Inspiring Women

This past weekend I volunteered to help with the Ramblin Rose woman’s triathlon. I have friend who is a biker, and he told me they were looking for volunteers. As I am always looking for things to do, I signed up to help. It turned out that he was going out of town that weekend, so I was on my own.

A few days before the race I received an email stating that I needed to be there at EXACTLY 6 am. And, yes, it did have exactly in all caps. Whoa, that’s a bit early on a Sunday morning, but I could manage. I arrived at the appointed time and went to volunteer check-in. The coffee wasn’t there yet. ARRGH! The coffee finally came, but no cups. Double ARRGH! Okay, I was finally checked-in, got some coffee and was ready.

My first assignment was to work in the transition area. This is where the women put their bikes and set up all their stuff. The way the race works is they first line up at the pool for the swim. After the swim, they get their bike and biking gear and hit the road for the ride. They finish the ride, drop off their bike in the transition area, change shoes and head out for a run. The logistics of a wet bathing suit underneath a variety of exercise clothes is the most difficult part of the race.

I have never participated in a triathlon, but I have been in running races. I was always thankful for the volunteers, but was curious why they did it. Why don’t they run I thought. Now I know. Sometimes people just like to help out. And you get a pretty big emotional boost cheering people on who are participating. I signed up to volunteer without knowing anyone in the race. It turned out I saw 4 friends of mine competing.

Anyway, I reported to the transition area in the cold, dark early morning. I didn’t have much to contribute in the way of triathlon or setup knowledge, but I greeted participants and made them feel welcome. I tried to answer questions, or find someone who knew the answers. Sometimes I would refer to the way others were doing things. Eventually, I found something I was qualified to do. I took a picture of a mom with her daughter. The girl was 10 and she was pretty funny. I had to take the picture about 4 times so I could get one with their eyes open. It seems that lots of digital snapshot cameras have strange delays that make it hard for people to know when the picture is actually captured.

At 7:30 I left the transition area and headed to my spot on the bike course. I was standing on the corner of Old Chapel Hill Road and Pope Road (near the Durham Chapel Hill border). My job, along with another volunteer, was to direct the riders to turn right and to provide encouragement. I could look forward to the next 2-3 hours of “Turn right. Great job! Keep it up!” We were supported by a Durham County Deputy Sheriff who directed the traffic at the intersection.

As this was a short triathlon (250 yard pool swim, 9 mi bike, and 2 mi run), there was a wide variety of participants. It certainly showed with our interaction on the bike course. We got several questions from the women up front how far they had to go, was this the halfway point (we didn’t really know). Many of these women did not need encouragement, but they were very appreciative of our volunteering. Overall, we got lots of thank yous from riders.

But it was the women further back in the race that needed cheering on. For many of them it seemed to be their first triathlon, and they didn’t really know what to expect. It was our job to push them on. Give them the mental boost they needed to keep going.

After the last biker passed, I drove back to the finish line of the running race to watch some of the later finishers come in. This was truly inspiring. These women set out to accomplish something when they signed up several months ago. They wanted to complete a triathlon. With all the training behind them, here they were at the end of the race. And you could see the pride in their faces as they crossed the finish line. They had done it. They could add completed a triathlon to their list. Now onto the next goal.

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen