Sophomore Taran Hight and junior Chance Wagner, both hospitality management majors, along with senior psychology major Kelsey Bisignano, experienced the wonder of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics firsthand as part of the Opening Ceremony Production Team. Their journey began a year ago when they learned their roommate’s father, Tom, would have the extraordinary opportunity to produce the Opening Ceremony.

Wagner shared the unforgettable experience in his own words:

“It was surreal to find myself alongside my UCF roommates in Sochi, Russia at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games. Standing awestruck inside of a $2 billion stadium, surrounded by multi-million dollar props that soared two stories above our heads felt like too good of an experience to be true – but there we were, soaking it all in.

“It was over a year earlier that we found out our roommate’s father would have the incredible honor of producing the Opening Ceremony and only eight days earlier when we landed in Moscow and spent four unforgettable days exploring the massive city. Our last two days were spent watching the Slope Style and Speed Skating events, and admiring the impressive Olympic Park area.

“Our badges displayed the title of “Opening Ceremony Production Team” and gave us access to the back of house operations, full of over 5,000 employees and performers. When the day of the show finally arrived, people were scrambling from the likes of hair and makeup to costume design to flying rig operations, all the way to the ballet dancers, technical team, skating performers and more.

“Tom’s first job in Sochi was to systematically organize the throng of people into groups, divided by their role in the show. The first obstacle was the obvious language barrier between western countries and Russian culture. With a completely different alphabet, the Russians were especially hard to communicate with. We often found ourselves in a mini-game of charades to get our points across and effectively convey messages. We had the privilege of meeting and talking to Emmy Award-winning lighting and costume designers, world famous ballet and opera singers, and witnessed the revolutionary mechanics and technology that were a first for any show in the world.

“Working alongside the 25,000 other volunteers was truly a unique experience. Communication was limited to the little English they could speak, but we were still able to make new friends and talk about the different events. Our smaller tasks consisted of escorting media to proper locations, providing security and helping promote hospitality across Olympic Park. We also assisted in the distribution of LED medals that each person received during the Opening Ceremony, which lit up in a multitude of colors to create an impressive effect when spread throughout the 45,000 people in attendance.

“The most rewarding experience was helping move the immense props into place before the show started. Some props took up to six months to construct, costing upwards of $3 million dollars. Once everything was in place, we were able to sit in prime viewing seats and enjoy the show that was so laboriously produced over the past year – and what a show it was!”

You can read more about Wagner’s experience at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on his blog.