Volunteer Voices

Considering that the Door County Triathlon, a 501c3, nonprofit organization, attracts 2,000 participants each year, involves nearly 1,000 volunteers, sells out the Half Iron registration on the first day, and this year has raised close to $100,000 for local charities, I have to wonder how they make it happen.

During volunteer orientation, Course Logistics and Hydration Director Howard Lodl read my mind straight away. “We can’t do this event without the army of volunteers. They are the face of the event. Their energy and willingness to be there sparks participants to excel and they draw energy from the volunteers. They are the backbone of this event.”

Sean Ryan, race director, said of the 11th annual triathlon, “We achieve incremental perfectionism, it gets a little better every year, however two primary objectives remain the same; safety and enjoyment, and the support of Ministry Door County Medical Center is critical, without them, we could not put on this event. Not only are they our presenting sponsor, they are a community partner, providing and coordinating all the medical staffing for this event.”

Also critical are the two major contributors of volunteer hours, as well as the primary benefactors, the YMCA of Door County and Friends of the Door County Parks. Steve Vickman, director of Grants, Workplace Wellness, Marketing at the YMCA, recruits and oversees 170 volunteer course monitors and told me that they start meeting in February to coordinate the July triathlon. “After 11 years working on this event, it is a fine-tuned machine, yet it can be tough to find that many volunteers. We rely on volunteers from previous years and recruit about one-third new volunteers each year, mostly from our membership.”

Jeanne Malinoski, volunteer coordinator for the Friends of the Door County Parks, recruited 55 volunteers, including five board members, to fill 63 shifts ranging from two to 10 hours each. Her volunteers contributed to the areas of bike bottle handout and the hydration station. They handed participants water, Gatorade and ice as they went by and pre-popped Gatorade tops so they could be easily drunk.

This year 18 other local charities, including the Sturgeon Bay Gridiron Club, contributed to six different volunteer areas and will receive proceeds from the event ranging from $500 to $3,000. The Sturgeon Bay Jaycees, also a benefactor, with Jamie Kerscher, coordinated a volunteer team and said, “People will drop everything to volunteer for this event, more so than any other, because they enjoy the immediate thanks and appreciation from the athletes as we cheer them on.”

An expert at coordinating volunteers, Jody Weyers, volunteer director and database manager for the triathlon for 10 years, said she works with an operations committee of 25 “key race day executors.” They ensure that there are clear volunteer roles and written job descriptions and training, that the best recruiting and organizing tactics are used and that the organization learns, grows, and improves.

Weyers told me, “We’re successful if we can help everyone get across the finish line or at the very least get each participant safely back to their loved ones.”