This past weekend Yeller and I decided to volunteer for the Esprit de She, an all female triathlon benefiting ovarian cancer research. They had sprint (750m swim, 20K bike, 5K run) and super sprint (half that) distances as well as a duathlon (2K run, 20K bike, 5K run). We knew a bunch of people participating, but we had a wedding the night before, so getting up at 4:30 am to compete wasn’t in the cards for Yeller.

Instead we woke up at 4:30 am to volunteer.

Up at 4:30, on the road by around 5am, in the lot at 5:20. We were lucky enough to find parking near everything, so we didn’t have to walk very far. After wandering around to find the volunteer check in, we got our shirts and our first assignments: help mark the athletes.

In triathlon, the athletes are marked with their bib number on their arm (sometimes both), and their age on their calf. The arm number makes sense, identify who you are, the age I never understood until someone explained it. People are broken up into groups, or waves: Pro level, Elite level, Age group, and then some special groups like military, challenged, a specific fund raising group, etc. Having your age visible adds some competitiveness to the event since you can see if you’re being passed, or running down someone in your age group… or if you’re being smoked by a 75 year old.

Anyway, our jobs were to write the respective numbers on the athletes’ bodies. Some women were uncomfortable with a man writing on them, others (most) were uncomfortable with me asking their ages. I got a few people not want to tell me, a lot of “ummmm” as they tried to remember (one lady admitted that she says she’s 25 so much she forgot her age), and a few blatantly lie (typically by just telling me the low end of their age group.) Quite a few had already put on their wetsuits, which made getting to their arms/legs difficult. We also encountered a number of first time triathletes who had the whole deer in headlights look on their faces, but we were happy to help them out. It’s a good thing we have (a little) experience so we could help a few of the athletes find their way.

After we were done marking, we tracked down the volunteer director who had us help cut oranges for the athletes when they finish. While working, we were chatting with a younger volunteer who’s mother was participating. She sounded like she was on her way to becoming a triathlete in a few years. When asked if she would do it, she didn’t hem and haw about it at all. I ended up standing next to a woman who kept swiping oranges for herself. She was really nice, and funny… and addicted to oranges. She did help us swap some fruit for coffee with the coffee booth guys though.

Once all the oranges were cut, we had to fumble with some insect tents for a few minutes. It’s a good thing Yeller had to go to a bunch of church camping retreats as a kid. She could probably erect and entire campsite in the time it takes most people to put up a single tent!

Once all that was done, it was time to man the finish line. While we were getting ready/instructions, we noticed the music suddenly stopped and an older gentleman came running towards us franticly asking (more like yelling) for a generator. Thankfully the timing wasn’t affected, but they ended up having to hold the start for the final waves for a few minutes while they got things situated. It ended up delaying the setup of the computer at the finish line too so the announcer could call in the finishers. Pretty crazy for a bit.

Yeller and the young lady who we met at the orange station had the honor of holding the finish tape for the first finishers of the Duathlon (run/bike/run) and the Triathlon. The first duathlete was a pro, who apparently refused to give her age to the person who marked her. She seemed happy, but had a kind of “eh, whatever” vibe to her. Unfortunately they missed the first triathlete because she came sprinting around the corner before they could get the computer setup for the announcer, but they gave her the tape so she could pose with it for her family. The second triathlete through the gates was 10th overall: fastest in the swim, just under 20mph average on the bike, and under 7min mile on the run… oh, and she was 13! We were impressed.

As the finishers poured in, we had the rather hectic chore of removing triathlete timing chips. They’re attached to a velcro ankle strap, and they have volunteers pull them off because bending over can cause the athletes to black out, which would be bad. For the most part, the straps were disgusting. Soaked with sweat, and on the ankles of people eager to keep moving. Most of the athletes were grateful to have a little help, but some seemed like we were just in the way, which was honestly a bit rude. I appreciate that they’re exhausted, but we’re there to help them out, ‘tude isn’t needed.

We did get to cheer in some of our friend who were participating. The faces of most of the athletes as they finished were wonderful, but it was nice to see some of them light up when they saw a friendly face greet them at the finish. We got a large number of sweaty hugs as a result. No complaints though.

Unfortunately, volunteering along with us were a number of high school students who obviously would rather be doing any number of things other than helping at the event, so it meant we shouldered a lot of the work. We had to move them away from the finish so the runners could slow down properly multiple times, most of them just handed out medals and water as opposed to helping remove straps, and the few that did help with straps did a terrible job. At one point Yeller and I had to run after a number of athletes to grab their straps. Thankfully, we would get asked to help in another area before too long.

Considering we were both over 21, they dragged us to the wine tent to help out since the lines of thirsty ladies was growing long and impatient. Yeller ended up helping dish out mimosas, which were mostly sparkling wine and not much orange juice, while I ended up being a bar back. I got good at opening bottles of champagne, that’s for sure. We were allowed to have a couple drinks, so we did, one of which was a sangria mix and was quite tasty. We’re going to grab a bottle from the store next time we see it… We also had a chance to toast with some of our friends who were hanging out.

Once the lines died down, we decided to seek out our friends from TeamChallenge who were there manning the tent. After hanging out and chatting for a bit, we decided it was time to see if they needed us, or if we could call it quits. Thankfully the woman who ran the volunteers was very grateful for us helping, and let us go. Yeller asked about entry into the event next year as “payment”, and she said she’d let us know since she didn’t organize the event, but for events she ran she would absolutely do it. Once we were off, we met back up with our TC friends, and hit up Souplantation for some much needed food.

All in all, we had a lot of fun. It gave us a new respect for the volunteers who help out, and it was fun to see the finishers from a different perspective. You could see the joy on their faces of finishing after all the training leading up to the event, and a number of them were cancer survivors participating in their first events, so it was particularly special seeing them finish. A lot of big smiles.

We’re planning on staying in touch with the volunteer coordinator so we can help out with other events for sure. 🙂

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