The camaraderie between police and fire and between nations across the globe was the running theme at the opening ceremonies of the World Police & Fire Games, held this year in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Coinciding with the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, the games brought more than 17,000 athletes from 73 countries.
"We have one common mission," says Commissioner Ray Kelly of the NYPD, "To protect the public and save lives."
His sentiment was echoed by many of the athletes, including Ian Skewes of the South Australia Police. "We all catch crooks and fight fires," he jokes. But on a serious note, "It's more than sports -- I'd come here to play marbles or do face painting. It's all good fun and you get to catch up from games past.
Plus, I have scores to settle from Adelaide!" referring to the location of the 2007 games. South Australia's contingent of athletes included 100 from the police and more than 70 from fire. Jason Comley, a firefighter, was hoping his computer-generated badge number of 7777 was a sign of good things to come. The metro fire service has been participating in the games for the last 20 years, raising more than $200,000 for the local women and children's hospital, $30,000 of it from this year. Their group president, Will Jamieson, is one of three original members. Australia brought over 600 participants to compete in the events.
The award for most energetic participants would probably go to Spain. With about 5,000 athletes, it took about 20 minutes for their group to walk across the stage...pausing for some fun cheering and singing. Trinidad & Tobago did the same and lit up the area with excitement.
The only damper on anyone's spirits at the grand kick-off was the introduction of Hurricane Irene.
"We knew you'd come in like a hurricane," teased Commissioner Salvatore Cassano of the FDNY, "We didn't think there would actually be a hurricane."
All events were cancelled for Saturday and Sunday, though many took it in stride. Matt Warden, participating in four swimming events, was hoping Monday will be a better day. Visiting from Toronto Fire Department with his family, he has to return home on Wednesday.
Thanks and Tribute
The anniversary of September 11 was never far from anyone's mind, both in paying tribute and giving thanks to the camaraderie of the various nations.
"We appreciate what you did for us 10 years ago," said Commissioner Cassano. "Your love and support helped us get through it."
Delivering the welcome, Bill Miccio, vice president of the WPFG, spoke of sending 100 athletes to Barcelona in 2003 with a sign that said "Thank You" in nine different languages.
"When it came time for the athletes to go up, they had to pass about 5,000 athletes from Spain. They parted like the Red Sea and gave our athletes a round of applause."
No one got bigger cheers at this year's event than its surprise guest: Dave Matthews. Performing three songs, the Grammy-winning artist sang acoustic and even wore a horned helmet passed to him by a Swedish athlete.
Reeve Carney then performed Boy Falls From The Sky from the Broadway hit Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark.
And finally, the lighting of the torch...brought in by the Budweiser Clydesdales. Lady Liberty was replicated in a beautiful sculpture and she officially kicks off the 2011 World Police & Fire Games.