By: Quinn Schmidt, Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — While the most talented young athletes from across the globe are
competing against each other in the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, a
mountain of volunteers are working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure every event
Every volunteer is helping to make a lasting impact on each of the 1,443 athletes in Lake
Placid, but a special few are going above and beyond to create meaningful moments. A
shining example of an extraordinary volunteer is Anka Simon, who helped track down missing luggage that threatened to keep Polish athletes sidelined during the biathlon events at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Team Poland arrived safely in Lake Placid at the beginning of the week primed and ready to
compete in the biathlon events beginning Jan. 14. However, things went awry shortly after
landing when multiple athletes, coaches and administrators noticed lost or missing baggage.
“At the beginning it wasn’t a big deal. Twenty-four of our bags were missing when we got to
Lake Placid and we got 14 back the next day,” said Poland Delegation Administration Official Eugeniusz Puzan.
More importantly than jackets or shirts, part of the missing luggage that was not immediately returned was the biathlon team’s shooting rifles. Somewhere between Team Poland’s journey from Paris to Lake Placid with stops in Atlanta and Albany, the rifles had been taken from their luggage and misplaced. After a few days with no word and Polish athletes unable to train, Puzan was worried enough to bring the issue to the Delegation Support Staff Desk in the Olympic Center. It was there that Simon and a slew of Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games volunteers were eager to help.
“Two members of the Polish delegation came up and said, ‘We go to competition in two days and our rifles are not here,’” said Simon. “I had nothing to work with and I just sat there for a minute. I had no idea where to start.”
With the Polish athletes sitting idle only 48 hours before the biathlon events, Simon sprang into action looking to keep Team Poland’s dreams of competing at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games alive. She shot an email to Head of Delegation Services Ashley Milne, sparking a chain of events that required these volunteers to work far outside their initial job description.
“I called Delta Airlines and got nothing. I tried to reach a US Customs Officer and got nothing. I started making calls at 10 a.m. that day and didn’t get a hold of an actual person until 5 p.m.,” said Simon.
After hours upon hours of dead ends, declined calls and unanswered emails, Simon finally
located the rifles 1,139 miles away in Atlanta, Georgia. It was then she called upon other
Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games volunteers like Mary Harding, who happened to be working
the Support staff desk alongside Simon that day.
Harding’s husband Todd Westhuis, the Deputy Director of State Operations at the State
Governor’s Office was able to line up a miraculous plan in coordination with Michael Wingate, head of the Lake Placid Organizing Committee Logistics Team.
“The best part of it was the collaboration and everybody working together to get this done,”
said Milne. “This was all spearheaded by our wonderful volunteers. I think this whole
situation made them feel connected to the games and it was great seeing the lights in their
eyes after they were able to catch the spirit of the games and help out.”
Between Milne, Wingate, Westuis, Harding and Simon, transport for the rifles was coordinated from the John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens to Mount Van Hoevenberg by two
different State Troopers who traveled through the night. When all was said and done, the
rifles arrived at the competition site just four hours before the starting gun went off.
With their own rifles, the two Polish athletes were able to earn medals in their respective
biathlon events. Barbara Skrobiszewska took home silver in the women’s 12.5-kilometer short individual, and Anna Nedza-Kubiniec topped the podium with a gold medal in the
women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint.
“It was a great emotional boost for the athletes prior to their competition being able to
compete with their own weapons. They had more confidence,” said Puzan. “One hundred
percent of our success is because of FISU staff getting these rifles across New York State.
We are really thankful for them caring about us this much and giving our athletes the
confidence to compete.”
Thanks to the tireless work ethic and unwavering commitment from the incredible
volunteers at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, the Polish biathlon
athletes were able to create some lifelong memories with their own rifles strapped on their
“Every minute, every lost hour of sleep and stress was worth it in the end. Being able to see
the athletes walking past me with their rifles was so emotional,” said Simon. “This is what FISU is all about. We all want to go above and beyond so these athletes can go out and