Sunday, 6 July 2008

GWN...A New Perspective...

I have to say it, I just love the Great White North (GWN) Half Ironman held in Stony Plain, AB. It is one of the most well run events around and comparable, in that sense, to Ironman Canada and Ironman Coeur d'Alene.

For the last two years I was a participant in this race, but this year was to be different. I have just come off of racing at IMCDA, so there was no way I could race here. I still wanted to be a part of the action so I decided to volunteer.

My only stipulation with volunteering was that I be done early so that I could slip into cheerleader mode and cheer on the many friends that were racing. The first email I received indicated I'd be in bodymarking and the swim/bike transisiton. The coveted spot of bodymarking?! YAY!! Alas, they didn't do that this year. Booo! I was working in transition with my friend Sue though.

Just as on race day, I had to get up early and arrive at transistion by 6am. When I got there I saw there was quite the swamp where the bike racks were. We'd had quite the storm the night before. As there were few competitors there yet, the transition director, Mark, got us to move the racks so no one had to change in the swamp. (Just one example of how amazing the organizers are!)

Once that was all taken care of there wasn't much for us to do until after the swim start. Mark suggested that as I'd raced here before that I just make myself available for questions from the athletes. I took this as an opportunity to walk around and check on everyone that I knew, heh heh. I did answer two questions however.

The first one was a bit of a shocker...the question was 'Uhm, where is the coffee?' I did my best not to burst into laughter, admittedly a little squeak of a giggle came out as I said 'I'm sorry, did you just ask where the coffee was??' My answer 'Oh, I'm sorry hun but that would have been something you'd have to bring yourself. There is no coffee here'. I waited till she turned around before shaking my head in amusement. Sue did her best not to die laughing too.

It was great seeing everyone get ready and I was happy to help out wherever I could. I have to say, I really wanted to be racing. That is until the dark clouds appeared again, then I thought, well, maybe this isn't too bad.

Once the athletes were off in the water it was time for us to get into our stations! I had been asked if I would work as a wetsuit stripper, to which I replied 'I don't do pee.' I think they were shocked that I knew that it wasn't just water coming out of those wetsuits as they are ripped off the athlete!! I was more than happy to work the racks though - guiding athletes to their bikes, helping to get going if they needed it, and putting all their wet gear into the transition bag.

The first athlete out of the water was one Byron Unger, whom I happen to know. He's a friend of Sue and her hubby. Needless to say we didn't rush to our stations, instead we were screaming 'go Byron go!!' Things started to get going after that.

The time I was in transition went by quit quickly. The athletes, for the most part, were scattered out so it didn't seem too squishy in their narrow pathways. I was able to help some by handing them their gear, but most were ok on their own, they just wanted to be reassured that their gear would be put in the proper bag and brought to T2, the second transisiton location.

At one point I heard Steve King announce Jenna's name. I was at her bike right away making sure she was ok after the swim and asking if she needed help with anything. I was so excited for her it! I have to say I can't believe how much stuff she shoved in her damn jersey pockets! Soon enough she was off and riding.

I was honoured to be able to help out, not only Jenna, but Maureen, Doug and Alan, who were all first time half Ironman athletes. I also got to help some of my more experienced friends such as Linda. It was so great to be there!

As the athletes were slowly moving out on their bikes, our job was to put all their gear into the yellow transition bags that would be transported to T2. I think there were about 20 volunteers at this area and we had about 850 bags to pack, tie up, gather at the end of the bike rows, then load up onto a van. All this in off/on torrential rains. Funny thing is I didn't really notice the rain. The times I did, I was more worried about the athletes on their bikes.

Once all the bags were stowed, we then had to gather the race numbers from the ground (two people were designated to do this in order to keep the numbers sequential), then it was time to dismantle the bike racks, put them on the truck and transport the whole kit and kaboodle. I am very thankful the racks are made of aluminum!

With everything packed it was off to T2 where everything had to be set up before the first cyclist got there.

As a prior athlete in this race, I don't think I ever knew that they actually dismantled T1, brought it to T2 and set it up there! My stuff was always just there.

It's all done fairly quickly as we were working quickly. First up was to set up the bike racks in rows that were measured to ensure they had 9 ft in between them. As that was being done, someone was laying down the race numbers on the ground in sequential order. As that was being done the first bags, containing the athletes run gear, was being unloaded from the trucks. I actually got a workout in doing all this.

They couldn't all be unloaded at once though, eat one had to be checked off as it being there and being unloaded. The bags were then passed over the fence to a volunteer who then went up and down the rows to find where it went.

Once all this was done the volunteers then waited for the athletes to stream in so they could guide them and their bikes to their designated spot so they could rack their bike and get their run gear on.

Once T2 set up was complete, and before the first athlete came in (this was only a few moments I should add - it's all done that close to the clock), Sue and I were off. It was now time to cheerlead!

See, proof that I really did have purple pom-pom's!! Cheerleading was a hoot. I screamed, jumped up and down, hollered and the whole nine yards. It was so great seeing all my friends out there kicking butt. I was happy the rains seemed to subside from the morning storms!

There were a lot of amazing moments out there - Alan, Jenna, Kelly, Richelle, Doug, Chris, Ken, Dr. Phil and Maureen finishing their first half Ironman's. Darryl had a kick butt race, as did David. I love that Linda found some time to focus on herself on race day and didn't worry about her family. She's a great wife and Mom!

I admit I almost cried when I saw Jenna running up the road. I got to run with her a bit and tried my best not to shed a tear. When Maureen came though, that was a different story.

Maureen (aka Mo) is my swim buddy. A few months ago she fell off her bike in training and broke her saphoid bone (thumb bone that connects to the wrist somehow). She had to do all her training indoors on the bike, and couldn't swim due to her cast. In fact, she had only gotten her cast off TWO weeks before this race - her first half IM! Through it all she kept amazing spirit, so to see her finish was quite an emotional moment. I'm actually tearing up again just writing about this!

Then there was JoZ who lost 40 lbs this year! She raced last year and had the old motorcycle escort in as the last competitor. She decided then and there that that wasn't going to happen again and took the steps needed to make a positive change. She not only lost the weight but took an hour off last years time!

There were so many friends that raced out there and I would love to list them all. Instead I will just say I'm super proud of each and every one of you for facing some challenging weather and yet perservering, and in most cases, achieving personal best times!

I'm honoured that you shared your day with me! I'm also over the moon because I had a few people come up to me and say that I really helped them by telling them some of my mantras and mental tools I use when racing. They used them today and the tools worked for them as well. My heart is full of gratitude that I was able to help in some way.

Peace out my friends, and if you haven't already done so this year - get out and volunteer for a race!!


  1. Thanks for coming out Susi!! It was comforting to know someone out there. And you know Byron Unger...? I swam with Byron when we were kids!! Please say hi for me.

  2. Nice perspective Susi and thanks for the cheers. Awesome of you to volunteer for the event. You're a very giving person, we could all learn from that. The volunteers were all amazing, they totally make the event for the athletes.

  3. I think volunteering is part of the deal. If I want to race then it only makes sense that I help out at other races when I can. Plus it's fun watching everyone and making them smile on the bike course in the pouring rain!

  4. I think volunteering is part of the deal. If I want to race then it only makes sense that I help out at other races when I can. Plus it's fun watching everyone and making them smile on the bike course in the pouring rain!

  5. You were everyone's guardian angel -- I never realized that T1 was actually dismantled either -- WOW!!! Volunteers rock!

    That is such a cute pic of you with your purple pompoms too. I think you lifted a lot of spirits out there, Susi!! :) :)

  6. Thanks for sharing YOUR race report. Cool to hear the volunteering side. And THANKS for being there to cheer us all on. I will never forget the pom-poms.