Top Pan Am Games' organizer oversees ‘giant jigsaw...
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Jun 30, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Top Pan Am Games' organizer oversees ‘giant jigsaw puzzle’

The planner: Dena Coward co-ordinates the 47 divisions making the Games happen. Part of our series on people who built the Toronto Pan Am Games


It takes two separate division of the Pan Am Games’ planning team to move both chairs and people.

Some think it is the role of the transportation division to move the hundreds of tables and chairs that will be needed at venues, but that’s not so says Dena Coward, the Toronto organizing committee’s vice- president of services and planning.

It’s the logistics division that moves the chairs. Transportation moves people.

What seems like a minor fact to most is the kind of detail Coward has to be on top of to make sure the Games run smoothly.

She is the conductor and the Games are her carefully orchestrated symphony.

“It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle,” she offers about the 47 divisions she oversees.

“My job is to make sure that they intersect when they’re supposed to intersect, get information from each other when they do, and that the organization actually follows … a road map.”

That master schedule currently has 1,300 “milestones and deliverables.”

Think of that as a to-do list with only two weeks get things done in (plus a week of Parapan Am competition).

Coward, who started with the organizing committee in 2012, has made a career out of multi-sport events. The Games are her 35th time working on such an event — a list that includes the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The Prairies native and Vancouver transplant, who earned a physical education degree, once competed herself, making it to the national level of team handball.

“I always joke, ‘Those who can’t do plan,’ ” she said in a recent interview at the Toronto Games’ waterfront headquarters, where it is difficult to book space in any of the themed meeting rooms with dozens of planners swarming around the modern offices in the lead up to the opening ceremony.

Though the Pan Am Games have a wider footprint than the Olympics — there are 51 events across more than 30 venues — there’s a smaller staff managing the organization and implementation.

Since Toronto won the bid to host the Games in 2009, the organizing committee has been working to host nearly 7,000 athletes across the GTA, co-ordinating some 20,000 volunteers while communicating with local municipalities, police and others to make sure the city is ready for the big show.

The challenge, Coward says, is to make sure the athletes don’t notice all the work behind the scenes so they can just focus on competing.

“We always compare it to the duck — it’s all calm on top and the legs are scrambling underneath it. All the training and all the practicing we’ve done prepares us for what happens.”

Once the Games are on, Coward will be inside the main operations centre, conducting her final act and making sure all things go to plan.

She says the best part of the Pan Ams is the buy-in.

“I love watching the city change,” she declares, admitting that she sometimes sneaks away to the airport to watch the teams start to arrive. “You start to feel a vibe. In Vancouver (during the 2010 Winter Olympics), just walking down the street weeks before, I’ve never seen so many people wearing red and white in my entire life. It’s just watching the community embrace it.”

And if they don’t embrace?

Coward says there’s a plan for that, too.

Toronto Star

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