How a 22-year-old Hamiltonian got to carry the Iranian flag in Rio's closing ceremonies

Cam Galindo has never been to Iran, and doesn't speak Persian, but helped the team in Rio de Janeiro. He was the country's sole representative during the closing ceremonies.

Cam Galindo has never been to Iran, and doesn't speak Persian, but helped the team in Rio de Janeiro

Cam Galindo of Stoney Creek takes a selfie during the Olympic Games closing ceremonies. He carried the flag for Iran. (Cam Galindo)

When the exhausted Iranian Olympic team opted not to participate in the rainy closing ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro, the team asked one of its Rio volunteers to carry the country's flag into the stadium on its behalf.

That volunteer was 22-year-old Cam Galindo from Hamilton, who spent the next few hours star struck amid the world's elite athletes, circling Maracana stadium to represent a country he's never visited.

He was Iran's sole representative there.

I was star struck. I was just taking pictures with everyone.- Cam Galindo

Galindo has spent the last month as a Olympic volunteer, assigned to supporting Iran's Olympic team. That's what made him the person the team turned to to represent it in Sunday's rain-soaked closing gala. 

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

"My arms became numb," he said of the moment when he was asked. "I started going into a panicky shock where I was really excited, but I couldn't believe the news I just received."

It was just the latest experience for the McMaster University political science student who has already skydived, run for city council, visited 16 countries and volunteered at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Hamilton.

Flag bearers line up backstage for the closing ceremonies. (Cam Galindo)

Originally from Colombia, Galindo speaks Spanish and a little French, which made him an asset at the Pan Am Games. When he arrived in Rio on July 21, he assumed he'd be assigned somewhere Spanish was needed.

I wastextingmy mom going 'I'm on the athlete bus!'- Cam Galindo

Instead, his role became "operational, linguistic and logistical support" for the team from Iran.

Galindo enjoyed getting to know the 64-member Iranian contingent over the last month.

"They're really fantastic people," he said.

He learned he'd carry the flag – an honour typically reserved for a nation's athlete who starred in the games – about two hours in advance. He ran back to his room, combed his hair, put on a fresh uniform, and went to the meeting point for flag bearers.

"I was surrounded by some of the best athletes in the world," he said. "I was star struck. I was just taking pictures with everyone."

I was trying not to lose control and drop the flag.- Cam Galindo

He climbed on an athletes' bus and rode 50 minutes from the Olympic village to the stadium. Many people fell asleep on the bus, he said.

"I was fully awake," he said. "I had so much energy. I was texting my mom going 'I'm on the athlete bus!" I was starving and I had a headache, but it was by far one of the coolest things I've done."

When he reached the stadium, he heard the roar of the crowd and the thump of the music. The flags have metal poles, and are heavier than they look, he said. When it rained, the flag's weight doubled.

Cam Galindo carrying the flag of Iran. (Cam Galindo)

"I was trying not to look like I was struggling as the TV cameras were on me," he said. "I was trying not to lose control and drop the flag."

He walked in the athletes' parade, and watched the Olympic flame be extinguished. He watched the fireworks and stood under a rain of confetti. "I don't know if there are words to describe how emotional it was."

Cam Galindo takes a selfie with Team Canada in the background during the closing ceremonies. (Cam Galindo)

That also sums up Galindo's entire experience in Rio. He saw Usain Bolt win gold in the 100-metre sprint. He saw Canadian Andre De Grasse, and in a flustered moment, forgot his name and merely yelled "Canada!"

Most of all, he's humbled and grateful to the Iranian team for giving him an experience few rarely get to have.

"I get emotional now just talking about it," he said. "It's been a really nice opportunity."

Another selfie from Cam Galindo taken during the closing ceremonies. (Cam Galindo)