Truly a humbling experience
Saturday, July 15. My alarm clock went off at exactly 3:00 am and I got out of bed to the smell of coffee and breakfast. Jordan, my partner, had already started his early morning race day routine and as usual, I was second out of bed.
This race morning was a little different from the typical. At this ‘ungodly’ hour, instead of checking our transition bags, reviewing our race prep list, and doing last minute bike checks, we were packing cold brew iced coffee in our traveller mugs, stuffing Clif Bars into our designated ‘spectator bag’, and leaving our bikes in our condo.
MultiSport Canada Triathlon Series hosted its second race of the season in Gravenhurst, Ontario this past weekend. Exactly a year ago, I participated in this same race to qualify for the ITU Multisport World Championships in Penticton, B.C. Though this time, we were on our way as volunteers. We were looking forward to experiencing a race outside of the athlete’s perspective since this would be our first time volunteering at a race.
Being an age group athlete living in downtown Toronto has its challenges.
Race venues usually require quite a bit of travel for us. We typically spend between 5-6 hours on average of combined travel time, not accounting for traffic, to get to and from a race site. In addition, we don’t own a car which means we have to get a rental every time we need to drive to a race located outside of the city. As an age group athlete, I also have a full time job that requires me to work on weekends. Considering these variables, my race involvement is usually pretty limited to just one of the two race weekend days.
Despite these challenges, we make it known that this sport is our passion. Our commitment to its promotion and helping it grow far outweighs any of our limitations.
Every time we make it out to a race, whether as athletes or spectators, we make the experience count and as first time volunteers, we were ready to make this one count!
We rolled into Gravenhurst just before 6 am (how odd it was to be one of the first in the race site… we even beat SportStats there despite our GPS accidentally re-routing us to a private road!). We made our way over to the volunteer’s tent where we had the pleasure of meeting Sharon, our lovely volunteer coordinator.
After receiving our shirts (finally got my MSC Ambassador Shirt! Yes!), we took our post at the transition entrance where we handed out transition wristbands and assisted athletes in finding their bib numbers.
I LOVED every second of it because not only did we get to meet and talk to many athletes, we also had the priviledge of being what we called the ‘welcoming committee’! With how the race site was organized, we got to create the first impression for the athletes as they entered the race site. After a few trial and error, Jordan and I figured out that the best game plan was for him to stand further out by the entrance and hand out wristbands while directing them into the transition zone, and for me to be by the course maps and bib numbers to help athletes.
I have to thank my fellow MultiSport Ambassador athletes, Daniel Clarke, Darren Cooney, and Spencer Summerfield, who all took the time to stop by for a quick pre-race conversation keeping me company. As the race start drew closer, Jordan and I got separated and he was positioned on the other side of transition.
I resumed my post until the race start.
As the triathletes made their way to the water, I made sure to wish everyone good luck, to enjoy, and to have a great race day!
There were many looks of nervousness, excitement, fierceness and intensity but they all had one thing in common: they were all smiling. It was so cool to just be able to observe everyone’s pre-race routines and reactions. As an athlete who finds comfort in being in my own head before every race, I oftentimes forget that people race for many reasons; whether it’s to be competitive or to take on a new challenge, to race with friends and loved ones, or to just go out there and have lots of fun!
Regardless of the reason, MultiSport Canada creates the perfect environment for all athletes to achieve their race goals.
Shortly after the race start, we ran back to our car and made our way to the 3 km aid station, where we spent the remainder of our day.
Upon finding out that we were the only two volunteers stationed there, we were a bit concerned with how we were going to simultaneously fill water and F2C electrolytes on both sides of the run course, while trying to hand them out to hundreds of athletes coming from both directions. It seemed like an impossible mission but we were determined. Many thanks to our site supervisor who continuously checked in on us while giving us race updates.
After a few minutes of frantically covering every space of the table with cups full of water and F2C, we anxiously waited for the athletes’ arrival.
From a distance we saw the lead group of duathletes (Matt Straatman and Charles Bedley) swiftly making their way towards us. Not having previously done this, Jordan and I grabbed water with one hand and F2C in the other. We quickly learned that this is not the best way to do it as we could see many confused looks while we excitedly yelled at athletes “water in the white and F2C in the other!”
We immediately changed our approach and I ended up handing out water while Jordan owned the F2C (even telling athletes that it’s neither Gatorade or Heed.. way to promote the MultiSport Canada Series Official Nutrition Partner!). Duathletes started coming from both directions of the course but thankfully they were separated far enough from one another for us to manage both tables without facing any problems.
As the final duathlete made his way through our aid station, we knew that we have the duration of the bike course to figure out another strategy for the triathletes. With the sun burning through the clouds and the heat intensifying, the bugs started to become vicious. We worked to replenish all the cups with water and F2C, and cleaned up all the empty cups off the road, while dealing with the heat and bugs. Good thing we had company from our paramedics on their bikes!
At this point, the 10 am mark was approaching and we anticipated the lead triathletes to start arriving. Lo and behold, we saw Daniel Clarke with Jessie the Elf not too far behind him. We assumed our position and did our thing while cheering on the lead triathletes.
A few moments later and more triathletes started passing by, grabbing a lot more water than we had anticipated. As we scrambled to fill more water and electrolytes, the lifeguards pulled in and helped us work the opposite aid station! We were so delighted to finally have a full team of four!! Together, we brought the enthusiasm to a whole new level, cheering on all the athletes as they passed us.
The next two hours flew by and it was time we wait for the arrival of the final triathletes. As we picked up the empty cups and tidied our area, it was already passed 1 pm. Tired and cooked from the sun but still with big smiles and high spirits, it was time for Jordan and I, along with our trio of lifeguards, to drive back to the finish line. We arrived back to home base where we were welcomed back by Sharon. I had the opportunity to stop by the Blade Carbon Wheels tent to say hello to Rob, and to speak with Garvin, a fellow duathlete who had just competed in the duathlon. Then we saw the tail end of the awards ceremony and noticed that there were significantly less athletes remaining on site. I thought to myself, “that was much harder than racing!”
These are the lessons I learned that day:
- Volunteers are the unspoken heroes of races. They work hard to help create the safe and fun experience for the athletes, and they ensure that all athletes are supported during their race. A million thanks to everyone who took the time to express their gratitude for the volunteers’ hard work.
- MultiSport Canada cares for their volunteers as much as they care for their athletes. I was impressed by the level of support we received throughout the day; from providing us with bug spray and refreshments to keeping us company at our aid station, we felt supported every step of the way.
- We need more volunteers. After going through this experience, I believe that every athlete should volunteer at least once during their race season. It’s a very cool opportunity to experience the race from this angle and it really helps develop a deeper appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes. It truly is a great way to give back to the triathlon and duathlon community and to continue its legacy.
Check out http://www.multisportcanada.com/volunteer/ to learn more about volunteering with MultiSport Canada.
Jordan and I returned to our car for the long drive back home. We both agreed that this experience was worth it and we certainly felt proud of what we have accomplished that day. Thank you to John Salt and the MultiSport Canada team for always going above and beyond in organizing this fantastic race series.
Until next time!