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GIVING BACK: Ironman volunteers make all the difference

July 25, 2014
By MATTHEW TURNER ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Ironman Lake Placid on Sunday, July 27, would not be possible without an army of volunteers who work to perform the array of activities it takes to make the event possible, even something as simple as picking up trash or handing out water.

Kathy Pfohl, Ironman Lake Placid's volunteer director, said there are 3,500 volunteers already preparing for this year's event.

"It would be financially impossible to have an event this large without volunteers," Pfohl said.

Article Photos

IRONMAN?COOKIES — Karen Cooper packages chocolate chip cookies with daughter Casey Bloch. It is the second year they’ve donated time to bake for the Ironman Foundation and The Cookie Project. In all, 4,300 cookies will be distributed to homes along the Ironman Lake Placid bike and run courses. Cooper bakes in her commercial kitchen at home in Lake Placid, and the 700 bags are labeled “Friend-Chips.” Cooper and Bloch will be volunteering on boat duty during the swim, and Cooper, a doctor, will be volunteering at the medical tent in the evening.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

So what motivates these volunteers to lend a hand during one of Lake Placid's busiest events? Is it the excitement or the idea of helping athletes and the community? A little bit of all three, volunteers told the Lake Placid News.

Mary Connell, of AuSable Forks, has been working as a volunteer at the finish line for 15 years. Connell is a captain at the finish line, one of 156 volunteers who work there. Captains are like volunteer coordinators for Ironman who help organize other volunteers.

"I really enjoy it," Connell said. "What they do with the community is really incredible. I fell in love with it (Ironman) after the first one."

The finish line volunteers' duties include handing out medals, waters and shirts. Another job they perform is "catching" athletes who have been running for very long periods of time.

Connell said she gets excited just thinking about people coming across the finish line.

"There's been so many stories (over the years)," Connell said. "Just to work so hard and then finally come over the line."

She said the most important thing when the athlete comes over the line is, "There are two people on each side to stabilize them."

Mary's husband, Marty, has been working the finish line for 13 years, but this year he has decided to run in the race. He said it's important that the catchers talk to athletes and ask them how they're doing and check them to make sure they're feeling OK.

"If their eyes look like pinball machines, they're in trouble, even if they tell you they're not," Marty explained. "It gets busy. Sometimes there's 10 people coming across that finish line (at one time)."

Pam Bellos, a volunteer coordinator for the Lake Placid Outing Club has also been recruiting volunteers to clean up during and after Ironman.

"We also volunteer for the Lake Placid Marathon, and we run an aid station for the Lake Placid Half Marathon, in June," Bellos said.

The Outing Club volunteers break up into shifts for the Olympic Oval cleanup. The older kids get community service hours for school, she explained.

"Ironman lends us a (utility vehicle), and we go around and pick up recycled cardboards and we pick up bags of garbage," Bellos said. "The beginning of its really busy because most of the vendors are setting up there booths."

The cleanup isn't completely voluntary. There is $60,000 worth of Ironman Foundation grants handed out to local volunteer groups each year.

Bellos said the money helps cut member costs for the Outing Club.

"It helps us buy equipment for trips, so the kids don't have to pay anything." Bellos said. "It's a way for them to have something to do and not be involved with drugs and drinking."

"It's the perfect job for them because they can use adults and younger children to work, so it helps instill volunteerism in them," Pfohl said. "They ride around on their gators and have fun."

Aid stations are also staffed with volunteers to take care of the athletes while competing.

"That was one of the most fun things to do," David Balestrini, chairman of the Outing Club, said of running an aid station. "At the aid stations, we had sports drinking, pretzels, ice, water, chicken broth was very popular."

A local dentist, Balestrini will be competing in Ironman this year because he was "inspired" by the athletes he sees each year.

At an Ironman about 5 years ago, it rained during the day, and the athletes were soaked. Some of them appeared hypothermic. So Balestrini and the group of volunteers made handmade ponchos out of trash bags, he said.

"Somebody's got to do it," Pfohl said of the many volunteers.



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