Here on the island of Cozumel we have a lot of activities, but few are as exciting as the Ironman competitions. Today we held the Ironman 70.3, which meant that thousands of spectators were able to watch the absolute best examples of athleticism. There is, however, another side to Ironman, which includes some of the best examples of another kind, the volunteers who work behind the scenes. This expat was given the privilege of joining that group today and I thought I’d give you a personal perspective and include a few pics.
But, before I get started with the inside scoop, let me give you a bit of information about this competition just in case you are not familiar with the details. “An Ironman 70.3, also known as a Half Ironman, is one of a series of long distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). The “70.3” refers to the total distance in miles (113.0 km) covered in the race, consisting of a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56-mile (90 km) bike ride, and a 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run. Each distance of the swim, bike, and run segments is half the distance of that segment in an Ironman triathlon.” (Wikipedia) As you can see from that definition, thanks to Wikipedia, this is serious business and these athletes train for months (and, often, much, much longer) to prepare. And Cozumel, out of respect for their efforts, makes sure that each and every athlete is met at the finish line with whatever may be needed. This is where the group of volunteers I was with came into play.
The call for volunteers came out several weeks ago and then the assignments were determined. I was put with the group that would work both at the finish line and in the medical tent. So, at 9:00 a.m. I packed up my camera, tried to stuff everything I’d need otherwise into my pockets, and then walked down to the Palacio Municipal, which is where they were both located. I wanted to get there early so I could take pictures. For good reasons, there are no photos taken of athletes if they need medical assistance, so I focused on the other volunteers while everyone was setting up. And, let me say here, thanks to all of you volunteers for taking the time to stop and let me snap your photos in the midst of all the chaos.
Yes, there is a bit of chaos before the event. Medical supplies of all kinds had to be brought into the tent and set up for later use. In addition to that, we needed cots, blankets, coolers filled with ice, water, and Gatorade, t-shirts for the volunteers, chairs, name tags, clipboards, if you can think of it, we probably had it. In addition to those things, we had the people waiting to do their part, which included doctors, nurses, paramedics, massage therapists, security men, you name it, we had them too. There was a lot of mulling around for brief periods of time while those with experience showed the rest of us what to do. If you can picture several dozen folks with several dozen tasks you will understand. But, there was a method to the madness and, somehow, it all came to make sense.
Once everything was setup, it was time for some further information and we stepped out of the tent to receive our instructions. Now, to be quite honest, since I can only talk about my experience, I have to admit something. An important question was asked early on during the briefing and that was “okay, who can’t handle vomit?” This expat had to hold up her hand (and with no embarrassment, I know my limits) and I was immediately put into the group that would escort the athletes from the finish line to either the medical tent, or the recovery area. Then, a bit later, the group I was placed with received further instructions.
As escorts, we were to greet the athletes as they finished, congratulate them, and then try to determine if they might need medical attention, or were able to just go on into the recovery area where they’d find refreshments and places to rest. We were told to ask them their names, see if they were dizzy, or felt faint, check to see if they had an obvious injury etc. If so, we would bring them to the doctor who stood outside the medical tent who would then take charge and evaluate the situation. If they did need medical assistance they were then escorted into the medical tent. If they were just exhausted (and who wouldn’t be?) we would point them in the direction of the recovery tent and then return for the next one. However, often, if an athlete remained a bit wobbly, we’d personally escort them all the way into the recovery tent and then hand them off to the next group of volunteers who would keep a further eye on them. Did it always work like a well-oiled machine? Actually, most of the time it did just that. Let me tell you, I was impressed.
Now, for those of you who live on the island now, or just visited, you know we’ve had some rain. And, by some rain, I mean that many of us have been looking for both Noah and his Ark. Although today began with blue skies and sunshine, the skies did what we’ve come to expect lately, they opened up. Now, for those of us who were overly optimistic and didn’t bring raincoats, garbage bags were provided with the holes cut out. How fun! I can only imagine what we looked like, but it had to be a sight. At one point I was asked to look for a gentleman in the audience. His son was in the medical tent and it was thought to be a good idea to find his dad. Sounds like a simple task, yes? But, try and picture the reactions I received when I approached the different bandstands that held loads of people. I’m dressed in a garbage bag, my hair was soaked, my pants were hanging (which caused me to need to yank them up every two seconds) my shoes squeaked, and I’m simply yelling a name into the crowds. But, and here’s where it gets good, not only did people take me seriously, they began to help by continuing the yell of his name. Lo and behold, he heard it and showed up. We have some great people.
Well, the last of the athletes came in by 3:00, or so, and it was time for the escort volunteers to call it a day. I said my goodbyes, packed my camera up in a plastic bag, and started the walk home. The rain was still coming down, and the streets were a bit waterlogged, but I was just tired enough to not give a damn (I can’t even imagine how the athletes felt, wow). But, by then all I wanted was to say hello to my pups, get a cup of hot coffee, put my feet up, and write this all down. It was a great experience and one I won’t easily forget, which is a good thing since the full Ironman competition will be held December 1st, 2013 and, yes, I plan to be at that one too. If you’ve never seen one, let me suggest that you come on down. It will be an experience of a lifetime for you as well. Salud!
p.s. Hats off to all those volunteers who braved the weather to make sure the Ironman athletes received the best of care. You did a good thing today, kudos to you all!