IM Louiville

IM Louiville
Bikes racked at Ironman Louisville 2010

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Volunteering at IMWI

I have entered so many races. I realize that our sport could not be what it is without the volunteers. With that in mind, I decided to volunteer at IMWI this year, the "scene" of my first Ironman, just one year ago. I tried to be a wetsuit stripper, but that job was full. And after someone mentioned all the pee that would be sprayed on me as I did that job, I was just a little thankful that I didn't get that spot! I forgot about how we all pee in the wetsuit before a race! ICK!

So, I ended up being a volunteer in the T1 change tent. Because I had raced Ironman before, I felt I knew everything there was to know about T1 and how best to help the athletes. I couldn't be more wrong.

There was very little instruction given to us the morning of the event. There was a special volunteer meeting the day before, but I had missed it. Basically, we were told to stand near the entrance of the T1 area and "claim" the athletes as they started running through. There were about 25 of us and it seemed there were too many volunteers for this area.

We chatted a bit and I learned that most of these women were not first-time volunteers to this race. The first 2 athletes I saw were the women pros. But as Andrea Fisher ran into T1, I stood in awe and couldn't believe she was right there in front of me. I frowned when I heard someone ask, "Hey, isn't that a guy...and what's he doing here in the women's changing tent?" But I'll bet Andrea gets that a lot. She's very tall and very muscular, but I assure you, she's very much a woman!!

I ran over to help her with the very small amount of things she had in her bag for T1. I asked her what she needed and she said "vest". As she put her helmet on, I helped her on with what I thought was a very flimsy vest, given the weather conditions. Before she could get finished, Hillary (forget her last name) ran in. She was fast as lightning through the transition and, though Andrea had a good 20 second lead into T1, Hillary blew out of there before Andrea even got up off the chair. I couldn't believe these two were going out in this weather (the high was supposed to be around 61 degrees and RAINY) wearing almost exactly what they swam in. But these are professionals, and I just wanted them to have the most speedy, efficient transition as possible.

And within seconds, they were both gone. All the volunteers simply looked at each other. It was amazing. Within the next few minutes, Lauren Jensen ran in. Yeah, OK, she ticked me off at Pleasant Prairie, but I'm still starstruck by her and I helped her get her socks and shoes on. She also pulled on armwarmers and definitely took the time to get dressed appropriately for the brutally chilly day ahead. The pros sort of whisper to you what they need as they try to catch their breath and flawlessly get ready for the next leg of the race. This was the 3rd professional I had the opportunity to watch and help prepare for the 112 mile ride, and I felt so honored. I think my hands were shaking more than theirs!

In the next 10 minutes, several quick age groupers came in. As I checked my watch, I knew this was the group I would be in, had I been racing. These women were also very quick to change clothes and put on gear and sort of whispered to you what they needed. They had just swam 2.4 miles and ran up this spiral parking garage thing, so they were still trying to lower their heart rates and catch their breath. They weren't as smooth and fluid as the professionals, but these women were great athletes, and they knew it. It was all about business...get them ready and get them out of there!

Things I had to keep reminding myself were: 1)ASK them if you can dump their bag before you do it, and 2)ASK them what they want first. I kept having a tendency to give them what I would put on first. What sucks is that I got better at it as the day went on, but the faster athletes were the ones who would have appreciated it more.

I helped women put on shirts and bras that just seem to stick to you and roll up when you're wet. I helped women stretch out arm warmers over their cold, wet arms when their fingers could move enough to make a difference. I helped women pull on socks over their almost-numb toes so they could try to warm up before they got on that bike. The consensus was that this was a tough swim. Very choppy. And yes, I agreed, as I looked out at the water before the race started, I knew these athletes were in for a rough day. The swim was just the beginning.

The women were so thankful. I cannot count the amount of times the women told me thank you, you're wonderful, you know just what I need, I appreciate you being here, I couldn't do this without your help, and one woman even told me she loved me and kissed me on the cheek! OK, well that was a little weird, but, hey, she was doing and Ironman, how bad could she be????!?

I had 2 good friends racing and I knew they'd be in T1 between 1:20 and 1:30. So at that point, I looked around for them...and it was the most amazing site. There were women EVERYWHERE. They just plunked down wherever there was a free space, and they were just quietly changing all on their own. The volunteers were overwhelmed and there weren't enough of us to go around. It was complete chaos! The sweat dripped down my forehead and cheeks as I ran from athlete to athlete trying to help them in any way I could. I knew how valuable these volunteers were to me when I raced, and I wanted them to have the same positive experience I had.

By this time, these women took their time. I had one woman who had more stuff in her T1 bag than I have in my whole bathroom! She wiped her face with a towel, put on deoderant, chamois butter, sunscreen (there was no sun this day), a bandaid on a new blister and...get this...lip gloss. Then she wiped her face with the towel again. But she was cool. She was out there, doing her first Ironman. So I tried to hurry her along, but she wasn't having any of it. She was going to take her sweet time in T1 and get ready for this painfully long day she had ahead of her. I saw her several times throughout the day. And she looked strong and happy.

I tried to calm myself down, because for these athletes, the T1 time was irrelevant. I had to keep reminding myself that these women are just trying to complete the race. The time was unimportant, as long as it was under 17 hours. And I tried to calm them down, tell them they were doing a great job, the hard part was over. So many of them complained that the water was brutal, and the slow swim times posted verified their complaints. But they made it.

The racers then started trickling in. The volunteers began just standing around as we did in the beginning. We smiled, nodded and all just relished in the awesome experience we just shared. Then we were told the swim was cut off. That's it, anyone who wasn't out of the water already would not be allowed to continue. A few people came in and moved on because they entered the water in time and it just took them time to get to T1. There were 17 lonely T1 gear bags scattered numerically in the room where over 2600 bags were once placed. Then a woman in a wetsuit walked in. The tears in her eyes were all we volunteers needed to see to realize she had not made the cut off. As she picked up her T1 bag and slowly walked over to the changing area, she was shaking her head and muttered, "It was so hard out there. I gave it everything I had."

I couldn't look at her anymore. I was so overwhelmed with emotion thinking about the time and energy this woman must've put in for this race and her dreams were just stripped away from her. She hadn't missed the cut-off by much, but the rouh conditions are what probably robbed her from this experience. I took a deep breath and walked to the other side of the room to pre-occupy myself with some menial task until she left the changing tent. My heart went out to her, but I couldn't face her.

Then it was time to get the bags in numerical order and put them back in the very same room that the athletes had taken them from. After seeing the disorganization after everyone had passed through, I decided it was amazing that any of us get our stuff back after an Ironman!! The volume of athletes running through there in such a short time is amazing. I helped put all the bags back in order and smiled. All these women were out now on the bike course, attacking the rest of this excruciatingly long day. And we had helped them get there. I felt awesome. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. It was truly an amazing day.


Anonymous said...

i'm gonna print this one and take it on vacation to read

Bernie Conway said...

Thanks for volunteering MJ.

RunBubbaRun said...

Thanks for volunteering, it was a crazy day.