DENVER — Shelly Loos climbed to the top of Invesco Field — a mile above sea level — and took it all in, her mind throbbing with fear and excitement.
"I looked down and thought, 'Wow, all of the people in here, all for the same reason,' " she said. "It was really inspiring."
That vision comes to life tonight when 75,000 people pack the football stadium to witness a historic moment in American politics — Barack Obama's acceptance speech as the first African-American nominee for president. Millions more will watch on TV.
The spectacle will bear the heavy imprint of Loos, a 41-year-old campaign junkie who makes her home in South Florida.
"It's going to be really, really cool," she said Wednesday afternoon in the basement of the Pepsi Center, which has served as home for the first three days of the Democratic National Convention.
Obama threw planners a major changeup by moving his acceptance speech to Invesco. Not since John F. Kennedy spoke at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has a candidate attempted something so bold and even that was pale in comparison. Loos found out the day she showed up for work in July.
"I would call it panic," said Loos, who will orchestrate about 500 volunteers today.
Of the roughly 75,000 seats available, a large share went to the estimated 30,000 delegates, party leaders, reporters and others at the convention. The rest were doled out to people who applied online, by phone or at a campaign office. Organizers say half the open tickets went to people from Colorado, a key battleground state. No one was asked to reveal a political affiliation, organizers say, but those seeking premium seats had to agree to volunteer for the campaign.
Loos would reveal little about her plans, other than kicking a box filled with small American flags. The rest, she said with a laugh, is a surprise.
The smile vanished quickly as Loos walked briskly through a thicket of young volunteers munching on Subway sandwiches and row after row of campaign signs wrapped in black trash bags until their unveiling.
As director of floor operations, Loos' job is to make sure signs are brought out during convention speeches. On TV, they provide a frenzied tableau of excitement.
"They are like our energy," Loos said, standing next to piles of signs for vice presidential nominee Joe Biden. Her cell phone rang. About 4,000 signs were still at a warehouse and getting them in would be difficult because of security clearances.
But Loos could not dwell on it long. A staffer came over with an itinerary showing at what time certain props would be brought out. "Yeah, I don't want flags," Loos said disapprovingly.
The stress wore on her face, partially covered in long curly blonde hair and black rimmed glasses, and in the slight tremble of her hands.
The concentrated look spoke of a highly organized person, but Loos said she's not particularly fastidious.
"An organized person would freak out right now," she said.
Loos grew up in Nebraska and got an early start in politics. "Eighth grade," she said apologetically. "It sounds kind of nerdy."
But the experience with Bob Kerry's gubernatorial campaign set her on a course that led her to Florida in 2001, where she worked for Bill McBride's bid to unseat Gov. Jeb Bush. She planned to leave but met her boyfriend Dan Reynolds, Broward County president for the AFL-CIO. The couple share a home in Hollywood with their dog, Stetson.
When the convention is over, Loos will go back to Florida to rest. She plans to stay involved with the Obama campaign.
"Hopefully," she said, "I can work for the inaugural."