Did you know there will be more than double the amount of volunteers than participants involved in the Ironman World Championships this weekend?
Staging such a large event requires a big army of people, and apart from the Ironman Staff and Crew, there are lots of people who volunteer to set up, pull down, check in and of course, man the aid stations and catch the finishers at the finish line.
This afternoon, I will be trotting off to help at bike check-in on the Kailua-Kona Pier. Only a couple of hours of my time (and really nothing compared to how much time so many others give) but an experience I thoroughly enjoyed last time I was here in Kona. So I eagerly registered again when I knew we were returning, as I loved feeling part of this special race and meeting some of the athletes, many of who had dreamed for years of competing in Hawaii and couldn’t believe it was really happening! They were living their dream and I was a very small part of it by helping them prepare for the day ahead.
There are so many roles you can take on as a volunteer individually or as a group (often local communities and clubs together work on a certain section or aid station – and do it every year!) What impresses me the most at triathlons (both at Ironman and at our own local club races) are the people who volunteer again and again and again. They give selfishly for the love of the sport and they genuinely get so much enjoyment from doing it. They also willing give their time and energy for no financial gain.
One such person who I have been able to get to know personally is Bev Thorsen. Bev and her husband Geoff live on the Northern Beaches of Sydney (Australia) not far from me and have been an integral part of the Warringah Triathlon Club for many years. Geoff Thorsen has been racing Ironman and competing year in, year out for many years. He is a legend known by most in triathlon in Australia and he is here competing on Saturday for the 23r time. Bev started volunteering when Geoff did his first Hawaiian triathlon in 1989, but it wasn’t until 1992 that she took it on more seriously. She loved the catching competitors at the finish line but worked a lot in T1. 21 years later and she now has the role of managing bike check-in which she has been doing for many years.
So what does it involve to take on such a big co-orindating role as a volunteer? Well when I caught up with Bev last weekend it was already beginning. There was meetings to be had, lists to be made, instructions to be written for her volunteer army (people from all over the world and many who have never volunteered in bike check in before) and yesterday I saw her lifting garbage bins from trucks, directing set up of racks and being the ‘go to’ person for everyone coming and going from T1.
This year 2200 athletes and their bikes and bags need to be racked and hung all in 5.5 hours with approximately 150 volunteers assisting by escorting each one around the pier (yes in Hawaii you get your own escort) and Bev will be up front of Bike Check in (along with many other regularly volunteers) making sure the rest of us (not so experienced ones) do the job well.
So why does Bev take on such a huge role every year in Hawaii? “It was more for me feeling a part of triathlon than just sitting around. Geoff understands that I need to do something, just like I understand why he needs to race.” Bev and Geoff are called “temporary Hawaiians” these days and they love calling it their home for a couple of months a year. They have many friends on the Big Island and she returns not only to be inspired by all who visit to compete but also to be part of the volunteering and race community.
When asked about why people should volunteer (and for me the obvious reasons is giving back to the sport you love for both competitors and spectators), Bev says here at the Ironman World Championships “it gives you a chance to see up close how athletes prepare for the huge effort of doing an Ironman’”.
I am guessing that it’s probably not too late to volunteer your time at some stage for race day tomorrow if you are here in Kona and can spare some of your time. You can find details HERE. They continue their calls outs until the last minute as when people volunteer you can also be guaranteed no-shows and under-staffing. You have to be 16 years old or over and you may not have a wide choice of what you do or where you will be but I can promise you that you will feel like you have played a small part in a special event and in the process maybe helped a competitor live out his or her dream.
In Bev’s words “ it’s a great way of feeling that you are part of the triathlon community even if you are not able to participate.”
So if you are checking in today as an athlete don’t forget a BIG thank you to Bev or anyone else who is helping you with your pre-race processes or enquiries, and when it comes to race day make sure you give all those volunteers a big smile and thank you no matter how you are feeling – they are doing their best and they will be helping and cheering you all the way to the finish line!!