I found this quote a long time ago (author unknown) and I have yet to find a better way to sum up volunteerism.
I love to volunteer. I am serious. Volunteering has always been a part of my life. As a kid I gave time to neighborhood cleanups, worked at carnivals and helped at school events. In high school I was a key member of Interact Rotary Group and spent many weekends in nursing homes or hospitals. At Christmas we Adopted Families (14 my senior year!) and every Easter we participated in Service to Suffering in Trenton, NJ. The summer after I graduated I spent time in Beattysville, KY working on two different houses for Habitat for Humanity. After I graduated I would do little things here and there but really didn’t volunteer as much as I would have liked. It was something I missed greatly in my life; knowing I am making life a little easier for someone else is a great feeling. Volunteering always rewarded me in ways money could never. So when I joined my Tri-Sports team I was more than willing to volunteer races. I thought I would just be helping out, making things a little easier…and of course I was, but I had NO idea how much volunteering races would also help me as an athlete.
Last year I volunteered numerous races- each one was a different experience. What I learned most was what to look for in a race and the serious importance of race volunteers. From being on-site at races, in different areas (I have volunteered at swim, the transitions, the dismount area and the finish line) and from racing events myself, I know that races cannot safely and efficiently be coordinated without volunteers. I also know from being there what to look for in a race. I have chosen my races this year based on last year. If the water was gross or the bike/run course was bad, I passed…but if it got good feedback then I thought about it for this year. All three definite tri’s I have planned for this year are ones I volunteered at last year, as are the ones on my “maybe list”. Furthermore, volunteering has given me an up close look at the mechanics of racing. I carefully watch people, especially in transition, so see what I can do to make my racing experiences a little easier.
Today I volunteered my first race of the season, a small sprint tri that is part of a series of tri’s throughout the summer. I have volunteered for these directors before and I generally like their races. (There was a small issue today that really agitated me but that’s another day and another entry). Many of my teammates either participate in their races or volunteer for them so we always have a big presence there. Today was a small turnout, not shocking for this early in the season, but like with every race volunteers were definitely needed. Today I helped at the Bike In/Out and here are just a few things that would have happened if I wasn’t there: three people would have went out without a helmet, one guy would have continued on with his helmet on backward, five people would have missed the bike entrance completely, three would have missed the chip mat and four people would have ran out the bike out and been totally off course. I know I made a difference in those people’s races.
The helping out is great and knowing I made a difference is obviously awesome, but what I love most is being able to be someone’s cheerleader. Sure it is exciting to cheer on the leaders but it’s so important to me that every person feels like a winner so I cheer every person on. Even the last one. All too often people are still finishing the bike (and have to run still) while the leaders are already done and leaving for the day. That can really do a number mentally to a person, so for every person that comes through that mat I make sure to clap and give them support. I have been a part of races where there is a lot of support and it makes such a huge difference from the races where no one is cheering you along.
Without volunteers there are no day-of registrations, there are no water stations and no road markings. There is no one to keep you on course and there isn’t any food at the end of the race. Most of all, there is no one along the way to cheer on those of us in the back of the pack and there is no one to help out the rookies.
If I could give any advice, I would recommend to anyone who races, to also volunteer a race at some point. And if you don’t volunteer, I just ask that you recognize and thank those of us who do. Volunteers get up earlier than racers, do a lot of work behind the scenes and really make the events possible. Yeah we get to eat the free food and it is nice when they let you take home some free swag or even better get a free race entry, but honestly, the best payment is a thank-you.