I'm linking up with Wendy and HoHo to vent my frustrations.
Having run so many races in my life, I know how important and valuable race volunteers are in ensuring a successful event. I had been wanting to give back. After I attended the ITU World Triathlon training celebration, I learned the Chicago Grand Finale event was in need of thousands of volunteers. What a great opportunity (or so I thought!) I've never seen a live triathlon before, let alone one of this magnitude, so I was very excited.
That's where the fun ends.
I signed up for two volunteer shifts: 1) Friday night packet pickup; and 2) Saturday afternoon finish line.
We were under a local flood watch starting at 7 PM. I'm used to these events going on rain or shine, so I packed a bag full of rain gear and braced myself.
I was at the Chicago Cubs game for a work outing that afternoon. Reluctantly, I ducked out early and battled Friday night rush hour traffic to get to my volunteer shift.
When I arrived, the woman in charge was in a state of distress. She told me everyone was evacuating due to pending storms, she had just sent out an email notification a few minutes ago, and she really just needed time to think and figure everything out.
On one hand I was frustrated to have wasted so much time going there. I was unhappy to leave a company function early for nothing. But on the other hand I was relieved I didn't have to volunteer in the rain. I absolutely understand that weather emergencies happen.
However: 1) I NEVER received the woman's email notification, even in my junk mail; and 2) I later learned the decision to evacuate had been made several hours preceding my arrival. Why didn't anyone send out that "notification" sooner and/or make a stronger effort to save us the time and hassle? They already had all of our email addresses and cell phone numbers for race-day needs.
The poor communication foreshadowed my experience the next day, which was much worse.
I arrived for my afternoon shift and checked in. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. A few other volunteers were sitting around, and the folks working the volunteer check-in were milling around. This is what it was like:
I stood there awkwardly waiting. Finally, the same woman from the previous night came by and asked whoever was ready to come with her.
When we signed up to volunteer, we were told we would have a pre-volunteer meeting to discuss the details of what we'd be doing. That never happened. Instead, I was just sent on my merry way to work one of the aid stations.
I was certainly there to help out in whatever way. But I had signed up to hand out medals or refreshments at the finish line, and I was dressed with this in mind. Had I known I'd be at an aid station, I would have prepared differently. E.g., I wouldn't have worn jeans, since aid station volunteers get splashed all day long.
I got to the aid station and received ZERO direction.
Folks were barehandedly mixing Gatorade in a couple of vats, then communally dunking cups to fill them. Nobody was instructed to wash their hands beforehand. Even if they wanted to, the portapotties nearby had no handwashing facilities. I shuddered at how unsanitary the process was.
Nobody wanted to handle the Gatorade due to its stickiness and all the bees it attracted. As a result, most folks gravitated towards handing out water. There were times when I was the ONLY one handing out Gatorade.
There were three volunteers who were standing there chatting while the rest of us worked.
Some folks sweeping discarded cups frequently stepped right in front of me, obstructing the cup hand-offs without warning.
All of this resulted in a lot of confusion, ample cursing, countless unnecessary collisions, and floods of spillage.
I was literally covered head to toe in Gatorade. This made me quite the magnet for bees.
In short, the aid station was a disaster.
VUIP ("Very Un-Important People")
We were told that volunteers who worked two or more shifts would receive VIP status, with "extra swag, a drink ticket to be used after your shift, extra raffle prize entries, and additional snacks and treats in the volunteer tent. We are also working on securing a small section of the bleachers for our VIP volunteers." (I copied/pasted this directly from a pre-event email.)
What did I receive? A grand total of two water bottles, plus my volunteer shirt. That was all. (At the aid station, I was offered a sandwich box, but never actually received one.)
I had to ask even to get those water bottles. Otherwise, I would have walked away with literally just the shirt on my back.
To be very clear, I volunteered at this event for philanthropic purposes. The swag was not my motivation for being there. That said, I thought this was a ridiculous bait and switch.
I will never volunteer at an ITU event ever again. When races lack organization, it is ultimately the athletes who suffer. As a runner, I was extremely disappointed to witness an event of this magnitude be organized so poorly.
On Saturday, I wrote an email to the volunteer organizers sharing my experience and frustrations. To date, I have not received any response.
On a positive note: I have a very renewed appreciation for the hard work that goes into race volunteering. Working the aid station was no joke. Thank you so much to all of you who DO volunteer!!!