Tuesday, May 28, 2013

About "The Spirit of the Volunteer"

When I first entered the running arena, it was my perception that all I had to do was train hard, register for an event, show up, run, finish and repeat.

Furthermore, when one begins the journey through the running or triathlon world, one could easily assume that races and events "just happen".

One may think that all one has to do is log in, pay a registration fee and everything else happens by magic.  One could not be so wrong.

As we all know, it takes a multitude of people, most of them volunteers, to put an event together.  Even those events that are organized by "for profit groups" rely heavily on volunteers.  As an example, Ironman Louisville alongside their paid staff, uses somewhere upward of 3,000 volunteers.

But as we know, the majority of the smaller events, the 5k's, 10k's and even some Half Marathons as well as  a host of Sprint Triathlons and Kid's Triathlons are organized by Non-Profit groups and they rely solely on the generosity of the volunteer.

I feel blessed that I have found my way into such a giving community.  I learned rather quickly, that my original perception was totally wrong.  So, I started volunteering for this was nothing new to me.  Along with my wife, as our daughters were growing up, we became extremely involved in Gymnastics and Soccer.  We have served on Board of Directors, we have organized fundraisers, we have done whatever has been necessary to make things happen.

Giving back to a sport you love, be it soccer, gymnastics, running, triathlon... or whatever your passion is, is one of the most rewarding feelings you could ever get.  It's like saying out-loud and publicly: "Thank You for allowing me to participate".

After my experience at Louisville Ironman 2011, I thought it my duty to return and volunteer.  My wife and daughter Juliana, joined me as volunteers.  We did "body marking".  This was the best, non-racing experience I've ever had at a triathlon.  We are returning this year, again to volunteer.  Next year, I'll be back again... but this time to race... or rather participate (there's a difference you know).

Over the past few weeks I found myself volunteering for a host of events.  From a local 5k organized by one of the most giving people I know, "Big Bubba" Perry to benefit "The Make A Wish Foundation", to The Nashville Kids Triathlon.  Here I got to work hand-in-hand with kids ages 7-14.  My assignment was the "transition area".  I told my friend Charlene, who is in charge of the Volunteer force for this event, that as long as she wants me, I'll be back year after year.

Early this year, sometime late January, maybe early February, I was presented with the opportunity to Direct a Race.  A Race Director?  Who Me?  Not in a million years.  This was beyond my scope of comprehension.  How could I be responsible for taking over an event going on its seventh year.  The previous six years were huge successes.  I did not want the responsibility or the pressure.

Or did I?

I discussed it with my wife and the only thing she said was:  "You're a natural for this. You will do great!"  Awesome, not what I was looking for!  A couple of days later, I received messages from friends telling me the same thing.  I think Monica conspired with them.  It had to be!

So I accepted.  I would be the 7th Annual Hendersonville Classic Race Director.  God Bless us all.

The event took place this past weekend in my hometown of Hendersonville, Tennessee.  And from all early reports, it was another huge success.

A success not necessarily because of my doings.  A success because of the people I was surrounded with.  Half of the previous year's organizing team would not return, so my first task was to find replacements... And boy-oh-boy did I hit the Jackpot with them!  All of them!  My new Course Director Heidi.  My returning Volunteer Coordinator Tom.  My new Water Stop Coordinator Melissa and my returning Participant Food Coordinator Marilyn. Add to this list Laura.  She's the Executive Director at Cumberland Crisis Pregnancy Center, the folks we do this for.  Without her and her team of, again, volunteers this could not have happened.

I cannot forget to thank my friends Sheila Y. who spearheaded the creation of this event some seven years ago and Tiffany H., last year's race director for having faith in me and willing to turn over, without hesitation, the reins of an event you worked so hard to get to where it is today.

We took a rough count the before the race, we estimated that well over one hundred and fifty volunteers blessed us with their time.  And we tried to add up the hours put in by these folks... we could not!

It is an amazing thing when you find a cause that moves you, a purpose that so drives you that you decide this will be your new mission.  I did not know I was looking for such thing, but I know I have found it.  So, as long as CCPC wants me as their Classic Race Director, I will proudly serve.

I urge each and everyone of you, no matter where you are in life, no matter how busy you think you are, take time to give back.  Volunteer if even for one event per year.  You will make more of a difference than you can begin to imagine.