Volunteering at IMWI

I’ve been asked why I put forth so much time + effort to volunteer at races when I’m not a participant. That is such an easy answer…I do it because I LOVE IT! I LOVE supporting other, I LOVE the energy that surrounds race day, and I LOVE seeing the joy radiate from the athletes when they achieve something they once thought was impossible. I LOVE watching them cross that finish line and all the emotions that come with it!

Last weekend, I volunteered to be the captain of the women’s change area at Ironman Wisconsin and a few myths came about throughout the day that I want to take a few minutes to dispel.

  1. “I didn’t know that the volunteers moved all of our gear. I thought paid Ironman employees did all of this and that it was just magically done when we finished the race.” As an athlete, our race fees do not pay for all the moving around of our gear, directing of traffic (yes some officers get paid for this, but the volunteers on course don’t), and handing out water + food on the course; even the staff in the medical tent are volunteers.
  2. “I thought our race fees went to paying for people to work the even like you.” I am not paid. The captains of different areas are also volunteers. We are not paid for the time we spend emailing all of our volunteers, coordinating all of our volunteers, running the area we are volunteering in, and making all of the decisions we have to make throughout the day (no matter how difficult they may be to keep athletes safe)…but I wouldn’t change it for the all the money in the world!
  3. “If you don’t get paid, do you at least get a free entry into a race?” The captains of different areas are not given a free entry into a future event. We are given a free shirt, cap, and lanyard…nothing more. We do this because we LOVE supporting others, LOVE the race day atmosphere, and LOVE seeing the smiles on so many faces when we get to help athletes throughout the day.
The many volunteers in T1 at Ironman Wisconsin!

Remember to thank a volunteer when you are racing. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to do what you love (or it would cost so much more)!

Ironman Wisconsin Weekend

Sunday, September 13 was Ironman Wisconsin. We have been going to Madison for Ironman Wisconsin weekend since 2010…on the years we are not racing, we volunteer and help out the athletes racing. It is such an amazing experience…surrounded by inspiration, motivation, positive energy, like-minded people, drive, determination, passion, courage, bravery, fortitude and a multitude of other positive and uplifting feelings and emotions.

This year, our intentions were to volunteer at the “Morning Clothes Bags” area and then cheer on friends throughout the day. On Saturday, a friend of ours (Kari is the co-captain for the women’s change “tent”…both T1 and T2) asked me if I could help her out in T1 and T2. The captain of the women’s change tent is fighting stage 4 cancer and is in a LOT of pain. She made the decision not to come to the race venue on Sunday, so Kari needed help. I knew I had to step up and spend my whole day volunteering instead of going out on the course and cheering on friends. Kari needed me (since she was taking on the role of captain on race day) and I knew all of the women athletes would benefit from having me in T1 and T2. Sometimes being flexible is necessary.

Race morning in front of the Capitol.
Race morning in front of the Capitol.

When we volunteer, we wake up just as early as we do when we are racing. We made our way to the swim start area by 5 am on Sunday morning to help set up the “Morning Clothes Bags” area and get ready for all of the athletes to make their way to the swim start.

Morning clothes bags set up
Morning clothes bags set up
Swim start/exit arch
Swim start/exit arch
Race morning...who is ready to swim?!?!?!
Race morning…who is ready to swim?!?!?!

As the athletes came down the helix to the swim start, I was yelling, “Bag drop to your left.” Many athletes in the past have gotten down to the swim start and have not dropped off their morning clothes bag, so I was trying to prevent this from happening this year by letting them know they were passing the morning clothes bag area on their way to the swim start. Needless to say, I was nearly hoarse by the swim start, but I had MANY thankful athletes. Most even told me they could hear me as they were walking down the helix, so I guess my “teacher voice” paid off on race morning 🙂

At 6:45, I quickly made my way up the helix to view the swim start from the top of Monona Terrace and then made my way into the women’s change “tent” for T1.

A beautiful morning for an Ironman floating swim start
A beautiful morning for an Ironman floating swim start
Who's going to be an Ironman today?!?!?!?!
Who’s going to be an Ironman today?!?!?!?!

T1 is ALWAYS INSANE…so many athletes coming through at about the same time and all needing help changing and getting ready for the bike. This typically leads to one volunteer trying to help 5 (or more) athletes at a time. All athletes need to cross the timing mat into T1 by 9:20 am. This gives them 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the 2.4 mile swim. For some athletes that do not make this time cut-off, the volunteers take on the role of counselor. Thankfully, this did not happen in the women’s change tent on Sunday morning.

The women volunteers in T1
The women volunteers in T1

After sending over a 1000 women out on the bike, we moved and organized their T1 bags putting them in numerical order so their T2 and morning clothes bags could be attached to them before athletes/sherpas could pick them up after 6 pm.

At 11 am, I grabbed a quick bite to eat at The Great Dane, went back to our home stay to shower and then made my way back to Monona Terrace by 1 pm to prepare for T2. The afternoon change is never as crazy as the morning change. The women are more spread out in the afternoon, so we typically have one volunteer to one athlete…on a rare occasion, 2 athletes to 1 volunteer.

The athletes are in a much different head space coming off of the bike than they are when they exit the water. Volunteers in T2 become cheerleaders, motivators and counselors more frequently than they do in T1. Some athletes are still in great shape (both physically and mentally) coming in off the bike and are ready to go run a marathon. This is when the volunteers take on the role of cheerleader and continue to feed positive energy to the athletes as they go out for their run. Some athletes come off their bike so exhausted that they don’t want to go on. This is when the volunteers take on the role of motivator, reminding the athletes why they are here and encouraging them to continue on. Other athletes don’t make the bike cut-off of 5:30 pm and are told their day is done before they come in to T2. This is when the volunteers take on the role of counselor, listening to their story, giving them a shoulder to cry on and reminding them that they are NOT a failure.

All athletes need to be off the bike (which is 112 miles) by 5:30 pm, and we had a few women who did not make this cut. As a result, I had to step into the role of counselor for a bit before getting their gear bags for them and directing them back to their bike for pick up. After all athletes left the change area, we tied all of the athlete’s T2 bags to the morning clothes and T1 bags so that athletes and/or sherpas could start picking up their gear shortly after 6 pm. Unfortunately we weren’t ready right at 6 pm…the men always have a MUCH bigger mess than the women, so we had to help them get organized. 😉

Once our shift was over, I had to run some lost and found items to the information tent near the finish shoot and return some timing chips to the finish line for athletes that withdrew or did not make the time cut-offs throughout the day. At about 7 pm, I finally made my way back to the condo we were staying at to eat some leftover Thai food for dinner. It was at this point that the Iron Hippie and I decided we would be driving home Sunday night instead of waiting until Monday morning. Our logic was…all of the athletes we had come to cheer on had already crossed the finish line, so if we stayed up until midnight, we might as well sleep in our own bed and have all day Monday to regroup at home instead of spending half of the day driving back. Without further thought, we loaded the Rav and hit the road, pulling into our driveway shortly after midnight.

I LOVE Ironman Wisconsin and plan to go there to race or volunteer/cheer every year that I am physically able! If you have not volunteered at an Ironman event, I HIGHLY recommend it! The energy is amazing 🙂

Do you have a race/event that you love to be a part of every year (racing and/or volunteering)? If so, what is it? Why do you take part in this event?

What is the furthest you’ve traveled to volunteer/spectate at a race?