The World Games have been three years in the planning. And Alan Thrasher has volunteered his considerable logistics skills to the ground transportation portion of the event that ran July 7-17.
“I’m working from early morning to late nights and doing every single job you can imagine, trying to keep things organized,” said Thrasher, co-owner of Thrasher Brothers Trailways in Birmingham, Alabama. “Three years worth of planning and then it arrives and, of course, it’s mass chaos for a couple of days, but they’re getting better every day. There are a lot of buses here, for sure.”
He estimates that about 60 coaches have been operating daily, with a total of about 100 each for the opening and closing ceremonies.
Callaway Transportation, based in Sykesville, Maryland, won the bid to serve as the overall transportation management company for the event. In his role as the President of the Alabama Motorcoach Association (AMA), Thrasher provided Callaway with the contact information of AMA members so they could benefit from the work.
“They’ve been a pleasure to work with. I met with them a couple of years ago when they got the contract,” said Thrasher, who also serves on the board of the United Motorcoach Association.
In addition to bringing in Alabama operators, Callaway has brought in operators from Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi.
Thousands in Birmingham
It’s a 10-day event, but with the addition of airport transfers, the work is closer to 14 days.
The World Games features about 3,600 athletes from 100 countries and draws upward of 60,000 to see the event.
One of the highlights was the warm welcome received by the team from Ukraine, which has been under attack from Russia since Feb. 24. During the opening ceremonies, the Ukrainian team received “a huge standing ovation” as they entered the city’s new Protective Stadium, said Thrasher. The ceremony included fireworks and some of Alabama’s biggest-name musicians.
“The buses were lined up all over the place,” said Thrasher. “The security perimeters here are Level One, the same security used for the Super Bowl. The only difference is there are 12 different venues they’ve got to cover like a Super Bowl.”
Sports events at Games
The sports events include kayaking, waterskiing and white wakeboarding. There’s also canopy piloting that involves parachuting out of a helicopter and doing “the most amazing” landing tricks, Thrasher said.
“There are some pretty wild things we’ve never heard of, of course,” he said. “These are non-Olympic sports but this is organized by the International Olympic Committee. This is the Olympics’ little brother. The World Games have been around 40 years, but this is only the second time in the United States.”
Birmingham beat out cities in Peru and Russia to host the event.
“We’re using local venues and some new venues,” said Thrasher. “It’s been a huge shot in the arm for operators here. I’ve seen operators from all over the state and beyond. They’ve all come in here to help, and it’s running really smoothly.”
Operators adapt quickly
Operators have had to adapt quickly to the challenges that come with summer in Alabama, which has the feel of a jungle forest with tropical rainfall. Temperatures hovered between 105 to 108 degrees daily, and humidity was at an all-time high. Soaking rains have caused postponements of some events, requiring them to be quickly rescheduled and transportation logistics to accommodate the changes.
Operators are moving athletes, who are housed in Olympic-style athlete villages at Birmingham Southern College and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Many of the motorcoaches bear graphics that say “UAB Welcomes the World.”
Coaches are running between the athlete villages and World Games Plaza downtown, which is a brand new, 16-block-long park that was created underneath the city’s new freeway.
“It’s got everything from skate parks and amphitheaters to garden spaces and walking areas,” said Thrasher. “They’ve got food trucks and vendors, and bands and concerts. Everything is going on underneath this bridge. There are neon lights, and everything’s all lit up. So the city has got something going on everywhere.”
Thrasher says he got his training for the World Games from his involvement with the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“My lawyer actually helped write the part of the bid for Birmingham nearly five years ago, when we were in the stages of just trying to get it here and they asked us to come in and evaluate the transportation needs,” Thrasher said. “I helped Birmingham with what I could. I personally had an investment in seeing everything be successful. I’ve done all I can do for Callaway to give them all my resources and any kind of help I can while they’re here.”
He says his financial shot in the arm came from winning a three-month contract with the United States Football League (USFL), carrying all eight teams to their practices and games.
“That kept me and my guys busy locally at good margins because we weren’t burning a ton of fuel and running a lot of miles,” Thrasher said. “We had all eight teams here until they flew off for the championships. The last team flew back in after the championship on the day that we picked up the first team from the World Games coming into Birmingham. The timing was good.”