LAKE PLACID - Whether its handing out cups of water to athletes, helping spectators cross the street or just cheering on the competitors, Sunday's 14th annual Ironman Lake Placid triathlon couldn't happen without volunteers.
Nearly 4,000 volunteers - roughly two for every triathlete - worked the race Sunday, although few would probably call it work.
"It's fun; it's motivating," said Debbie Vaughn of Saranac Lake, a volunteer captain overseeing a 60-person aid station at the intersection of Sentinel Road and Station Street. This is her sixth year as an Ironman volunteer. "It's also just so gratifying. The athletes, as they're running by, are thanking you. You're really getting back what you put in it. It's a great feeling."
A line of Ironman volunteers hand out drinks at an aid station near the intersection of Sentinel Road and Station Street on Sunday afternoon.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Kathy Pfhol, who's been the race's volunteer director for the past eight years, said there's a strong contingent of locals, like Vaughn, who come forward to help out each year. But most are from out of town, including many who plan to compete in the Ironman next year and get to register first if they volunteer.
"We're in such a small community that, easily, the majority of people are not from here," she said. "They're from all over the country. There's families who come here on vacation to volunteer."
Ironman volunteer Gail Lautenschuetz is a perfect example of that volunteer spirit. She lives in Lake Placid but she has family who come from as far away as New Jersey and Rhode Island to volunteer for the event.
COMPLETE RESULTS of the Ironman are in today's print edition of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, available for 50 cents at newspaper boxes and retailers all over the area.
"There's 22 of us here today (from age 12 to 87), and we've been doing it for 14 years," Lautenschuetz said. "It's one of the few times we all get together as a group. We just enjoy being out there with these athletes; they're so inspirational."
The roughly 4,000 volunteers are led by 85 team captains, some of whom have been doing it since the first Lake Placid Ironman in 1999. Pfhol said Ironman recently saluted five captains who are in their 14th year: Jeff Herter, Lee Ann Thomas, Cora Clark, Jim Grant and Patty Bashaw.
Volunteers work in four-hour shifts. Some work only one shift, while others put in two or three. Pfhol said the most sought-after jobs are working the swim course and, of all things, body marking, where volunteers put the athletes' numbers on their bodies using a permanent marker.
Speaking with the Enterprise around 2 p.m., Pfhol said things were going smooth, although Sunday's heat had been somewhat problematic.
"We have a little bit more of a need for ice because it's been sunny," she said. "The medical tent has never been this busy this early because of the heat. But everything's going great. Everything's flowing."
As Pfhol spoke, a team of volunteers led by captain Jill Cardinale were manning the crosswalks near the so-called "hot" corner, the intersection of Main Street and Cummings Road, where cyclists have to make a sharp right turn. It's also an area where many spectators want to get across the street.
"It's pretty crazy here at times and our volunteers really take charge," Cardinale said. "When everyone wants to cross and the bikes are coming through fast and furious, the volunteers do a great job at making sure people realize this is the athletes' day. We're here to keep them safe and to keep every else safe as well."
It's a long day for Cardinale, who owns the Pines Inn on Saranac Avenue. She got up at 4 a.m. to make coffee for her guests, most of whom are in town for the Ironman, then made her way to Mirror Lake to watch the start of the race at 7 a.m. She worked the course until late afternoon before heading back to the hotel, where she said she'd be serving burgers for the athletes until midnight.
"It's a long day, but it's fun," Cardinale said. "I own a local business and I think that it's great for the economy in Lake Placid and surrounding areas. I just do it because I love the event and I love being around the people."
Across the street from Cardinale, helping staff a crosswalk, was Cheryl Breen Randall, wife of village Mayor Craig Randall. She said she's been an Ironman volunteer for several years.
"I volunteer because Ironman is a lot of fun, it's inspirational and it's very important to our community," Randall said.
It goes without saying that Ironman couldn't have happened this year, or any of the previous 13 years, without volunteers.
"It's impossible," Pfhol said. "No community could pay for the value of these people, and all we give them is a T-shirt and a half of a sub. You have to do it because you want to do it."