Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stars of Track & Field

Because I was unable to run the Melbourne and the Beaches Music Marathon this past weekend, I did the next best thing: I volunteered.

  • Out at the starting area and registration table at 6:30 a.m., greeting runners in the light drizzle and cheering them on.
  • At the starting line just before 7 a.m., a megaphone thrust into my hand, telling everyone to stay to the right of the orange cones if they wanted their race chips to activate.
  • Moving boxes to the storage trailer and heading over to the finish line to await the first finishers for the half-marathon.
It was at that point that Deb, the volunteer coordinator, handed me a key to the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce building and said, "Go over there and open it at 8 a.m. for the elite runners."

It wasn't what I had in mind. I had imagined myself handing out water and Gatorade at one of the dozens of stations along the course, or riding my bike back and forth looking for stragglers, the injured or the lame.

But staying out of the rain and cold for a couple of hours wasn't such a bad thing, and I'd still get to watch the middle-pack runners come across the finish later. My people.

I was sitting at a computer in the lobby when the first runners came in. They startled me so that I grabbed my flimsy styrofoam cup of coffee and spilled it on the floor. After cleaning up, I started greeting the incoming runners -- among the best amateur athletes in the nation. They'd come from Colorado, Chicago and northern Pennsylvania to run in our little race.

But the biggest moment of the day came when Bill Rodgers (seated in photo at right) and Frank Shorter came into the room. Rodgers sat, exhausted, drenched in sweat. I shook his hand and told him what a fan I had been since high school. We chatted about his performance a bit, the course and the weather. 

Shorter came in moments later, wearing a hat and sweating. He said he had run the course backwards. I told him it was because of him and Rodgers that I began running cross-country in high school and continue to run to this day.

They both seemed like really nice, down-to-earth guys -- and a lot smaller than I'd imagined.

Zola Budd (standing in photo) was there, too. And for the record, yes, she was wearing running shoes.

It was a grand moment in my life, and my reward for helping out. From now on, whenever I'm injured or not ready in my training cycle to run a marathon, I'd gladly volunteer again.

And now, here's Mercury Rev with "Goddess on a Highway":

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