Volunteers do it for free

You know what’s fun? Going to a triathlon without any pressure of competing.

Last Saturday I woke up at 3:45 a.m. Voluntarily. But I had to! I signed up to be a volunteer for the Beaches Fine Arts Sprint Triathlon (BFAST). I received my “job” the day before the race: body marker. Yep, I got to write on everyone.  Since the race started at 7 a.m. and the participants need their number before then, body marking volunteers had a report time of 5 a.m.–and I live 45 minutes away.

You know who else is on the road at 4:30 in the morning?

No one.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen my ranting because I caught two red lights. Where I obediently sat.By myself. Crazy town.

But, despite the early hour and schedule-sabotaging lights, I was pumped! As in, I surprised myself I was so excited. I danced to the radio the whole 45-minute drive (do you do this? I think anyone can shake their butt…it takes mad skillz to dance just with your upper body and not use cruise control 🙂 ).

Once I parked, my dance party of one ended and I made my way through the dark to a big tent oasis. Where I was promptly redirected to a woman providing donuts, coffee and paperwork out of her SUV hatch. Yes, *that* was the volunteer check-in area. But she was so sweet and welcoming. And c’mon, free donuts are free donuts!

Krispy Kreme to the rescue.

She signed me in and issued me a snazzy, bright orange volunteer shirt. I made a big cup of coffee and headed over to the big tent again where the participants had begun to show up. Those numbers weren’t going to write themselves!

By 5:30 a.m., you can start to barely make out the palm tree shadows through the lightening sky.

Someone else in a snazzy volunteer shirt shoved a permanent marker at me and said, “Here! Write on them with this. Don’t take it home with you and ask one of the tall blond girls what to do.”

So, I set my coffee down and hunted for any tall blond girl who knew anything about my assignment. Despite me curiously looking each “girl” up and down as I came across them (they were taller than me but were they theeee tall girls? This one has more light brownish hair. Do I interrupt this one and ask if she knows what the heck their doing? Very awkward.

Luckily, I found two very tall and very blond girls chatting and most importantly also holding markers. They were more than happy to meet me and show me the ropes of body marking. Whoo! They told me simply:

  • Find out the racer’s bib number.
  • Make sure it’s right.
  • Write it vertically on both biceps and front left leg.
  • Get their age and write that on their left calf.

OK, I can do that! Just let me get my coffee…And as I turned around, I could see another volunteer cleaning up a spill from an abandoned cup of coffee that took a hit from a backpack. Poor cup of coffee never saw it coming and I remained caffeine free for the remainder of the event. Back to work.

I wish I had pictures of these amazing people I got to write on. But, I was working hard instead. There were 500 people in this event and I easily marked 200 of them. For each person: yell above the noise, “what’s your number?” and grab them to tattoo that number all over. Then crouch down in front of them and write their age on the back of their lower leg. Many of them were holding their bicycles and wearing backpacks with helmets and such attached so leaning all the way to the ground to avoid getting beaned in the head by one was a challenge. I (mostly) succeeded.

I got to briefly talk with many of them and learn a little about them. I figured since they were about to work really hard, the least I could do was be encouraging and pleasant, right? And can I just tell you how many seriously toned and impressive people there were over the age of 40? Not that I think someone over 40 can’t do triathlons, but I guess in my naivety, it surprised me. Hollywood had nothing on these folks! Here were some of my highlights:

  • One guy who was 75 years old—we high-fived.
  • One woman was there with her 16-year-old daughter—She was so cute and proud of her daughter, I motioned her over and wrote the daughter’s number and “MOM!” on her arm so she could be part of the excitement.
  • Three 12-year-olds were participating as a team with each taking a leg of the race—So cute! I told them they were a power team. Go team 500!
  • Another woman was bib number three–With such a low number, I asked if she was special. She said she knew she had a target on her back. I told her I could draw one; we laughed. She said she wanted a smiley face. So I drew a big one on her right calf…right after I wrote “catch me if you can!”

Before I knew it, it had been two hours and my job was over! The very nice lady who checked me in said they had some volunteer no-shows. She asked me to stay to flag cyclists. Why not?

I shoved two donuts in my mouth (I had held out on the donuts so far, but if I was staying another two hours, I needed fuel!) and jumped in the transport car while the triathletes lined up to start their swim.

I didn’t notice until I was setting cones in the road around some sand that it was bright and breezy outside. Hey, the sun came up afterall!

A beautiful day at a roundabout.

The lead coordinator said I should make sure the cyclists had a safe route (no sand or rocks in the path) and to feel free to cheer them on. He had no idea who he was talking to. I had been doing that since 5 a.m.! But that didn’t stop me. As they whizzed by I whooped and hooted and yelled things like, “yeah, looking good, keep it up, great job, nice job, that’s how you do it…,” over and over as I watched for people with my handwriting on them.

When the last cyclist rode by, I headed to the car only to be told we had to wait for them to come back. “Don’t forget to be enthusiastic!” the lead coordinator reminded. So as they came around, I started to panic. They already listened to my goofy small talk to get numbered, then I told them they looked go as they wheezed and blew snot rockets riding by, now their seeing me again. I need new material!

Did that stop me? Nope. Again, I waved my flag and hollered out, “almost free, almost home, stay right, sand on your left, doing great, I feel good–you feel good?” Some people even said thank you as they rode by. Can you imagine? They just swam a quarter-mile and are finishing a 13-mile bike portion, and they are thanking me for standing there. Naturally, all I could do was smile and respond, “Anytime!” and occasionally, “do it again tomorrow?”

As we waited for the last few cyclists, the skies started to change. Weather had been a concern all day and it finally started to look like it was going to live up to the forecasts.

Starting to get nervous about the clouds rolling in.

But no lightning, no thunder, and so as they finished pedaling past, we packed up and headed in. As we drove back to the We enjoyed bad-mouthing all the stupid drivers that almost clipped cyclists and completely ignored the sheriff’s hand signals to stop or go or slow down.

One person ran over the cones we blocked off a road with. Another drove the wrong way down a one-way just to avoid the blockade. I defintely learned a lot from that new perspective. For safety sake and so volunteers don’t bad-mouth you, please pay attention when driving, especially during a special event.

The participants were finishing with a 5K (3.1 miles). I could’ve just left…but I decided to stay and cheer. I know these people were wondering why I keep turning up but I was having a blast. I was truly proud of these complete strangers. “Finish strong, you can do it, this is it, hit it hard, don’t let the weakness win, you got this!”

Waiting to cheer at the finish line.

Once most people had come through, I took Native Sun (one of the sponsors) up on their offer of some food and headed home.

Vanilla yogurt with fresh black and blueberries.

Mmmmmmm. It was cool and refreshing. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you as I walked to my car, a raindrop hit my face. Once I shut my car door and backed out of my parking space, the rain came down.

Still with me? That’s my (long-winded) experience at a triathlon. I truly had a good time, and I hope that the race hosts and participants did, too.

Have you been anywhere new lately? Ever been to a triathlon? Maybe you’ve made a fool of yourself for someone’s benefit? If you’ve ever competed in an athletic event of any kind, how to you feel about strangers cheering you on? Creepy? Annoying? Grateful? Humorous? Do tell…I may go back next year! 🙂


4 responses to “Volunteers do it for free

  1. Pingback: C25K: Week 11 report | Greenhorn Living

  2. Pingback: C25K: Week 12 report | Greenhorn Living

  3. I rode a 150-mile bike ride for MS. Boy, did I appreciate the volunteers. Three in particular made peanut butter-and-no-jelly sandwiches and clapped for me as I rode in for lunch. It inspired me and gave me just the little ‘somethun’ to go the extra mile, and the next mile, and the next mile, …and the next, and the next…..and the…

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