As soon as I heard Abbey was going to do the race, I knew I’d be there to cheer her on. And, since I was going to be there, I might as well volunteer. After all, I so appreciate the volunteers who line the courses at the races I do.
There was a lot of confusion on behalf of the volunteer coordinators, I think. It started with near begging via Facebook and Twitter for more volunteers, since they didn’t have enough — right up to the day of the race, actually. So, since I didn’t have any plans, I offered to pick up a couple of shifts. I arrived at my first shift at the swim course at 5:30, as assigned. The first wave of swimmers wasn’t due to take to the water until 7:15. Well, between 5:30 and 7, I asked four different coordinators for a job, and they all told me “Just hang out here and wait.” I carried a few jugs of water to various places, but after an hour and a half of hanging out and waiting, I realized that they didn’t need me — it would have been nice to know that before I rushed back from my family function last night so I could get a full night’s sleep before waking up at 4 a.m.
But, that left me free to watch the first few waves of swimmers take off. Watching the Half Ironman competitors take to the water was honestly awe inspiring. The power these men and women carry in their arms was just unbelievable. Plus, I got to watch Abbey enter the water before I had to head out to my place on the run course.
My spot on the run course was about a half mile into the run, which all athletes (sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman) passed. It was so neat watching all of these people at different levels competing in a race they’d worked so hard for. It was an out-and-back course for the sprint and Olympic runners and an out-and-back-out-and-back for the Half Ironman runners. Seriously, I couldn’t believe how fast some of these runners were moving — and with such good form! It was inspiring and motivating. And, it was nearly 90 degrees out by the time the end of the run course came around!
Unfortunately, there were a couple of other snafus with the course and the training the volunteers received. But nothing that affected the outcome of the races (at least as far as I could tell). I mean, my “free lunch and bottled water for volunteers” never showed up and I ended up standing in the hot sun being eaten by mosquitoes (I literally swatted 10 of them off my leg at once) listening to my stomach growl. But, I didn’t do it for the free lunch. Besides, I had thought ahead and brought snacks and a couple bottles of water (how miserable would I have been if I’d been volunteering from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in 90-degree weather without food or water?).
So, it wasn’t a perfect experience — it was the first-ever Grand Rapids Triathlon, after all. But I’d most definitely do it again. For other races, too. The experience was so amazing. It was super inspiring watching these athletes compete.
In closing, I’d like to offer a piece of advice to my fellow athletes:
- Please remember to thank the volunteers (and police officers and EMTs and race coordinators) when you pass them on the course. I’ve always done this because I think it’s important to show your appreciation when people do good things in your life. But I didn’t realize how much the volunteers appreciate hearing it. Really, they’re out there in the heat being eaten by mosquitoes and smiling and clapping and cheering for you — for hours at a time, sometimes without even a bathroom break.
- Please sign up to be a volunteer at races when you have the opportunity. It’s inspiring to watch other athletes compete. But, more than that, it’s important to give back — without the volunteers at your race, there wouldn’t be a race.
- Please be courteous and try not to spit right on a volunteer’s foot. There’s lots of bare ground around, and a foot can be avoided.
And when you do volunteer:
- Please don’t be afraid to clap and cheer and give any kind of encouragement you can. Those competing in the event most definitely appreciate it. Your smile might be the one thing that gives them the extra “oompf” they need to get them to the finish line.
- Please remember to pack water and snacks and sunscreen and hand sanitizer. Oh, yeah, and bug spray. My legs have so very many mosquito bites on them that it’s almost impossible to count them.