Tournament volunteer Rosanna U has felt a little strange not carrying her cameras around at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers.
In previous years of the event, she’s worked as the promotions photographer where she can usually be identified by the cameras she always has slung over each shoulder as she walks around capturing shots of fans, products and athletes interacting with spectators. Missing live sports and the Tennis Canada community after the tournament was postponed last year, when she got word that volunteers were being invited back, she was over the moon.
When she learned that the promotions team would be scaled back due to restrictions, still motivated by the relationships she built over the years, she decided to volunteer anyway. She was invited to join the practice court scheduling team which she happily accepted.
“I love the environment of the tournament,” said U. “To me, it feels like summer camp. It’s like nine days straight a year where you see the same people. Once you’re there, they feel like family.
“I’ve known the people on the practice court scheduling team for years but not on a personal level. I knew they needed help and they asked me if I wanted to come out and it’s been a fun time since.”
Jocelyn Luk is the leader in command in the scheduling booth for athlete communications around the booking of practice courts. Micahel Skaff also leads the team as sort of the eyes and ears on the ground. When a request comes in from a player virtually or by phone, the booking is added to the practice schedule spreadsheet, and U and the others on the scheduling team are notified of the update via walkie-talkie.
Acting as a runner, U is part of the group responsible for making sure the high touch areas of the court such as benches and tables are sanitized after the previous session and that there is a bag prepared for the athlete which includes four towels and cans of fresh balls. Under COVID-19 protocol, the bag is left on the court for the player.
Depending on the year, practice courts can remain active even after players are eliminated. Several players will choose to stay at the tournament after a loss, while others leave generally to the United States for the next tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The practice court scheduling team is also in charge of the locker room which also includes the laundry department and creating ice towels for the athletes. Items needed for players during matches are prepared by Court Monitors which is a new role implemented due to pandemic safety protocol.
U started volunteering in high school as part of her community hours 16 years ago. She admits she’s grown closer relationships with the other staff and volunteers she’s been working with during the tournament than the friends she started with way back then. While she’s enjoyed the experience as being part of the scheduling team, U admits it’s been a significant shift from the promotions world.
“This year is completely different from my normal years because I’ve been so involved in the promotions,” said U. “I kind of live and breathe it.”
When not at the tournament, U works as a freelance photographer and photo assistant, specializing in travel, sports and lifestyle. She’s travelled to 34 countries to date. On her last trip before the pandemic, she travelled to Europe for 35 days and visited seven countries. She’s also an avid volleyball player and competes in a summer league and coach’s youth in the sport for the Richmond Hill Thundercats. Despite not taking any photos this year, volunteering, particularly during the pandemic, has helped to quench her thirst for adventure.
“With volunteering, you never know what’s going to happen,” said U. “It’s spontaneous and a lot of adrenaline. It’s always good energy and good vibes.”
Admittedly not a huge tennis fan U continues to be part of the tournament because of the people. As the event winds down, she is cherishing the last moments with her volunteer family and looks forward to doing it all again next year.
“My favourite moment from this year honestly is just seeing everybody again—all the volunteers,” said U. We call ourselves ‘the once-a-year fam’ because we see each other for nine days straight and that’s it but we’re super tight-knit that way.”