Monday, May 28, 2018
Health

Volunteers fuel triathlon success

To hear Kurt Kuhlman tell it, there's just one possible catch to being a dedicated volunteer: getting hooked.

For five years Kuhlman, 56, has been among the unpaid army that makes the St. Anthony's Triathlon possible. He got into it through his volunteer work with the Ronald McDonald House. He not only staffs this and other races — he also competes.

On April 28, he'll be working at the Meek and Mighty mini triathlon, then he'll suit up the next day for the main event.

"That's my motivation. I can help other people achieve their goals,'' he told me. "And then other volunteers can help me reach mine.''

His specific duty?

"They can use me anywhere they need me. My job is just making sure whatever I'm doing runs smoothly,'' said Kuhlman, of St. Petersburg.

"Without volunteers these things cannot happen.''

And by "these things,'' of course, he means not only the race, but innumerable other services that volunteers provide every day in our community.

But the St. Anthony's Triathlon, now in its 29th year, is one of the biggest displays of volunteer power we see every year.

Triathlon manager Susan Daniels told me she and her staff try to recruit about 1,200 volunteers from kids to seniors to keep the race running smoothly for the 4,000 athletes, who hail from 48 states and 17 countries.

"We place (volunteers) meticulously over that entire course,'' she said of the swim/bike/run course that covers 51.5 miles. The trickiest bit is the water, where a fleet of lifeguards and kayakers are on hand to rescue any distressed swimmers.

The most popular volunteer job? Body marking — especially the bodies of the top male athletes. "The women beg for that job,'' Daniels said.

Sorry ladies, she has all the body markers she can use. But plenty of other jobs, from registration to handing out water cups, are still available.

All you need, she said, is common sense and the ability to soothe frazzled athletes. You try retrieving your bike from a corral packed with thousands of cycles when you're exhausted from an open-water swim and see how calm you are.

"They're high strung, they're quadruple A personalities, and then they meet up with the sweetest seventh-grader, or the sweetest 90-year-old man, and everything's fine,'' said Daniels, for whom the triathlon is the biggest of numerous events she directs for St. Anthony's Hospital.

"I tell all my volunteers, your job is to turn that frown into a smile.''

If you think you don't have time to contribute — whether at the triathlon or at any of the hundreds of local agencies that would love your help — consider Kuhlman's story. After a career as a software engineer, he's completing his training in crime scene investigation.

And he still volunteers.

"It's kind of addictive,'' he said. "If you enjoy helping people achieve their goals then it's easy.''

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