An Olympic volunteer

October 26, 2018
Bronze medallist Michelle Toro reflects on her time as a Family Room volunteer
Michelle Toro
From 2014 to 2016, Michelle Toro volunteered in the Family Room at Rouge Valley Centenary. Then she went to the Rio Olympics and won a bronze medal in swimming! She recently addressed our volunteers about how her experience with RMHC Toronto helped shape her outlook on life and her career.  

The role of Family Room volunteer ‘found me’ at a perfect time in my life, and it spring-boarded me into my future dream career as a paediatric nurse.

Prior to becoming a volunteer, I had an overwhelming urge to give back to the community for giving me so much opportunity as a high-performance athlete – to pursue my athletic passions for 17 years, three of those as a full-time athlete.  
Life as a professional athlete is often misunderstood. Beneath all the glamour of winning medals for Canada internationally is a life of constant discipline, endless hours of training and an insane attention to detail. Of course, I was driven and motivated to pursue my passion and work towards my Olympic dream, but in the midst of the grind of training, I often felt like a race car instead of a person, with a pit crew of professionals – a massage therapist, nutritionist, my coach, my bio mechanist etc. – all dedicated to making me move through the water as fast as possible. Part of me felt selfish for being able to call a swimming pool my “office” and to be able to say that “working out” was my full-time job. 

I often wondered how I could find a way to give back somehow for the privilege that I possessed to have this kind of lifestyle. At the same time, I wanted to find a balance in my life and begin preparing myself for life away from sport. That is when I found the Ronald McDonald House Charities Toronto Family Room at Rouge Valley Centenary.

Being a Family Room volunteer allowed me to see the world from a different perspective.

I’m sure many of you in this room know the inarticulable privilege of interacting with someone who is in a vulnerable position. I remember during one shift, a woman came into the room, looking distraught. I welcomed her and offered her some tea and asked her how she was doing. She started to cry.  I didn’t know what to do. This is when I learned the power of simply being there for someone. Just listening. These relational skills that I began to develop during my time as a volunteer will be with me for the rest of my life – as a nurse.
I am grateful for my time at RMHC Toronto for many reasons. It helped me step my foot into the healthcare world; it helped me get into nursing school; it helped me land my first nursing (student) job at Sick Kids; but most importantly, it put me in a position of such privilege and honour to be able to be there for a family in times of struggle.  I want to thank all of the RMHC Toronto volunteers for what you do, for donating your own, valuable time in order to be there for families going through challenges. As volunteers we truly understand the value of simply being there, as a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or simply making a cup of tea for a parent. It goes a long way. 

Learn more about volunteering at RMHC Toronto.