How volunteering a race gave me a fresh perspective



One of the most fulfilling things I did over the holidays was volunteering at the Atlanta Half Marathon on Thanksgiving day. Yes, there are more noble volunteer opportunities on Thanksgiving, but spending that morning at the race has become a bit of a holiday tradition for me. Since I wasn’t running it this year, I decided to give back instead. I managed to get myself (as well as Christina and Carrie) a spot handing out finisher medals.

How volunteering at a race gave me a fresh perspective -

Carrie, Myself, and Christina read to hand out medals!

First of all, handing out medals was way harder than I thought.  You have to hold all the medals on your arm, like this:

How volunteering at a race gave me a fresh perspective -

Except when I posed for this picture, I only had about a quarter of the medals on my arm that I needed to keep on there! Over the course of a few hours, your arm gets really tired! The other challenge this poses is that the medals get tangled up easily.  At the peak of the finishers, people are coming through really fast! We actually had some people just organizing medals and replenishing our arms. The other tricky part was that some people just want you to hand them their medals, while others want it placed around their necks.  Figuring out which on they wanted sometimes led to a bit of awkwardness.  But after about an hour I got into a really great rhythm!  I didn’t realize there was so much involved with handing out medals, but we had a great time and it was more fulfilling than I had imagined.

Going into this opportunity, I knew it would be special, and I wasn’t disappointed.

It started with the elites crossing the finish line of the 5k.  I rarely get to see the winners, and I saw the sheer exhaustion on their face when the crossed the finish line, and I knew they had given it their all. How inspiring, I thought.

Then the wheel chair participants came through, and we gave medals to those in the chairs, as well as those who pushed them….though several of the pushing runners did not take the medal.  It was such a selfless act.  How inspiring.

As the middle of the pack runners came through, many were cheering personal bests. My friend Tracy have me a big hug and told me she hit a sub-2.  A few other of my friends had really solid races, and a reader Jackie finished her first half marathon! I had the honor of giving them their medals. How inspiring.

How volunteering at the finish line of a race gave me a renewed appreciation for ALL runners Click To Tweet

Then, we got to the back of the pack.

The runners that came in well over three, three and a half, and four hours, long after most spectators had left, started coming through. They found a way to run the last few hundred yards with a big triumphant grin in their face, many with tears threatening to spill over in their eyes. We cheered them on as they made their way across the finish line, and their faces said it all:

I just did that.
I didn’t think I could.
I never thought I would.
I didn’t give up, I didn’t quit.
I may not look like a runner, but I just finished a half marathon.
I am so proud of this moment.
I am so proud of ME.

There were a lot of tears and celebrations when they got their medals. Several had us take pictures of us placing the medal over their head. One woman, when I told her congratulations, grabbed me and hugged me, sobbing with joy.

How. Inspiring.

We stayed until the last of the runners were coming through, well after the race ended, and I’m so glad we did. There weren’t any crowds left, but these runners deserved cheers as well! They deserved to be celebrated, and it was incredibly fulfilling to be a part of that moment with them.  Sure, there were a lot of first time half marathoners in the middle of the pack, but there is something different about those that finished so late.  Many of these runners truly didn’t know if they could finish before the cutoff, or even finish at all. Many of them doubted themselves, and maybe even had supporters that also doubted them.  Like the earlier finishers, completing the half marathon took these runners everything they had…and they were rewarded with a renewed self confidence that radiated from their faces.  It was amazing to be a part of that.

I plan to volunteer a few more races in 2016, and I challenge you to do the same. Whatever part of the race you end up at, make sure you stay until the end.  Celebrate every runner and make them feel special.  I promise you’ll be inspired.

I pledge to volunteer at a race in 2016 and celebrate every runner! Click To Tweet

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