A member of our UTM community was representing Canada as a tennis referee in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Alison Dias, a graphic artist who has been working at the I&ITS department for about 10 years now, takes us through her journey at the Olympics this year and shares her 23-year parallel career as an official.

“It was an exciting experience. I really can’t put into words the experience. The only word that comes to mind is, ‘amazing’,” says Dias. “When I found out I was accepted, I was numb for the rest of the day.”

There were only two Canadians who were accepted. One being Dias, and the second another local official, Jesse Greens, from Toronto. “It’s always so nice to share that experience with another colleague, another friend. We’ve kind of grown up together in officiating. So to have that experience with him was very special,” she says of her long-time friend and colleague, Greens.

As a photography graduate of Sheridan College, she initially took part in Tennis Canada as a photographer. Tired of carrying the equipment around in the hot summer weather, she decided to test the waters and take part in the actual game happening on the court. “I looked down on the court and said, ‘It looks like they’re having fun—let me try that and see how I like it.’ It fit perfectly,” says Dias.

Continuing to embellish her then-career as an official as well as her ongoing full-time job commitments, she embarked on her experiential journey. She powered through, as she completed the introductory course, the i-court training and the following year was accepted to the Rogers cup. “I was very lucky; I had great trainers who helped me throughout the year. Erica Gilbert was the first trainer that I had,” she says.

She has thus been officiating the Rogers cup, the Fed cup, and the Davis Cup competitions, as well as the London 2012 Paralympics. “It was probably a more special feeling—to see athletes who are in wheelchairs and be able to accomplish what they can accomplish is something special. Whereas, if you are able-bodied, you don’t have that challenge,” says Dias.

By the time Dias applied to the Olympics, she was a White Badge Referee and a Bronze Badge Chair Umpire.

There were approximately 600 applicants for the position of one out of 85 international officials, among whom Dias would be chosen. There were also another 50 or 60 local officials that were at the Rio Olympics as well.

“As a whole, I didn’t feel the pressure. I believe it’s because of my experience of doing it for so many years,” says Dias. “I might have been challenged the most out of the officials, around seven times. You are dealing with professional tennis players, ranked 54 in the world and below, that play tennis day in and day out every week. I’ve been officiating for 23 years, so you gain some confidence in yourself. I know when I’m right and I know when I’m wrong, and I’m the first to admit it, I’ll acknowledge it. You own up to your mistakes.”

Despite Dias’ experience and confidence, there’s not much that can be done when it comes to the ground rules of the game. “You can’t say anything; you have to be emotionless till the challenge is over. I would watch [on] the TV monitor to see how close the call was. Most of the time the cameras were correct,” she says.

Dias’ passion for the sport has taken her to this point in her athletic career. “I took it all in—the experience was center court at the Olympics in Rio. I had to keep reminding myself, ‘It’s not a tennis event, it’s the Olympics’, because I had done many tennis events. This was special, this was the Olympics that comes [every four years]; you get selected for this and you have to make the most of it. I enjoyed every day that I was there. I made some great friends and made international connections,” she says.

“Seeing the top player’s facial expressions, tears, and emotions firsthand and being so close on court, that was special. Definitely a memorable moment. One doesn’t get to see it from this viewpoint very often,” Dias added. “To see Novak Djokovic waiting at the bus stop just like any another civilian for the bus back to the hotel—it felt like these are just regular human beings. It’s just like me waiting to go back to the hotel. You see them on a human level.”

“Without UTM and without the support, Susan Senese, and at that time, Rishi Arora, who was my supervisor, the Olympics wouldn’t be possible. They were the first people to find out that I got accepted before my family knew. And they approved it right away,” she says. “UTM has always been supportive with the tennis I do. It’s a great hobby, I get to travel all over Canada, do sightseeing, or call a ball in or out, refereeing or chair umpiring. It’s the best of both worlds I have.”