Triathlon - A Volunteer View

author : lmscozz
comments : 4

My experience as a volunteer at a sprint triathlon. My reasons for arising before the sun were not to work out, but to volunteer. I wanted to give back to a sport I’m learning to love.

On the drive over, the moon was golden and nearly full as it sank toward the Pacific. The roads were so empty; I saw just two cars on the way to an on ramp to I-5 and caught every green light. On a drive that usually takes 20 minutes, I was to the freeway in less than half that time. I sipped some black tea and hoped it would give me the jolt I needed to stand and direct triathlete traffic and play cheerleader for six hours.

My reasons for arising before the sun were not to work out, but to volunteer. I wanted to give back to a sport I’m learning to love. While I’ve only done two sprint triathlons so far and a couple of half marathons, I’ve learned what a difference the volunteers can make. From cheering on the sidelines on that last mile of a half marathon, to handing you a cup of water when you’re parched and close to fading, to stopping traffic as you’re rounding a busy intersection on the bike, to providing some hand sanitizer at the after event snack tables, the volunteers I’ve encountered have been friendly and supportive. They have softened the edges of piercing nervous energy and boosted the confidence of this newbie, often with a simple smile.

As my first minutes of volunteering began, I found my body marking team captain and was led to the transition area. The bike racks were set up in the parking lot above Moonlight Beach and not one two-wheeler or triathlete was there yet -- just us volunteers, milling around in our blue race event shirts, eagerly holding our Sharpie super markers like a weapon ready to strike. When I got there it was completely dark, except for the small lights some race organizers had on the brim of their caps. If they looked at you to talk, the light shone right in your eye--a direct beam like a perpetual camera flash, so blinding you couldn't look at them directly.

Slowly, the natural light dawned and the sun rose like a shining yellow tennis ball still fuzzy from just coming out of the sealed can. Puffy layers of mist and fog curtained the distant hills. The ocean water was flat, like a washed down driveway, dark and smooth. From my vantage point in the cliffs above, only small ripples rode in and slightly
tossed the buoys side to side. Only when a jet-ski pierced the waves did you see any white foam.

The racks awaiting the bikes were like skeletons waiting for flesh. The racers dressed them with bikes, helmets, water bottles, wash basins, towels and shoes. Some athletes walked around and chatted with familiar faces. Some paced. Some stretched. Most of them smiled back when you smiled at them. Some needed tape because their helmet sticker wouldn't stay stuck. Some visited the porta-potties over and over again. Another asked me, “Do you wear your race bib during the bike?” Apparently, my powder blue event staff T-shirt gave me the appearance of someone in the know. Thankfully, even with my limited experience, I could give an informed answer.

The Australian-accented MC began to announce wave starts and the last minute arrivals searched the now well-adorned racks for a spot to place their bike. Some late comers, obviously rushed, splayed out their gear while the elite athletes were already into T1 -- mounting the clip-in pedals and donning aero-helmets.

"Racers coming through. Keep the area clear," a fellow race organizer/volunteer chanted as the wetsuit-clad and dripping swimmers transformed into bikers in mere minutes.

"Careful. It's slippery on the corner," another volunteer repeatedly told racers leaving T1, like an overprotective mother.

At about the halfway point of the swim, I was moved from the transition area to help direct bike traffic at the beginning of the bike leg. I was just basically a body to stand and tell bikers to "stay between the cones." I watched as some racers were proficient at mounting their bikes, shoes already attached to pedals and then slipping their feet into their shoes while spinning. Other, not so practiced riders, struggled to get clipped-in or slide their foot into the cage. Some wobbled down the orange-cone lined path like Kindergarteners on their first two-wheeler, perhaps still woozy from being horizontal in the salt water of the Pacific for up to 30 minutes. I took mental notes on how some cyclists made the transition from swimmer to biker seamlessly.

While the triathlon was still in the bike phase for most of the field, I heard the MC announce the elite racers as they sprinted to the finish line. If I were racing today, this is where I would be – with the middle to back-of-packers and only hoping for a personal best, struggling to know how hard to push on the bike and not leave my legs too trashed for a strong run.

My last volunteer assignment of the day was to check people out of transition, making sure they were leaving with the same bike they came in with. I tried to remember to greet each person as I had been greeted at my previous events – with a smile, a “Good job,” and/or “Did you have a good race?”

Like ants on a food trail, the athletes lined up to the exit gates, rolled their bikes with backpacks and gear bags in tow. But the energy was different than when they first began trickling in four hours prior. While some people looked completely spent from their athletic adventure of the day, others beamed, and still others (mostly the well-sculpted bodies of the group) looked like they’d just completed their warm up and were now ready for the real workout.

What they all had in common was an unseen energy – a kinetic vibe, if you will. Perhaps it was the adrenaline and endorphins garnered from their swim, bike, run. Perhaps it was a sense of accomplishment after weeks or months of training. I knew that feeling, and it is glorious!

I carried some of that kinetic energy with me on the now traffic-laden drive home. Just as if I was compiling a race report, I silently rated my volunteer performance. My ability to answer most questions the athletes asked of me: average. Ability to direct bike traffic: average. Cheerleading and “atta boy/girls” dispensed: Above average. Checking bikes and athletes out of the transition area with a smile and last minute cheer: Above average. The feeling you get from volunteering at a well-run triathlon: Priceless.


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date: July 5, 2008


Family, friends, dogs, kitties, human potentiality, good books, good conversation, Buddhism,poetry, running, triathlon (of course). Life in general includimg mine and the lives of those I come into contact with.


Family, friends, dogs, kitties, human potentiality, good books, good conversation, Buddhism,poetry, running, triathlon (of course). Life in general includimg mine and the lives of those I come into contact with.

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