Monday, December 04, 2006

Ironman Florida - Volunteer Report

FRIDAY, November 3rd:

After and uneventful Friday night flight, I arrived in Panama City, Florida and was met by my girls, Linae and Shawn. Because we had never met "in person", I stood at the Airport in my Tiger Ears so they couldn't miss me! The ears were a success and soon we were on our way to the hotel and quickly settled down for the night. We had a 5AM wake-up call to get to the IRONMAN Floirda start prior to the SWIM start where Shawn and Linae would volunteer.

RACE DAY - Saturday, November 4th:

We got up early, rolled out of bed and were on our way to the race start by 6AM. All looking marvelous in our Cat Ears. We got many smile from other volunteers, racers and specators on the shuttle bus from the Walmart parking lot to the Ironman Village/Finish Line/Transition area.

Our first stop was Coffee for Linae and I. I also bought an Oatmeal Raisin PowerBar which I planned to eat as I watch the race start. We walk toward the swim exit/start area, to get the "lay of the land" and see who we could find pre-race. We were lucky enough to run into Shelley, who recognized us by our Cat Ears (2 points for the cat ears). We gave her hugs, met her friend who was also racing, and wished them luck as they headed to the swim start on the beach. Linae and Shawn, who were volunteering at the Chip Table of the Bike Out, went off to find their Volunteer Captain. I decided to stand right outside the exit gate to transition, hoping that I might catch Nancy, Ellie, Bolder, TriBoomer or any of the other Tri-Bloggers to wish them well before the race.

I quickly realized that EVERYBODY looks the same in wetsuits and soon began to simply hope that somebody who knew I was going to be there would see the Cat Ears and it would trigger the memory of my fellow bloggers. As luck would have it, my darling Nancy did not yet have her race cap on so when I saw her beatiful red hair, I yelled out "Nancy?!?" and BINGO! It was her AND Ellie! Wahoo!!! We gave each other hugs and I wished them luck and they eased back into the throngs of wetsuited Triathletes.

swim start
Swim Start - Somewhere out there were Nancy, Ellie, Shelley, Bolder and many more...

Feeling satisfied at having found at least 2 of the 10 people I wanted to see that day, I decided it was time to head to the swim area and stake out a good spot to watch the swim. I headed for the fence that ran along the short 100 yard run for the second half of the swim loop. I stood with many other Ironmates and friends and family and we all chattered about the wind, the waves and the day ahead. One woman, whos husband was racing his first Ironman and I struck up a kinship as we talked about how "someday" we both wanted to tackle the distance and laughed nervously together about how we both looked at the water and wind this morning and were thankful that it was not our race day. We tried to get the attention of Paula Newbury Fraiser, who was just 200 feet from us, getting ready to tape a segment but had little luck and we marveled, along with everybody else at how rough the start looked for the pros and then the age-groupers.

The feeling in the crowds as we watch the swim progress was electric and I can only hope that all those triathletes felt some of the energy that we were throwing at them as they ran across the beach and headed back into the water. While from the shore, I couldn't really tell that the water conditions had gotten worse, my watch was telling the real story. I had started my crono counter when the canon went off and hit the split timer when I saw Nancy pass me on the beach on her way to lap 2. While she tackled her second lap, I ran to the closest bathroom and then took up a spot along the swim exit, just past the wetsuit strippers.

T1 buttercup
Buttercup in Transition awaiting Nancy's arrival....She was in the transision tent.

Again I got lucky and recognized Ellie as she came through the exit. I yelled her name and was treated to a hug and very wet and salty kiss on the cheek. Ellie was looking great! Next out of the water was Nancy, I hit my crono as soon as I heard the announcer call her name and waited anxiously to see her get through the wetsuit stripping gontlet and into transition. When I saw her I yelled "Go Nancy!" and was treated to a good smile and wave. I ran long the fence and snapped a pic of Nancy as she went through the shower and then jogged over to T1 to see if I could see her get on Buttercup and head out on the bike.

I found Buttercup on her rack and settled in to wait for my photo oportunity. As I stood their, Dianne from Canada, found me and we gave each other big hugs and chattered excitedly about Nancy's good swim time (sub 2:00) and the surprise trip that she and Dawn had pulled off! Soon enough we saw the volunteers sweep up Buttercup and off in the distance, we saw Nancy accept her bike and head to the Bike out!

bike out
Nancy heading out on the bike ...(red helmet, green jersey)

With Nancy and the rest of the field on the bike, Dianne, Dawn, Linae, Shawn and I met up and headed over to the convention center for a long leasurely brunch. It was great to spend some time relaxing, warming up and spending time together. We were the last ones out and I wandered over to the RUN transition area to start my Volunteer Job for the day as the rest of the Ladies headed out to find good spots to post some great signs they had made for Nancy, Ellie and the TRI Bloggers.

GWO girls
"Here's to the Ladies who Brunch - Linae, Dawn, Dianne and Shawn" (I took the picture...)

My job at the "Run Out" involved helping 3 other young ladies track and log the runners as they left transition. We were "backup" incase something went wrong with the timing system. So we stood and yelled out numbers while one person wrote them down. It was a hard work especially during hours 7-9 of the race when a large bulk of the racers came through. I tried so hard to no just call out numbers but recognize faces but it was pretty hard to see a face when you are looking at people's race belts 90% of the time. Of all the people that I saw (and we are talking over 1900 racers or more) there were only two people who I know for sure saw me too!

One was Bolder and the other was Nancy! I was SO EXCITED when I recognized Bolder that I fear that I almost made him trip at the timing mat. I had looked at his number, shouted it to my partner and said "Looking good "G" (first names were on the race bibs)...and then I thought ...hmmm ... I know that name, HEY I KNOW THAT FACE!! And I screamed !! GO BOLDER GO!!!! He looked at me and a moment passed and I got the most wonderful smile and He said "Holly!" and he skipped over the timing mat and was gone! Later when we talked, Bolder would tell me that he was having a hard time transitioning and that my cheer gave him a boost! I was glad he remembered the cheer and not the little skip/trip.

The other person I got to see was, Nancy, and she was still going strong and looking good with just over 10 hours on the race clock. She gave me a wave and even smiled for my camera. While I never saw Ellie, I know she made it onto the run after I called Linae to check... Ellie just slipped right by me on the run start!

Nancy Starting the Run ...

My shift at the Run Out ended at 5:30 when they officially closed the bike course. It was sobering to see several bikes being rolled into the transition area through after the cut off and my heart went out to those athletes. After a rough swim, not making the Bike must have been heartbreaking and I was thankful that I didn't have to be the one to tell anybody that they could not continue their race day.

I took a 30 minute break, met up with Linae and Shawn, got some pizza and then headed over for ROUND TWO as a Volunteer at the Finish Line. While Shawn and Linae worked the SPACE BLANKETS, I worked the Volunteer registration table. At first I was worried that I would not get to see much but by that time, I was tired and hoarse and ready for a bit of a break so sitting at a table at the finish line handing out tshirts and pointing out Finish Line Captains was fine with me.

Linae and Shawn BUSTED THEIR BUTTS at the Space Blanket table. For a while it was just the two of them pulling blankets and helping the Finisher Escorts wrap them aroudn finishers. Eventually they got a bit of a chance to really enjoy their job but they were under alot of pressure and yet they still manage to look great and smiel for every athlete and my camera!

Shawn "strikes a quick pose" for me with a space blanket!

Linae had a smile for everybody!!

At one point, as I sat at the table checking somebody in, I looked up and happened to see Linae talking to a person who looked like Nancy and my first thought was "My god she just had the Marathon PR of her life" and then I looked at my chono on my watch and thought "Oh, I hope she is okay..."

Nancy had been having a very tought Marathon and had made the decision at the start her second loop, to end her race day. We got her a mylar blanket and I had her sit with me at the Table. We talked about her race up until that point and she sat quietly, drinking some water and chicken broth and growing paler every few minutes.

After some time under the tent, we decided that I would go with Nancy down to transition so she could change into some dryer clothes and bring her bags and gear over to her rental car. We walked to transition, found her bags and Buttercup and walked about a quater mile to the RV park where Ellie and her husband were staying and Nancy had parked. We left her bags, she changed and then we walked her gear to the check in to be returned home.

At that point, after racing over 13 hours, nobody would have thought twice if Nancy had said, "I am heading back to the condo for a hot shower and sleep. But Nancy simpley dropped off Buttercup and headed back toward the finish line with me to hang with Linae, Shawn, Dianne, and Dawn as we awaited Ellie's arrival.

Ellie had a hard marathon herself and was running about 2 hour behind expectations. We waited with baited breathe at the final turn to the finish line and eventually she came running out of the dark!! As Ellie ran into the finishing shute, she raised her arms high and the whole crowd let up a big cheer as she crossed the timing matt on her 2nd Ironman finish.

After Ellie's finish, we gave her quick hugs and all began to head back to our hotels/condos for the night. Linae, Shawn, Dianne and I were tired but hungry after such a long day. We made a stop at Waffle House (only because HOOTERS was at their last call) and had some breakfast at 12:30AM. As we payed the bill, about 20 people entered Waffle House, timing had been on our side!

We got back to the hotel and CRAWLED into bed. We may not have raced that day but 17 hours of volunteering and spectating can be just as taxing, in a different way, of course.

SUNDAY, November 5th:

My ONLY job today was to take one picture....that of Linae signing up for her first IRONMAN! Of course as she stood in line, I dragged Shawn with me to the Ironman Expo tent to look at all the gear and walked out with a running skirt, a dry-tech top, a new hat AND a bracelet. How could I resist? At least I didn't leave with a 2007 Ironman Florida Entry ... I left that to Linae for this year!

dotted line
With her penguin for support, Linae signs on the dotted line!

Linae's Ironman Florida 2007 Entry ...

The rest of the day was spent relaxing as a group at Kathy's condo in Panama City. We induldged in a few bottles of Champagne, toasting Ironman and our friendships. We had a wonderful dinner out and a quiet night in ... and in keeping with how completely loving and generous and thoughtful my TRI Blog ladies are, Nancy, Shawn and Linae suprised me with a very unexpected gift of my own.

They made me an "Ironman Starter Kit" full of all sorts of great books, gear and inspiration to get me started including my own IMFL waterbottle, towel and Nancy's actual race day swim cap. These wonderful, thoughtful crazy women made me cry!! And since the rule was that "Nobody Cry's Alone ..." a few tears were shed. (I'll post more on the Ironman Starter Kit later ....this post is already too long)

MONDAY, November 6th:

I had the chance to arrange it so that I could fly home with Nancy so I did just that. It was a real joy to be able to share so much of her weekend with her and I can only hope that I gave her all the support that she needed not only that weekend but throughout this past year. I didn't get to meet all the TRI bloggers that I had hoped to meet but I came away from the weekend with some stronger friendships and some amazing inspiration. Who can ask for more than that?

Nancy, Shawn , Linae, and Kathy .. you ladies have and continue to inspire me every day. Thank you for your friendship and support! I can only hope that I give you as much as you give me.

Dianne and Dawn, you gals ROCK even if you drive a "cold" covertable!!

Ellie, you are my Ironman and I will still ride with you in the pouring rain any day, you just ask!

Bolder, Nancy, Shelley, Kahuna, Ellie ... keep Living STRONG my friends! I am so following in your footsteps! IronBound in 2008!


*jeanne* said...

Great shots! I especially love the cat-eared ladies who lunch!

The silver finisher's blankets are a great bit of BLING.

Downhillnut said...

Thanks for a great report and pictures! I was SO there in spirit :)

Anonymous said...


After reading several of your posts I'm kicking myself for taking so long to find your blog.

It's too bad I missed you and your friends at IM Fla. (Although I did meet Nancy and Ellie.) It was an honor to carry your name with me during my first Ironman. Again, thank you for your support.

Stay tuned...