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Volunteering at Ironman Florida 2012

by MealsAndMiles on November 4, 2012

*I’m having technical issues with my computer so I’m blogging from my phone again. Apologies is advance for funky formatting issues.*

Inspirational. Simply inspirational. I think that’s the best word to describe the hundreds of Ironmen I had the honor of assisting or cheering on at the Ironman Florida finish line yesterday afternoon/ evening.

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We arrived in Panama City 2 hours before our designated volunteer time. At that point the majority of participants were out on the bike

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And the pros were just starting their runs.

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Even if you’re not the one racing, it’s hard to miss the spirit of race day in the air. Everyone was running on an emotional high, including my siblings and I, who were excited to be a part of something so big.

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Since we were early, we headed to Mellow Mushroom for lunch.
My sister and I split the chef salad (with tempeh instead of ham)

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And Thai Dye pizza (with curried tofu instead of chicken)

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Then we headed to the finish line for our assignment.

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We registered as “catchers,” but since the first finisher was still an hour out, we helped organize shirts and medals to fill in the time.

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As the finishers got closer, we were given our first set of instructions.

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Our job was pretty straight forward: as soon as the finishers crossed the finish line, we greeted them with a bottle of water and guided them through the finish line as they collected their medal, hat, shirt, and took their photo. They could lean on us for support and we were told to call for medical support if necessary. We were encouraged to get them talking and holding a conversation just to make sure they were doing good.

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Gloves were passed out and worn.

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It was kind of cool having one of the best seats in the house for the first place finishers.

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The winner crossed the finish line just after 8:05 . He led the pack the majority of the race thanks to a smokin 4:04 bike ride – a new course record for the bike!

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After the announcer interviewed him, he immediately started asking the volunteers for a phone so he could call his mom and tell her he did it. How sweet is that?

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The first female crossed less than an hour later with a course record.

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I noticed a lot of the pro athletes asking for a coke when they finished (including the female winner). My swim coach has told me many times how awesome coke is for triathletes, but this was my first time seeing so many professionals asking for it at a finish line. When I finished Miami 70.3 coke was the last thing on my mind, maybe I should have reconsidered?

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Not too long after the first female crossed , the age groupers started coming in and things really picked up. It was an amazing experience helping Ironman after Ironman make their way through the finish line. Some needed to be supported, some wanted to walk on their own, some were veterans of the race, while others were first timers, but all were happy to be done.

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I saw more than a few finishers collapse, but all were alert and still smiling when the medics arrived to assess them. The majority of finishers could walk – or I should say proudly hobble – out on their own.

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Some finishers were so full of emotion, that I couldn’t help but tear up over they’re accomplishment too. They did a FULL Ironman! That’s huge!!

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Our shift flew by way too quick. We were relieved just as the 11 hour finishers started coming in. We wanted to stay, but the finish line area is tiny and they were at capacity with the next round of volunteers; basically we were kicked out.

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Don’t worry, we had a plan. We ate a quick dinner at a nearby restaurant.

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Then headed back to the run course to cheer on runners who were just starting or finishing their second laps.

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The race has a 17 hour cut off, so they had finishers crossing the finish line for up to 9 hours on race day! A good amount of participants were still finishing the bike portion as the pros were finishing the race and those participants were still on the run course when we returned. We wanted to cheer our little hearts out for them.

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These were the athletes that truly inspired me because these were the athletes that looked like me. I saw men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes about to finish the Ironman. They didn’t run the fastest runs, bike the fastest bikes, or swim the fastest swims, but they accomplished something less than 1/10th of 1% of the population can say they’ve done: they swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, then ran 26.2 miles – they freaking did an Ironman!!

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We were there when the 500,000th full Ironman finisher EVER (of official Ironman races) crossed the finish line.

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Just goes to show you how few Ironmen finishers are out there.

We went back to our hotel room last night on cloud 9 (how could we not be?)
Then this morning we got up early to wait in line to do something crazy.

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Ironman Florida 2013, here we come. ;-)

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