.

"I like the camaraderie during the Olympics, and I wanted to give back," Feller said. "America is a great country. I love to share it."

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